By R.E. Graswich
People who have read drafts of my upcoming book “Vagrant Kings: David Stern, Kevin Johnson and the NBA’s Orphan Team,” come away with one question.
What will Mayor Johnson think?
Having known Kevin for about 30 years, I can make a pretty good guess.
I think he will appreciate how the story of the Kings’ franchise has been pulled together in one narrative. He will like the historical aspects of the book. The complaints, if there are any, will come from Kevin’s friends and advisers who may feel the book hurts his political future.
While “Vagrant Kings” is not intended to evaluate Kevin’s effectiveness as mayor, it does take readers behind the scenes at the Mayor’s Office. There are staff discussions and strategy sessions with NBA Commissioner David Stern. The public has never seen this material before.
That could make some of Kevin’s inner-circle unhappy. So, to save everybody time, here are responses to some prospective comments that might be made about “Vagrant Kings.” We’ll see how close I get in the coming weeks and months, after the e-book edition is released later in September.
1. The book contains privileged material that should not be seen by the public.
Response: When I went to work for the Mayor’s Office in 2009, I took the job for the purposes of serving the community and writing a book. I didn’t know what kind of book. Mayor Johnson and I spoke many times about a book, and exchanged emails on the subject. We never settled on a concept. After I left City Hall, a book about the Kings seemed obvious. As for privileged material, my feeling is that all business conducted by public officials is ultimately the public’s business.
2. “Vagrant Kings” was written out of spite because I’m a disgruntled former employee.
Response: Please. I had a wonderful time in the Mayor’s Office, and can be best described as a grateful former employee. I’m extremely thankful to have been given a chance to work inside City Hall. I met many fine people there. When I left after Kevin’s first term, I was part of an exodus that included almost the entire staff. And if I still worked there, I could not have written “Vagrant Kings.” The timing has been perfect.
3. I don’t like Kevin Johnson.
Response: Kevin can be a handful, especially when you work for him, but the guy is dynamic, energized, committed to his community and the right mayor at the right time for Sacramento. I spent almost four years working for Kevin, often defending him against the inevitable critics. Still, “Vagrant Kings” is a work of journalism: a straightforward, honest portrayal of events relevant to the Kings. It’s not supposed to be a valentine to the mayor. If I didn’t like Kevin and didn’t want to write journalism, “Vagrant Kings” would be a much different book.
4. “Vagrant Kings” is an attempt to hurt the new arena by a writer who has always opposed publicly financed arenas.
Response: It’s true that until I went to work for the Mayor’s Office, I was opposed to publicly financed arenas in Sacramento. I’ve blogged about why I changed my tune. I believe “Vagrant Kings” will ultimately help the arena project by providing a narrative history and perspective to the Kings’ problems with arenas dating to the 1940s. I don’t say this in the book, because “Vagrant Kings” is journalism, but I’ll say it here: Sacramento needs a new arena, and downtown is the place to build it.
5. “Vagrant Kings” is not true.
Response: The book carries about 30 pages of notes and citations for the sources of all quotes and factual materials as presented. Some of the passages reflect my impressions, but those are first-hand journalistic accounts of incidents I witnessed (and there were many witnesses). I’ve done my absolute best to make the book 100 percent accurate. If anyone finds a factual error (which is possible in a history that spans almost 80 years and runs about 75,000 words), I will make the appropriate corrections as soon as possible. Please let me know if you find something wrong.
So what will Kevin think? I believe he will know the whole point of “Vagrant Kings” is to tell the unique story of an orphan team that was saved by a commissioner, a mayor and a community. What’s not to like about that?