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Sacramento Kings fans hold signs and cheer during a timeout in an NBA basketball game against Charlotte Bobcats in Sacramento, Calif., Sunday, March 3, 2013. This was the first home game since the announcement by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson last week that a plan was in place to keep the Kings in Sacramento. The NBA received an official offer on Friday from 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov and billionaire Ron Burkle to buy the Kings. The announcement also came with a tentative plan to build a downtown arena. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

If the offer to keep the Kings in Sacramento equals a rival bid to move them to Seattle, how could the NBA vote to tear the franchise out of here?

It's an unprecedented question for the NBA and one that is central to Sacramento's argument for retaining its only major sports franchise.

The home team's campaign began in earnest Tuesday with a comparison of Seattle and Sacramento by aides of Mayor Kevin Johnson that were meant to debunk conventional wisdom that Seattle is superior.

Don't laugh. Johnson has been able to change the conversation about a Kings relocation that was described as a "done deal" in the national press just six weeks ago by producing billionaire suitors who are willing to buy the team and keep them here.

The presence of Mark Mastrov, Ron Burkle and their big wallets not only creates a viable scenario for local ownership, it allows Sacramento to illustrate how this situation is different from other NBA relocations.

Usually when the NBA moves a team, the city's fans have stopped going to games and its politicians have told the NBA to get lost -- as Seattle officials did when the Sonics relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008.

By contrast, Sacramento stands poised to commit more than $200 million in public funds for the Kings. That is not unusual in Texas or Florida, but it is very unusual in California, where the use of public money for sports facilities has drawn little political support.


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But since 2006, a majority of politicians in Sacramento have supported the taboo topic of public funds for the Kings.

They have done so without the spark of a political backlash, and even now no one is mounting a credible, well-financed opposition to the effort to keep the Kings.

What has led the Kings to the brink of relocation is not a market problem but an ownership problem.

The current Kings owners, the Maloofs, lost their fortune, killed all past Sacramento arena deals and rebuffed the efforts of Johnson and others to sell the Kings to local buyers. Then suddenly, the Maloofs made a deal with a Seattle group.

Mastrov and Burkle could be the first Kings owners with pockets deep enough to make the franchise work.

In the Sacramento marketplace, the Kings are the only major sports team from Stockton to the Oregon border while the Seattle sports market is saturated. In terms of attendance, in most years, Sacramento-area fans turned out in greater numbers for the Kings than Seattle fans did for the Sonics.

Does Sacramento have Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks or Nordstrom within its borders? No. Seattle is a great city with wealth Sacramento doesn't have.

But if the NBA votes with Seattle even if Sacramento's bid for the Kings is equal or close to the Emerald City's, the decision would feel less like a relocation and more like a hostile takeover.

Reach Marcos Breton at 916-321-1096.