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Scott Howard-Cooper

Maloofs, Kevin Johnson
Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson is flanked in victory by Joe (left) and Gavin Maloof.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Maloof brothers the kings of Sacramento once again

Posted Feb 29 2012 3:10PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Gavin Maloof entered from the tunnel near the Kings' bench, about seven minutes before tipoff, to warm applause from fans. He was quickly surrounded by a media scrum so thick that security had to corral reporters to keep from disrupting the Jazz pre-game warmups. Gavin, and then his brother Joe, maneuvered to their courtside seats between halts for handshakes and hugs. After the national anthem, as Utah starters were introduced, the brothers accepted another round of appreciation from customers near midcourt.

All Tuesday night, Power Balance Pavilion was like it used to be when it was ARCO Arena, in the days of playoffs and stable rosters, in the days when the Maloofs were what owners were supposed to be. Tuesday night, they were heroes again in their own gym for the first time in years.

All that remained after all the applause and a 103-96 Kings victory was a conclusion that was as unlikely as it was impossible to miss: The Maloofs have saved their legacy. After a lack of vision in reshaping the roster and the franchise, after too many seasons of disappearing as their team played in quicksand, they have re-invented themselves for the better.

The Maloofs had become very unpopular here as their money dried up and a 2011 move to Anaheim seemed inevitable. But after Monday's announcement that an agreement had been reached to build a new arena that will keep the Kings in town, they reveled in the ultimate ticker-tape moment.

Many people saved the NBA in a city where the Kings mean so much more than basketball. NBA commissioner David Stern did because the Kings would have been gone years ago if he gave the Maloofs the green light -- but he didn't. Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson did because the former All-Star point guard relentlessly directed the campaign that found a solution when previous mayors could not.

But the Maloofs deserve credit, too, because they have been the ones taking the direct hits. There were the years of nonsense claims that they would move the franchise to Las Vegas and the public backlash from that. Last year, in what could have been the last game ever in Sacramento, they didn't even show up, privately concerned that a heartbroken fan might do something ugly. The Maloofs were centrally involved in so many bungled attempts to get a new arena that, at times, the Kings leaving seemed a foregone conclusion.

They never wanted to leave, though, not for Vegas (the adopted hometown), not for Seattle (the newest relocation possibility), not even for Anaheim. Disneylandville offered a building and a lucrative territory. Sacramento offered only a bunch of leaders rowing in circles. The Maloofs just wanted it to end.

They could have settled for Anaheim. It would have solved a lot of the problems. The Kings would have been entirely irrelevant there, the third franchise in the area, but the Maloofs would have been done with it.

Instead, they made the hard decision. Stay another year and survey the landscape again. Maybe Anaheim would get desperate and make a better offer. Maybe another place would advance, as Seattle did.

Maybe -- unlikely -- Sacramento could get it done.

Sacramento got it done.

The plans call for a privately funded building to open for the 2015-16 season. The deal was reached Monday in Orlando after All-Star weekend, in three-headed negotiations with the Maloofs, the City of Sacramento and the NBA.

A night later, the victory party moved West.

During a timeout in the first quarter, the Maloof brothers walked to center court to a standing ovation that lasted 15 seconds. Gavin pointed to the Kings logo on his long-sleeve shirt and said into the microphone, "At the end of the day, it's all about this." More applause.

During a timeout in the second quarter, Johnson, arriving late to the game after a city meeting, was introduced over the public address system, emerging from the same tunnel near the Kings' bench. Standing ovation. Hugs for both Maloofs. Together they walked to center court and the mayor, in the middle, held up the arms of Joe and Gavin in collective triumph. More applause.

Ten months ago, the Maloofs weren't even keeping Johnson abreast of their plans. Now, the acrimony is gone and the deal is done. The NBA has been saved in Sacramento. A legacy has been changed.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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