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Kings owner looks to transform side into 'India's team'

By Will Robinson

SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - In January, the Sacramento Kings appeared to be erased from the NBA after the owners, the Maloof family, agreed with a Seattle-based investment group to sell and relocate the team.

By May, the NBA voted against relocation and helped usher in a new ownership group led by tech developer and philanthropist Vivek Ranadive, retaining the team in California's capital.

In six months, the former minority owner of the Golden State Warriors has overhauled business and basketball operations to realize his vision of making basketball and the Kings the world's game and team, respectively.

Former NBA executive Chris Granger, now the Kings president, was lured to the city when the Maloofs flirted with a possible Anaheim, California, move in 2011 and during Ranadive's initial visits earlier this year.

"I was and remain inspired by the vision and ambition of our ownership group," Granger said on Tuesday. "Our fans and their passion and resiliency is second to none. And I think the project, in terms of building what we hope to be the most talked about arena in the world, is a once in a lifetime opportunity."

The arena, slated to open in 2016 in the core of downtown Sacramento, is designed by AECOM, designers of the Brooklyn Nets' Barclays Center.

But winning over jaded fans will be a process; last season, the Kings ranked dead last in attendance as uncertainty mired the side.

"It's tough to put money into an organization that you're not sure is gonna be here for the long run, and the uncertainty, it's gotta be frustrating," forward Jason Thompson said of regaining fans. "But it's long gone, and I'm glad I don't have to answer any questions whether we're staying or moving."

Until the new building opens, Granger said the team has invested in the current Sleep Train Arena to provide a "great fan experience" while also connecting with the community, such as giving 10 percent of money from full season ticket sales to local charities and partnering with local business.

"For too long, (local business) were sort of ignored by the Kings," Granger asserts. "Given the avidity of our fans the amount of marketing assets at our disposable, we can do things that help local business as well.

"We want to make sure that we do everything we can to make people proud of that relationship," Granger continued. "The good is that everyone is intensely focused on you. The challenge in that is that everyone is intensely focused on you. You just have to make sure you're doing everything right 100 percent of the time, which is what we're trying to do."

A big plan for the team is to develop the India market while expanding its brand; the team launched the first Hindi-based NBA site and hosted a viewing party in Bombay. The initiative was such a success, 15 more Kings games were picked up for broadcast in the country.

"We'd like to see the sport such that we can be the first team to play (In India)," Granger said. "Our overall mission for us is to become India's home team."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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