SACRAMENTO, CA - It was a meeting none of the fans nor reporters knew about until after the fact, but it was also a meeting that signifies the fight in Sacramento to keep the Kings is just ramping up.
Mark Mastrov, the man who founded, then sold, 24-Hour Fitness, met with several local investors Monday, expressing his interest in the Sacramento Kings and keeping California's Capitol city alive.
"This guy does not want to be second. He wants to be first, he wants to have a championship team." said Larry Kelley, one of the 21 local investors who all pledged $1 million to form a local ownership group.
Under the guidance of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, the 21 local investors are banding together, hoping to attract a large equity investor. Together, they'll try to compete with the $525 million deal the Maloofs inked with Seattle's Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer.
Until Monday, the names Ron Burkle, owner of the Pittsburg Penguins, and Mark Mastrov were mentioned, but never confirmed publicly.
Kelley and investor Phil Oates were so energized about Monday's meeting that they broke their silence.
"When looking for a partner you want integrity, passion and character," Oates said in an e-mail. "Mark Mastrov has all of this ... plus more. It would be a personal honor to be his partner."
"We really have a great team being led by Mr. Mastrov," Kelley said. "I think he's certainly passionate about it and we have a face and a credible leader to go with this."
Mastrov bid on a another NBA team, the Golden State Warriors, in 2010.
"It was kind of funny, he (Mastrov) made the comment that it was quicker for him to drive here than it was for the Warriors, so isn't that great?" Kelley said. "Here's a guy that's planning on being here as much as he can."
Last week, Gavin Maloof released a statement saying that he and his brothers had entered into an agreement selling their stakes in the Sacramento Kings to Hansen and Ballmer. It made no mention of relocation, but in previous comments Hansen made it very clear he's looking for a team for Seattle.
He's also investing a large portion of his personal wealth to build a new facility, replacing Key Arena in Seattle.
Johnson's plan is to compete with that offer, with money from Burkle, Mastrov and the local investors, and present it to the NBA Board of Governors in April.
"I know that under the direction and leadership of Mayor Johnson, the best days for Sacramento Kings basketball is right around the corner," Oates said.
When asked why Kelley is fighting to keep the Kings in Sacramento, he said, "We don't have another major league franchise. The River Cats are great, but we don't have the NFL, we don't have the NHL. I think is really an identifier for our community."
In a statement late Monday, Mayor Kevin Johnson said:
"Today's meeting was another positive step forward in our work to save the Kings. Mark introduced himself, shared a bit of his vision for building a championship-caliber franchise, and heard from many who share his commitment to Sacramento and belief in the strength of our market. Both Mark's local business roots - the Sacramento 24 Hour Fitness was one of the first facilities he opened up - and his deep ties to the NBA resonated with the room, as did his belief that the City's public-private partnership approach to a downtown arena provides us a major competitive advantage. In a spirited and hopeful conversation, Mark reminded us of the sense of economic and civic possibility that has motivated our community from day one."
By Nick Monacelli, email@example.com