At age 17, Vivek Ranadivé arrived in the United States from India with $50 in his pocket. When he moved to California in the mid-1980s after obtaining multiple degrees from MIT and Harvard, he found himself $50,000 in debt.
In an exclusive interview with NBC Bay Area’s Raj Mathai, Ranadivé said his decision to take the lead role in a group intent on purchasing the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and keeping them in the state capitol was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“Every now and then, you get an opportunity to participate in something that’s bigger than yourself,” Ranadivé said. “The state of California means everything to me and I felt that if I could be a part of keeping the Kings in Sacramento, that was something I needed to do.”
Without Ranadivé -- or another big-time investor -- the group previously led by 24-Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov and billionaire businessman Ron Burkle likely wouldn’t have been able to keep the Kings in town. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and hedge fund manager Chris Hansen lead a separate group that has agreed to purchase 65 percent of the Kings from the Maloof brothers for $341 million with the intent of moving the team to Seattle.
NBA commissioner David Stern made it clear on March 8 before the Warriors hosted Houston at Oracle Arena that a previous “expression of interest” from the Mastrov group wasn’t strong enough financially to warrant consideration.
“I would say that the counter bid, if you call it that, has very strong financial people behind it, but it is not quite there in terms of a comparison to the Seattle bid,” Stern said. “It needs to be increased by dollar amounts.”
With Ranadivé joining Mastrov and Burkle as the lead partner, that became possible. As a result, he’s being viewed as a potential basketball savior of sorts for the city.
“I don’t look at it that way, I think Sacramento is a great city, it’s our state capitol, and I think the fans of Sacramento will be the ones saving (basketball in) Sacramento,” he said. “To me, it’s truly humbling to see the level of support that we have seen from the fans.”
For the deal to work, Ranadivé must sell his interest in the Warriors -- a team he’s been a fan of for long before he joined the ownership group fronted by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. He admits his emotional ties to the franchise will be tough, maybe even impossible, to let go of.
“I’ve been a huge Warriors fan and I’ve asked the Sacramento fans to give me a free pass and some understanding on that,” Ranadivé said. “But I believe this is a great cause and, like I said, sometimes there are things bigger than yourself.”
Ranadivé said he’s also floated the concept to Stern about passing his Warriors’ ownership stake into a trust.
“I will always be a Warriors fan and I would love to continue to have that stake,” said Ranadivé, who doesn’t anticipate having any trouble selling his portion of the team. “I believe that the value has gone up dramatically.
“The team is doing really well. We sold more season tickets in the last few months than had ever been sold by anyone and so I have no doubt there will be a lot of people wanting to buy that stake.”
On Monday, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson announced on Twitter that Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs had also joined the Sacramento group.
The city of Sacramento has plans for a $447 million downtown arena, which would rely on $258 million of public money, but it is reliant on a city council vote scheduled for Tuesday night. Ranadivé acknowledged there will always be criticism when public money is in play, but is confident it is a solid investment for both parties.
On April 3, the Ranadivé/Mastrov/Burkle/Jacobs group and the Seattle group will both meet before Stern and a small group of NBA owners in New York City, where each will make a case for their bid to be accepted. The NBA Board of Governors will vote on the issue at its meeting on April 18 and 19.
If Sacramento keeps the Kings, Ranadivé believes the league should find a way to have a presence in Seattle.
“Seattle should absolutely have a basketball team, without question,” he said. “But I would also say it should not be the Kings. It should be from another market.”