LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- As Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson began to explain to a Louisville audience how he had managed to prevent the Sacramento Kings from moving to another city, he stopped mid-sentence and locked eyes with Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.
"Don't take my team," Johnson implored, then smiled.
"No promises," Fischer replied after a pregnant pause.
As the keynote speaker at Leadership Louisville's annual luncheon, Johnson spoke of leadership, education and how a city's NBA team is "bigger than basketball," engendering civic pride and jobs.
The Kings have played in Sacramento for 27 years, but its owners are reported to be considering other homes after walking away from a deal Johnson brokered to build a new 18,000 seat arena.
"Everybody accepted that financing plan, and then a few weeks later the owners walked away from it," Johnson said in a WHAS11 interview. "So, they're in a holding pattern. There's nothing else we as a city can do. We've done our part."
"You best believe we're going to do everything we can to keep our team there, and certainly be a part of that NBA fraternity," Johnson said.
Johnson is a member of that club - a former All-Star with the Phoenix Suns, he flew to New York and made an impassioned plea to the NBA's Board of Governors when the Kings contemplated a move to Anaheim two years ago.
Sacramento studied Louisville's KFC Yum! Center project for its arena plan, he said.
"I have talked to the mayors of Charlotte, New Orleans and Oklahoma City," Fischer said. "These mayors all say, ‘If you have a chance at an NBA team, it’s a no-brainer to do it.’ Now we’ve got some issues we’ve got to work out.”
Louisville Arena Authority members have discouraged talk of an NBA at the downtown venue because the University of Louisville controls the arena's scheduling and most of the revenues.
Johnson said Louisville would be a good fit for the NBA.
"(The KFC Yum! Center) right there is the first big, big hurdle," Johnson said. "Now that you've done that, its very important to let the NBA know and people know. You can be doing things really quietly right now to position this city and I think that's what Mayor Fischer is starting to do."
"Let's be proactive and ready if an opportunity presents itself," Johnson said.
In response to a WHAS11 question, the Sacramento mayor said he is not concerned about Louisville potentially targeting the Kings.
"No, this is business and this is fair game," Johnson said. "I want any city to thrive. And it's up to us to keep our team and do what we can to make sure that Sacramento is the final resting place for the Sacramento Kings."
"What the owners decide to do, that's their perogative," Johnson said. "We hope they accept our deal. We hope they're in Sacramento long term. If at some point they want to sell, then we have a couple of suitors who would be interested in buying the team and keeping them in Sacramento."
The most recent city named in Kings' move rumors is Virginia Beach.
"I hope they realize the grass is not greener in Virginia Beach or other cities around the country," Johnson said, "but if they decide to do that, then I believe we're positioned to get in line like everybody else on getting a team if one becomes available and move them to Sacramento."