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Ranadivé’s 20-year-old daughter Anjali has just uttered words no father wants to hear: “The next thing I know, we’re hanging out with Chris,” she says with unadulterated excitement. That’s Grammy-winning musician Chris Brown, best known by many for his arrest after assaulting his girlfriend, R&B singer Rihanna. It’s a hot afternoon in July and Anjali has just walked into TIBCO headquarters in Palo Alto wearing a bright red Team USA jersey that NBA commissioner David Stern had given her at the 2012 Olympics in London.
A Berkeley undergrad and aspiring pop star, Anjali has long dark hair, dark eyes and a wide white smile. She is beautiful, with an honest, youthful spirit that seems like it would be wildly out of place in Hollywood backrooms. But a few weeks earlier, she was in Los Angeles to attend the BET Awards with her roommate/manager Chelsea, who, Anjali says, is really good at talking her way into places. At the after-party, Chelsea talked them into the VIP room where they met Brown. He likes Bollywood beats, Brown told Anjali. Before long, they were talking about writing a Kings anthem together. She tells her father that she and Brown might be getting together soon to work on it.
There’s a tick of silence while Ranadivé processes this. His face is still except for the rays of wrinkles around his eyes that are currently registering consternation. He leans back in his chair and intertwines his fingers behind his head.
“Oh, man. I’m going to send Shaq along,” he quips, thinking one of the heaviest players to ever play in the NBA might make a good bodyguard.
He leaves it at that, but it’s doubtful that he’ll forget. He had earlier pointed out to her that “you can become as famous as Beyoncé and that is not going to impress me. What will impress me is if…” he dangles it for her to answer.
“I get a PhD,” she replies, resigned. He wants her to be a marine biologist. A few years ago, she was offered a part in Disney’s High School Musical. But she’d also been chosen for an internship at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. So, Ranadivé says in all seriousness, “I took her for lunch and said, ‘Sweetie, I think you’re going to be a lot happier cleaning the penguin cages than spending the whole summer in L.A. on some dumb show.’ ” She went to Monterey.
Ranadivé has raised his kids with the same sense of intense purpose that was instilled in him. They don’t speak any Indian languages and haven’t spent much time there, but whether they know it or not, Ranadivé has passed on to them his warrior-prince principles. “He’s just this amazing guy that we all look up to,” says Aneel. “He can be tough when he needs to be tough, but he can also be very understanding and sensitive.”
So it is likely Anjali will be a doctor long before she’s a diva. There is talk of her singing at Kings games—perhaps even at the opening home game this season. She did it when Ranadivé had a stake in the Golden State Warriors and is a big basketball fan. In fact, it was Anjali who sparked Ranadivé’s passion for basketball. He coached her National Junior Basketball team, though he had never played basketball himself.
This is another tale he has told many times, the one author Malcolm Gladwell wrote about for The New Yorker. It goes like this: Ranadivé was terrified of those preteens. He didn’t want to embarrass himself in front of his little girl, but he really didn’t know what he was doing. But, says his sister, Deshpande, “Once he decided he was going to coach them, then that team was going to win.”
So Ranadivé studied the game.
He noticed that the middle of the court was a no-woman’s-land. Once the ball turned over, everyone ran to the other end. That seemed counterproductive to him. So he had his girls fight for the ball on every inch of the hardwood—a full-court press, every game, every play.
It was a good scheme, but the girls still needed skills. So Ranadivé asked Roger Craig to help. Craig knew football—he won the Super Bowl three times with the 49ers—but not so much basketball. Craig enlisted his daughter Rometra—a 5’10” point guard who played for Duke and USC. Ranadivé flew her up from L.A. for practices. She was the secret weapon, says her dad. She taught the girls what they needed to know. Ranadivé’s approach worked—the team went all the way to the national finals before losing because, Ranadivé says, a ref didn’t like the tactic and kept calling fouls.
But, says Anjali, “It was probably one of the best experiences I’ve had.”
* * *
Not long before the NBA Board of Governors, comprised of all 30 team owners, voted in May to keep the Kings in Sacramento, Ranadivé hosted a gathering at his home with several of his future co-owners and friends that, by several accounts, reflected the extremely confident nature of the group’s bid.
“We all went to Vivek’s house, and we had a little three-point contest,” says Andy Miller, who is part of the new ownership group, COO of tech company Leap Motion, and head of the Kings’ technology committee (recently, he was taking suggestions for the team app on Twitter). “We didn’t have the team then, but we were pretty sure we were going to get it.”
In his sprawling Atherton mansion, Ranadivé has an indoor half-court in the basement that occasionally doubles as a dance floor at his annual Christmas party.
