Anaheim approves funding for Kings

Updated: March 30, 2011, 2:39 AM ET
ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Anaheim city council unanimously approved a $75 million bond deal Tuesday night to entice the Sacramento Kings to relocate to Orange County.

The city council twice voted 5-0 for the measures to a round of applause from its packed City Hall meeting room, calling it another major step in luring the Kings to Honda Center.

"Anaheim took a giant step closer to bringing an NBA team to Anaheim and the Honda Center," Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said. "I'm thrilled. Actually, a better word is stoked."

During the city council meeting, it also was announced that the team name would have "Anaheim as its first word and sole geographic identifier." Attorneys for the Kings earlier this month filed for trademarks on several names, including the Anaheim Royals. The name change would take the team back to its roots; it was known as the Rochester Royals when it was founded in 1945 and later the Cincinnati Royals when the team moved in 1957.

"A priority for our city was to make sure any new professional team that comes to Anaheim truly becomes part of our community," Tait said. "We've included language in the agreement that ensures this team will have Anaheim and only Anaheim in the team name."

Several other aspects of the Kings' move to Anaheim were addressed during the meeting, such as the team using the American Sports Center in Anaheim as a potential temporary practice facility for up to five years while a new training facility is built. The 150,000-square-foot indoor sports complex opened in 2004 and has 16 indoor basketball courts. The team also would have temporary offices on two floors of an office building adjacent to Anaheim City Hall for up to five years while a permanent facility is built.

Tait repeatedly emphasized the city is borrowing no money and has no financial risk in the deal. According to every Anaheim official in the meeting, the city is acting as a conduit for a private investment by Henry Samueli, the billionaire owner of the NHL's Anaheim Ducks.

Samueli also manages the city-owned arena, and he's putting his own money into a deal for $25 million in upgrades to Honda Center, including a practice court and new locker rooms, along with another $50 million in moving costs that could include relocation fees paid to the NBA's other owners.

"We are grateful to the entire leadership group of the city of Anaheim, who tonight fully endorsed our shared efforts to bring an NBA franchise to the region," Michael Schulman, chairman of Anaheim Arena Management, the Samueli-owned company that runs Honda Center, said in a statement. "Honda Center has consistently ranked as one of the top arenas in the world, and we trust that the overwhelming support of Anaheim's city management and elected officials will be looked at favorably by the NBA and its member clubs. This vote is an important first step as we continue working toward hosting an NBA franchise at Honda Center."

Although most city officials were careful to emphasize the bonds could be used to move any team, not just the Kings, council member Kris Murray acknowledged the obviously messy emotions behind an apparently clean financial deal.

"My heart does go out to the Sacramento fans and residents," Murray said. "They're a great team, and I know we would be proud to have them in our city. ... I hope we come up with some creative way to replace the cowbell."

The well-traveled Kings' move out of the city they've called home since 1985 still is far from a done deal, although this lucrative financing deal removes a major obstacle for Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof.

The Kings must file for relocation by April 18, and the NBA's other 29 owners must approve the move by majority vote. The Maloofs then might need to pay a relocation fee to the owners, including possibly hefty payments to the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, who share Staples Center 35 miles away.

The close proximity of a third NBA team in the Southern California market has raised concerns about the viability of the Kings' move, but the city council members emphasized that while Los Angeles and Anaheim might share the same media market, they are not the same city.

"I'm confident that an NBA team in Orange County will do very well," Tait said. "In terms of the potential fan base, we have more than 3 million people in Orange County alone. Add the Inland Empire and San Diego, and you have millions more. We are all part of the Southern California region, but Los Angeles and Orange County are far apart. Anyone who lives here knows that. We will fill the stands of the Honda Center when the NBA comes to town, believe me."

Murray even went so far as to take a shot at her neighbors to the north before a potential NBA "Freeway Series" could even take place.

"If I can start the smack talk a little bit early, the traffic models these days show that more folks commute from L.A. to Orange County than vice versa," Murray said. "So L.A. is our biggest suburb, and we are going to have a tremendous number of fans fill that arena."

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson recently sounded resigned to an inevitable move, but the California capital's city government has taken a more combative tone recently. On Monday, Sacramento's assistant city manager sent a letter asking Anaheim to cease all negotiations over worries the Kings might default on $77 million owed to the city from a 1997 loan.

Joe Maloof responded to the letter with his first public comments on the deal, telling the Orange County Register that the Kings will repay everything they owe and asking Sacramento to stay out of his business dealings.

When asked about the letter, Tait responded: "Well, I'm mayor of Anaheim, and I look out for the best interests of the city of Anaheim."

Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Arash Markazi and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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