The dominant sports story in Britain has been the ownership auction for Chelsea Football Club, and more to the point, how American it seems to be. The Ricketts family (Chicago Cubs) wants to buy the team so it can hide its Islamophobic father Joe. The Johnson family (New York Jets) wants to buy the club to remind our British brethren and sistren what a grand job father Woody did as Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. Los Angeles Dodgers investor Todd Boehly is part of a consortium with Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, and apparently is using Conservative MP Daniel Finkelstein as his insider.
But the bid that interests us is the one headed by Sir Martin Broughton, the former Liverpool chairman, and not because he helped bring John Henry into the Premier League to help shatter the seal on American ownership in the Prem. Broughton has in his consortium the former distance running star Lord Sebastian Coe, Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer, who currently have a chunk of Crystal Palace, and multimillionaire Vivek Ranadive, who owns the majority of another NBA juggernaut, your Sacramento Kings.
Let that one rattle around your brainbox for a moment. The Kings in all their performative glory as quite possibly the least successful professional sporting franchise in North America are taking their spectacular .376 winning percentage to the most popular and lucrative league in the world. Amazing.
I’m not sure why this particular development amuses us so. It’s not like Woody Johnson has exactly nailed it with the Jets, or that Blitzer and Harris have made a real indentation with the Devils. Hell, they gave us Sam Hinkie, for God’s sake. And the Ricketts supervised both the assembly and dismantling of the 2016 champion Cubs, and in five years have become deeply unpopular on the North Side for, well, Rickettsing the works.
But the Kings just spark bemusement because they are today as they were when Ranadive first showed interest in buying the team nine years ago yesterday, and for eight years before that: a roiling, fetid mess that has repeatedly changed direction and purpose only to end up in the same place. Twelfth place, that is. Ranadive’s failings as an owner only reach back to 2013; before that the mess belonged to the Maloof boys who managed to go nearly bankrupt with a casino they bought with their father’s beer distributorship, losing both.
The Kings actually are thoroughly unique in that they went their first 13 years in Sactown making the playoffs only twice, then hired coach Rick Adelman who led them to eight consecutive playoff seasons, then fired him and haven’t been back since. They are, in sum, the team players find either when they have no choice (the draft) or no options (everything else).
All that said, Ranadive isn’t going to run Chelsea if the Broughton bid wins. Indeed, the club could even end up in a form of 50-plus-1, in which fan groups would own 50 percent of the club plus an extra portion. That’s not the way to bet, because the American owners don’t buy into things that don’t allow them to run roughshod over ideas like fan involvement. But Harris and Blitzer have more money, and Broughton might have to be the front man to mollify twitchy fans who see American ownership as a rapidly encroaching danger.
No, Ranadive’s résumé of accomplishment with the Kings runs the gamut from staving off relocation by promising to build the Golden One Center, to building the Golden One Center, and since part of the grand plan for Chelsea is to redevelop the area around Stamford Bridge, he might actually be of use there. That’s not much of a way to find amusement in the concept of expanding the comedic possibilities of Kings Thought to new shores. We can’t even dredge up his old scheme of playing four-on-five and leaving the fifth player to basket-hang at the other end because in soccer, that’s offside. Ranadive, whatever his charms, isn’t going to give us the hilarity we’re looking for in our Prem fixation. That apparently is reserved for Everton.
Still, Kings fans would probably like him to be part of the winning bid, if only to distract him from his next coach firing or example of dafting, which is what Kings fans call drafting. Sacramento’s loss would be, well, London’s loss. But it would still be better than Woody … or as we like to think of them, Kings East.