Vivek Ranadive Hopes for Kings 3.0

SACRAMENTO — Vivek Ranadive, the controlling owner of the Sacramento Kings, is a true believer.

He believes in data. He believes in “Civilization 3.0” — that the world is entering a stage of massive disruption and that cities are one of mankind’s 10 greatest inventions. He believes that he can make basketball the second most popular sport in India (behind cricket). He believes in gluten-free consumption, which he says “declutters your mind.” But more than anything, he believes in himself.

“This will sound corny, but when I wake up, the first thought I have is, ‘What can I do to make a difference and make the world better?’” Ranadive, 61, said recently, sitting at a table in a condominium he owns that overlooks the rejuvenated downtown area of Sacramento.

There’s no question about that: It does sound corny.

But Ranadive is entering a new phase as the head of an N.B.A. franchise. The Kings recently traveled to Mumbai — where Ranadive is from — to play the Indiana Pacers, the latest in the league’s forays into India. Ranadive, after acquiring the Kings, went to Mumbai in December 2014 with Adam Silver and extracted a promise from the newly-minted league commissioner that games would be played there someday.

“I was a bit reluctant because I felt — and maybe still do to a certain extent — we were getting ahead of ourselves in that market and that the infrastructure wasn’t yet in place to play an N.B.A. game,” Silver said in an interview. “But he was very persistent.”

Ranadive has made bringing the sport to his home country a core part of his identity as an owner, pitching it as a way to keep the N.B.A. growing.

“If you think about basketball and you think about India, Indians love to celebrate,” Ranadive said. “Indians love to party. Indians love Bollywood and showmanship.”

Ranadive himself doesn’t have much swagger, and he’s not one to dwell on an accomplishment. He’s thinking about the next moment, the next goal. That stems from his childhood, Ranadive said. He was raised in Juhu Beach, a well-to-do suburb of what was then called Bombay. He attended a private school, co-founded by his family, which gave out a “Ranadive Award” every year. (A Ranadive usually won.)

“The way I was raised was that if you came second, you were a loser,” Ranadive said. He added, “My hatred for failure is greater than my love for success.”

But. And there is a but.

The data is not kind to Sacramento, and Ranadive is a man who values data to help him avoid failure. The last time the Kings made the playoffs was 2006. Since Ranadive took over the team in 2013, the Kings have gone through four head coaches. There have been notable draft misses, like Nik Stauskas in 2014. Cap space has not yielded much. Ranadive said he expected the Kings to contend for championships within five years from now, but the franchise has not been, at least from the outside, a picture of stability.

They traded away their franchise player in 2017, DeMarcus Cousins, and Vlade Divac, the general manager, told the press that he had passed up a better offer days earlier. (It was an embarrassing headline, to be sure, but the trade still turned out fine for Divac. The Kings netted one of the better shooters in the league, Buddy Hield.)

Last season was a high-water mark: The Kings won 39 games and made a surprising run at the postseason. And yet, right when it seemed like the Kings had established a positive culture, Divac fired the head coach Dave Joerger.

The Kings moved swiftly to replace Joerger with Luke Walton, who had just left the Lakers. Then, news broke that Walton was sued by Kelli Tennant, a former sports broadcaster who accused Walton of sexually assaulting her in a hotel room in 2014, which Walton denied. The team initiated an investigation with outside lawyers and support from the league. In August, the N.B.A. and the Kings jointly announced that the investigation was being closed and that “there was not a sufficient basis to support the allegations.” Tennant declined to speak to the investigators. Ranadive said he was “shocked and surprised” by the lawsuit.

“We took the accusations very seriously,” he said. “We hired some very highly regarded and experienced investigators. My instructions to them is that there were no boundaries. Find everything you can out. There’s no rules.”

Along with being one of the few controlling owners of color in professional sports, Ranadive has set himself apart for his willingness to engage about social justice issues and politics — to an extent.

“I really view myself as an American, not as a Republican or a Democrat,” he said.

Ranadive donated $2,500 to Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, but in 2016, he opened his checkbook for Hillary Clinton and other Democrats all over the country. When asked if he thought he would be involved some way in 2020, Ranadive said: “I don’t think so. I’m not good at that type of stuff. I’d rather focus on things where I can make a difference.”

After two Sacramento police officers fatally shot an unarmed African-American man named Stephon Clark last year, demonstrators came and disrupted the start of a Kings game at the Golden 1 Center. Ranadive took the floor after the game and said, “We’re going to work really hard to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again.”

He voiced support for the N.B.A.’s decision to pull its All-Star game from Charlotte, N.C., over a state law that made it legal to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. He criticized President Trump in 2017 for comments on protesting N.F.L. players, and recently posted on Twitter that climate change is “the greatest challenge facing the next generation.” In July, Ranadive posted an op-ed to Medium that paid tribute to immigrants who have contributed to the space program. It didn’t mention Trump by name, but the article came in the wake of Trump’s tweets telling four Democratic congresswomen of color — all American citizens — to “go back” to their own countries.

Ranadive’s oft-repeated immigrant success story begins around age 16. He was attending the Indian Institute of Technology when he was also accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He wanted to attend M.I.T., but in those days, it was difficult to convert rupees — the Indian currency — to American dollars. The story, as it is told, is that Ranadive camped out at the Reserve Bank of India one day until he was granted five minutes with the bank’s governor, whom he persuaded to give him $50, plus some tuition and other costs to come to the United States. Ranadive left for the United States and obtained his electrical engineering degree from M.I.T. and, soon after, an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

Decades later, Ranadive would make much of his fortune in Silicon Valley through the software company he founded, TIBCO, which re-envisioned how data is streamlined for everything from Wall Street to government agencies.

His first foray into professional basketball was acquiring a minority stake in the Golden State Warriors in 2010. Ranadive came to basketball in his late 40s — and found the sport baffling, as the author Malcolm Gladwell chronicled in his book, “David and Goliath,” which told the story of Ranadive somehow coaching his 12-year-old daughter Anjali’s team to the state championship.

In 2013, Ranadive became a sort of hero in Sacramento, when he and a group of investors acquired the Kings from the Maloof family for a then-record $534 million. Another group of investors, led by Steve Ballmer, made an aggressive bid for the team with the intent of moving it to Seattle. But Ranadive, with grand plans for the construction of a new arena and global expansion of the game, won out.

“When I played here, it was a very quiet city,” said Divac, who starred for the team from 1998 to 2004. “After a game, you had a tough time finding an open restaurant.”

Now, the Kings’ on-court success is almost irrelevant to whether buying the team was a good investment. This is the reality of modern day economics for sports franchises. The Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and Nets all recently sold for more than $2 billion — roughly quadruple what Ranadive’s group paid for the Kings.

Asked what it was like to be running a franchise with new expectations — Kings 3.0, you might say — Ranadive had his earnestness at the ready.

“Look, the one thing is that I don’t really think of myself as owning the team,” Ranadive said. “I came into this feeling like I was just a temporary steward and this team really belongs to the fans. It belongs to the city. It belongs to you guys, the media. I’m just kind of trying to shepherd it in the right direction.”

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