SACRAMENTO – Ending weeks of widespread speculation and rumors, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson told The OBSERVER that billionaire Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov, the founder of 24-Hour Fitness, are the majority equity partners who will make a bid for the Sacramento Kings.

“Yes, they are,” Johnson told The OBSERVER when asked if Burkle and Mastrov are in fact the deep-pocket “whale” investors interested in purchasing the Kings. Mayor Johnson has helped to orchestrate the group’s counter-proposal to a reportedly $525 million agreement the Kings’ owners made with a group to move the team to Seattle.

Johnson will publicly announce Burkle’s and Mastrov’s involvement at the annual “State of the City” address at Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium Thursday evening. Johnson is also expected to reveal the details of a new sports and entertainment arena, another major factor in keeping the Kings in Sacramento — the place the NBA franchise has called home since 1985.

The Maloofs agreed to sell the Kings to an investment group that includes billionaire Chris Hansen. However, NBA commissioner David Stern agreed to let Mayor Johnson, a former NBA All-Star point guard, submit a purchase proposal that includes a new arena plan to the league by March 1. Stern also agreed to let Johnson state the city’s case in front of the NBA’s Board of Governors in April to prevent the Maloofs from selling the team to the Seattle-based investors.

The Board of Governors — the NBA team owners — will vote whether the sale to the Seattle investor-group is acceptable. Mayor Johnson said the city of Sacramento can make a convincing argument that it is a strong NBA market and the leadership is in place to make a major deal like this work.

Sacramento already cleared the way earlier this week for Burkle and Mastrove when the City Council voted 7-2 to push forward with an effort to keep the bidding process alive.

“I feel confident about our chances (to keep the Kings in Sacramento),” Mayor Johnson said.
By Antonio R. Harvey
OBSERVER Staff Writer