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California Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) shares a laugh with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson as he announces a new development that may allow the Sacramento Kings to remain in the city. The combined NBA relocation and finance committees unanimously rejected the bid to move the Kings to Seattle, marking a major turn in Sacramento's fight to keep the team on Monday, April 29, 2013. (Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee/MCT)

That a key NBA committee would vote 7-0 to block the Kings' relocation to Seattle is a resounding first step. This almost surely means the franchise will remain in Sacramento.

But until the other 23 NBA owners seal the deal next month -- and until the Kings' volatile owners finally agree to sell to the investors vying to keep the team in Sacramento -- this saga is not over.

Even so, Monday's action by the NBA's influential relocation committee was no accident, no sympathy vote and no joke.

As mercurial and maddening as he can sometimes be, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has really done something here.

He has prodded and pressed and strategically angled to put Sacramento in the driver's seat to keep a valuable regional asset and its only major league sports franchise.

Johnson attracted wealthy investors to Sacramento to buy the team, and more importantly, to announce their intention to invest in the future of this city -- a city where they clearly see untapped potential for growth and profit.

The Kings owners, the Maloof family, once stormed out of Sacramento City Council chambers when they didn't get their way. They big-footed city and county officials during failed arena negotiations at the Las Vegas casino they subsequently lost to their creditors. But the Maloofs could not bully Johnson.

The mayor's connections with NBA Commissioner David Stern and the league's owners kept Sacramento in the game. But his ability to sell a vision of Sacramento through sheer force of personality -- his stamina in maneuvering around every obstacle thrown down -- these are the factors that may eventually win that game.

Seattle, the city vying to take the Kings, is a superior market to Sacramento in many ways, and its offer comes with a mega-wealthy investment group and seemingly viable path to a new arena.

But Johnson managed to refocus the conversation from what is to what could be. By attracting an ownership group that has vowed to invest in a downtown resurgence, he sold NBA owners on the value of an undervalued asset: Sacramento.

In the process, something quite remarkable has happened. A diverse array of factions and interests in the Sacramento region -- from business to labor to fans -- actually pulled together to keep the Kings.

And their efforts were grounded in self-confidence, not self-pity. Many "experts" and "pundits" wrote off Sacramento's chances months ago, but locals never believed it was over.

As this process played out in the national media, old insults were hurled in Sacramento's direction: "Cowtown." "Government town." "Sleepy town."

Maybe, when this process is over, an outdated image will have been cast off forever.

"This is a never-say-die community," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who played a crucial role in the tug-of-war by pledging that a new Kings arena would not be bogged down by lawsuits. "This is a community where people are involved. You feel that you are a part of something here.

"I never bought the notion that without the Kings, we didn't have an identity. But I have always seen in this community, that when it sets its mind to something, it wins."

Contact Marcos Breton at 916-321-1096.