SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The moment will be seared into the minds of long-suffering Sacramento Kings fans forever.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof standing together at center court, holding hands and raising their arms in triumph after both sides agreed to an arena financing plan to keep the NBA team in town for at least another 30 years.
"There's going to be a beacon of light shining bright in 2015 — a brand new arena," a teary eyed Gavin Maloof told a raucous crowd during a timeout in a win over the Utah Jazz on Feb. 28, 2012. "We still love you. We always loved you, and we always will love you."
Hugs and handshakes followed, and the relocation chatter that had surrounded the Kings for years finally seemed to be silenced. Instead, barely a month passed before the Maloof brothers backed out of the handshake deal — which NBA Commissioner David Stern had negotiated, and the Sacramento City Council approved — and both sides declared the franchise's future uncertain again.
"It was shocking. But this story every step of the way has been shocking, and I think that's something that can't be lost," said James Ham, who covers the team for the website Cowbell Kingdom and was a producer of the documentary "Small Market, Big Heart," which chronicled Sacramento's fight to keep the Kings from moving to Anaheim.
"This story never goes the way you think it's going to go," Ham said. "It may start one way, but then it switches so quickly and you have no idea that the next move was coming. And then it zigzags. It's something that has made this story so laughable and so dramatic. It's unpredictable. And here we are again, in possibly the most unpredictable setting of all-time."
Leave it to the bright lights of Broadway to stage such a show.
For the second time in three years, Johnson will make a presentation to NBA owners in New York on Wednesday to keep the Kings from leaving California's capital city, complete with an ownership group ready to buy the team and a newly approved arena financing plan. The goal is to block a bid by investor Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who have a pending deal with the Maloofs to buy the Kings, move the team to Seattle and restore the SuperSonics name.
A joint committee of league owners, assembled from the sale and relocation committees, will made a recommendation for the full NBA Board of Governors to consider when it votes at its annual meeting April 18-19 in New York. If the league blocks the Seattle bid, the Maloofs would still have to agree to sell the team to the Sacramento group.
And that's where things get tricky.
Once the toast of the town, the Maloofs have become perhaps Sacramento's most-reviled villains. They have been absent from their courtside seats for months and their luxury suite is often empty or occupied by others.
Whether the family would sell to the Sacramento group, or how the NBA could force their hand without triggering lawsuits, is unclear. The Maloofs have been asked by the NBA not to comment publicly on the pending purchase agreement.
In the meantime, fans in Sacramento are upset the Maloofs never gave the city a chance to find a group to buy the team.
"The Maloofs are a four-letter word in Sacramento," said Carmichael Dave, a sports radio commentator who is driving an RV to NBA cities across the country to campaign for his city's cause. "Maloofed is now a synonym for mistreated or mishandled. It's a descriptive that's not in any way complimentary."
There was a time not so long ago that the Maloofs made Sacramento the NBA's model of success.
A smaller-market franchise that thrived on being the town's only team, fans turned out in mass even when the Kings were terrible. The team had 19 seasons of complete sellouts.
Chris Webber, Jason Williams, Peja Stojakovic, Vlade Divac and Doug Christie even graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2001 with the headline, "The Greatest Show on Court. Sacramento Kings: Basketball the way it oughta be."