RSS Feeds

Being mayor, player aided Johnson in Sterling push

Friday - 5/2/2014, 1:34am  ET

In this photo taken on April 29, 2014, Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Kevin Johnson speaks to reporters after his comments about the penalties imposed on Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling by the NBA at a news conference at Los Angeles City Hall. Last year Johnson almost single-handedly kept the Kings NBA franchise in Sacramento, staging a late-game comeback to snatch the team away from a Seattle billionaire. This spring he began raising his national political profile by taking over as the head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, then acting as spokesman for the NBA players as the controversy over racist remarks by the Clippers' owner threatened to throw the basketball league into turmoil. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is on a winning streak.

The former NBA star led the city's successful effort to keep the Kings from moving to Seattle and was recently sworn in as leader of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

But he scored what might have been his biggest victory when he represented NBA players in demanding one of the harshest penalties in the history of U.S. sports against Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, over racist remarks.

After intense lobbying by Johnson and numerous others, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling from the league for life, fined him $2.5 million, and said he would urge the NBA's board of governors to make Sterling sell the Clippers.

"I hope that every bigot in this country sees what happened to Mr. Sterling and recognizes that if he can fall, so can you," said Johnson, 48, who became Sacramento's first African-American mayor in 2008, the same year the nation sent its first black president to the White House.

In targeting Sterling, Johnson used his unique experience as a former player and elected official to drive the discussions with NBA executives on behalf of the National Basketball Players Association.

NBA players were willing to take the unprecedented step of boycotting playoff games if the commissioner didn't include the mandate for Sterling to sell the Clippers. Johnson says Silver came to his decision without a boycott threat.

"For politicians, these moments happen and you either show you have it or you don't," said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who has worked with Johnson throughout the fight to keep the Kings in Sacramento. "It was a slam dunk when it came to demonstrating he has what it takes."

The players association has been seeking a new executive director since ousting Billy Hunter in February 2013, and recently tabbed Johnson to lead the search committee. But Clippers coach Doc Rivers wondered if Johnson would be a candidate.

"I'm assuming he's going to have a very difficult choice coming up, whether he wants to continue to be the mayor of Sacramento or the president of the Players Association. That's tough, because you've got where he's from and all that. I don't know if that's true. I'm just assuming he's going to have that choice or do both," Rivers said.

"I don't know if you can do both. But if you can, that would be great because both parties need him probably So it'll be interesting. But he's been fantastic."

Johnson, a playmaking point guard and scorer who played for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns from 1988 to 1999, called the Sterling scandal a defining moment for the NBA and said he was personally offended by the remarks.

"We may not have the power to force Mr. Sterling to sell his team, but make no mistake, we believe that Mr. Sterling should no longer have the privilege of being an owner of an NBA team," Johnson wrote in a Facebook post before Silver handed down his punishment.

Rivers said he didn't know the mayor could speak so eloquently.

"My goodness," Rivers said. "Just the rallying cry that this is not just about the Clippers or the Lakers or L.A. This is something bigger. It was great."

Johnson's political trajectory has been rising since he returned to his hometown of Sacramento.

During his first mayoral campaign in 2008, he fought allegations of misusing federal grants while running a charter school. Despite the claims, he ousted the incumbent with a pledge to raise the profile of the city. He compared himself to then-candidate Barack Obama and campaigned on the promise of change.

His personal profile has also been on the rise. In 2011, he wed former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee in a private ceremony in Tennessee after plans for a much larger wedding drew intense public scrutiny. Rhee was featured in the school reform documentary "Waiting for Superman" and founded the advocacy group StudentsFirst.

The couple attended Obama's first inauguration and they were among 350 guests at a White House state dinner honoring French President Francois Hollande in February.

While the Clippers made recent headlines, it's been the Kings that have dominated much of Johnson's time.

Sacramento had a topsy-turvy relationship with former Kings owners George, Joe and Gavin Maloof as the franchise struggled and proposals for a new arena came in fits and starts. The Maloofs considered moving the Kings to Las Vegas, Anaheim and Virginia Beach, Virginia, until announcing an agreement that called for investor Chris Hansen to buy the team and move it to Seattle.

   1 2  -  Next page  >>