Ranadivé downplays any suggestion of overconfidence and instead explains that the event was a “huddle” to discuss the deal and the future. Shortly after, though, he got his team by a 22-8 vote, as at least some of his partners fully expected.
“It wasn’t a huge surprise,” says Miller, adding that when the Seattle group increased its bid at the last minute, “we were told that this really wasn’t going to be an auction process.”
“We thought we did everything they asked for and we had a very compelling story,” Miller continues. “All our money was ready to be put up ages ago. Our story was about why this was great for the NBA and great for Sacramento. Seattle’s story was why it was great for Seattle and why Sacramento was wrong for the NBA and why we weren’t much of a credible bid. So theirs was a bit more negative.”
And at least one key observer in the meetings gives Ranadivé much of the credit. “When there was someone who was needed to make representations on behalf of the franchise to meet this obligation or meet that obligation,” says David Stern, “Vivek was the person who in effect stood up, if not literally then figuratively, and took responsibility for providing the answers that the owners wanted to hear.”
Soon after his presentation to the NBA owners, Ranadivé spotted venture capitalist Chris Hansen, one of the leaders of the Seattle group, leaning against a wall. He felt Hansen must have known he had lost. “I went up and introduced myself to Chris Hansen and I said, ‘Look, you know, nothing personal, but if it comes up that we win this, then you have my commitment that I’ll do everything possible to help Seattle get a team,’ ” he recalls. “ ‘Seattle deserves to have a team and it’s my personal belief that it shouldn’t come from Sacramento. I know it’s a tough thing for you to swallow, but I’ll do anything I can to help you get a team, if that’s what you want.’ ” Hansen, he says, was gracious in his reply. (A few months later, however, after vowing to relinquish his pursuit of the Kings, Hansen was caught funding an anti-arena signature drive.)
It was the end of a long fight—longer than Ranadivé likes to admit. Although the K Street call to KJ was the mythical moment that he became a contender, the truth is Ranadivé had been making a play for the Kings for some time—keeping it on the down low and far behind the scenes.
“I know Mark [Mastrov] and Vivek were talking about it probably a year before anything really started to materialize with [Seattle’s] Hansen-Ballmer group,” says Miller.
Miller and Mastrov, founder of 24 Hour Fitness, were friends and, as far back as the rumored move to Anaheim, had “been talking to people and trying to put a group together and talking with the mayor and just getting things organized with the hopes that something might come up,” he explains.
Roger Craig also remembers it as going back “way before” the Anaheim move came up. “The whole Kings thing, I kind of put that out there a year and a half ago,” he says. “I called the mayor’s people. I said, ‘I have a friend who’s interested.’ ”
Mayor Johnson confirms that “Vivek’s name had come to the surface [long] before it was public,” but says that as mayor, when it came to talking to potential buyers, he had to “walk a fine line, so I couldn’t directly talk to people.”
But early on, the timing wasn’t right and Ranadivé was cautious about playing his hand too soon. “I had a lot of downsides if I got involved,” says Ranadivé, referring to his minority stake in the Golden State Warriors. “I would be walking away from something I love. And I couldn’t very well lose if I got involved. If I came up short, then I’d have to go back to Oracle Arena [as] the guy who abandoned the team he said he loved.”
So he stayed anonymous. Miller knew him only as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. “I heard so much about him, but not by name from Mark,” he says. “Which was funny because Mark and I had been friends for a while, but we all sort of respected the privacy of the situation.”
However long Ranadivé has had his eye on Sacramento, he isn’t talking, any more than he’ll talk about the behind-the-scenes action of the deal. “There were a lot of things that happened. I just don’t want to get into it,” he says. “All I can tell you is that the only person that knows the whole story is me.” He does add that, “If there is one person who is responsible for the team staying here and for us building a new arena, and us building a global franchise, it’s Mayor Kevin Johnson. He is one of the smartest and most charismatic, most visionary people that I’ve ever met.”
But there’s part of Ranadivé that does want to tell more about it. It is, after all, the start of what could be his greatest legend ever: How the warrior prince of Juhu Beach became the king of Kings. It dovetails off his coaching experience with his daughter—having the courage and vision to innovate, break molds and champion the underdog—and involves entitled billionaires, worldwide expansion of an all-American sport, and the potential to remake the state’s capital city.
“It was a huge battle, in ways to the highest levels of the world,” he says, and means it. “Very powerful people, and there was a lot at stake. It’s a fabulous story. Someday it’ll make a fascinating book. Like David Stern and I joked, one day we’ll write an opera about it—From Maloofs to Mumbai. His title, not mine.”