Win, lose, expansion -- Sacramento is the story

Sacramento Bee - You knew it had to be hiding around here somewhere. The resilience. The sophistication. The nasty streak. The toughness. The ability to attract some of the brightest minds and wealthiest investors in California, sketch out a massive downtown arena project and then launch a forceful counterattack to preserve and protect the community's only major professional sports franchise.

The Kings are the story this week, but only part of the story. Win, lose, expansion -- Sacramento is the story.

In the weeks and months preceding the NBA board of governors meetings that begin Thursday in New York -- the same weeks and months outsiders were booking the Kings' passage to Seattle -- Sacramento appeared out of nowhere, stepped into the frame and starting fighting like an action figure.

Sacramento didn't stumble meekly into the night. It didn't cower under the massive weight of the undertaking. It didn't whine about being a government town. And, most importantly, Sacramento finally stopped apologizing for not being San Francisco or, for that matter, Seattle.

The cowbells have been loud and clear. The movers and shakers have been heard. The community so often paralyzed by political gridlock and party politics, the city that has been unified only by its universal dislike for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, grabbed a giant laptop and, in one collective, collaborative stretch, reached for the moon.

Operating under severe time constraints and, some would say, against overwhelming odds, Mayor Kevin Johnson assembled a group that likely would have crushed the opposition if the Seattle bidders didn't include Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer.

And who knows? NBA Commissioner David Stern would be insane to abandon a proven franchise and walk away from a group that seemingly dropped from the heavens and, while still evolving, is preparing to dust the region with a massive infusion of financial star power.

Silicon Valley software tycoon Vivek Ranadive talks of expanding the Kings/NBA brand to his native India. The San Diego-based Jacobs family founded telecommunications giant Qualcomm. Chris Kelly is a former Facebook executive. Mark Mastrov founded 24 Hour Fitness. Mark Friedman is a prominent real-estate developer with deep ties to the Sacramento community.

Together, they envision a future that keeps the Kings here and transforms downtown -- a concept long advocated by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. About the same time Steinberg was in New York campaigning for the Kings, two more governors were visiting the state and attempting to steal business.

"It would be a huge blow, a body blow, to lose an asset like the Kings," Steinberg said. "It would be a civic blow, but a blow to the state of California as well. This isn't Anaheim anymore. We're talking about Seattle."

Losing the Kings would cost 4,000 to 6,500 jobs and eliminate $7 billion in investments, according to Steinberg's office.

Then there are the elements of image, prestige and physical presentation; the Kings of a decade ago thrust Sacramento onto the international stage. During and before national telecasts, sweeping panoramas displayed the rivers, the American River Bike Trail, the wine country and stunning still photos of the Capitol. Commentators provided historical information -- essentially, free marketing and publicity -- about the region's diversity and, yes, its improving city center.

What would a successful Ranadive-led venture do for you? A lot. More than a lot. It would keep the Kings where they belong, resolve the downtrodden Downtown Plaza dilemma, contribute to the economy and stitch together an urban center that is screaming for one more major piece.

"We're the capital city," Steinberg said, "and we have to tap into that potential. How do we grow in a way that reduces travel time, offers shorter distances between home and work, where we shop, where we go to school?

"This project is crucial for fulfilling the ideal of showing that we can grow by building within existing communities (and) promote growth that is sustainable, and addresses jobs and climate-change issues at the same time. And it's only a few blocks from the Capitol."

Numerous other cities have tested and approved similar models. Indianapolis. Denver. Dallas. Salt Lake City. Minneapolis. Brooklyn. Los Angeles.

In Sacramento, Steinberg's words are ambitious words, fighting words but words that are backed by capable financial benefactors and considerable political clout.

And, please, Sacramento is a terrific place, win, lose or expansion. No more apologies.

(Contact The Sacramento Bee's Ailene Voisin at avoisin@sacbee.com; Twitter @ailene_voisin.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)

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