By Sam Amick
USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles-based billionaire and prospective owner of the Sacramento Kings, Ron Burkle, met with NBA Commissioner David Stern on Thursday in New York City, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.
The meeting, according to one of the people with knowledge of the situation, lasted approximately two hours and took place inside the NBA's offices. The people spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because it was a private meeting.
While the Maloof family that currently owns the team has an agreement with the Seattle-based group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to sell 65% of the team for approximately $341 million, the deal must still be approved by the NBA's Board of Governors.
Burkle -- the supermarket mogul who is part owner of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins -- has been planning to make a competing bid with fellow money man Mark Mastrov, the Northern California-based founder of 24-Hour Fitness, in an attempt to convince the NBA to keep the team in Sacramento. The goal all along from the Sacramento side has been to force the NBA into a tough decision by putting together an arena plan and a bid that's competitive with the Hansen-Ballmer group.
Money men: Can Burkle save the Kings?
Stern has had consistent communication with Sacramento mayor and former NBA point guard Kevin Johnson during this situation, but his decision to grant Burkle a meeting is seen by Johnson's camp as the latest sign that -- despite the widely held belief the team will wind up in Seattle -- their effort is being legitimized by the league. The meeting, according to one of the people with knowledge of the situation, lasted approximately two hours and took place inside the NBA's offices. Stern has already indicated publicly that he will allow Johnson to make his case to the Board of Governors before they decide on the Seattle bid.
In that regard, it's a similar situation to two years ago, when Johnson made his case at an April Board of Governors meeting to keep the team in Sacramento and the Maloofs' attempts to move the team to Anaheim were thwarted. Burkle first entered this scene at that time, as Johnson spoke publicly about his interest in buying the team, and he was seen as a possible savior of sorts for Kings fans who wanted to keep their franchise.
The timing of Johnson's eventual presentation is not known, though, and it remains entirely possible that the March 1 deadline to file for relocation may be pushed back until the Board can hear both sides. While the Board of Governors has its annual meeting in mid-April, the league has the ability to organize a vote at a different time as well.