ESPN Kevin Johnson doc killed, was more awful even than you thought

On my Google calendar for next Tuesday night, there is a notation for “30 on 30 on Sacramento Kings,” which is the ESPN documentary that was scheduled to run on Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and his successful push to fund a new arena for the Kings. I was so looking forward to watching and commenting on some of the worst bits, but sadly this will now not happen, as ESPN has pulled the show’s airing after revelations that KJ may have molested teenagers and plotted to destroy the National Conference of Black Mayors and run his own secret private government in City Hall — most of which was public knowledge before they made the film, but better late than never, right?

In any event, we can all still point and laugh at the documentary even without seeing it, courtesy of Max Rivlin-Nadler of the New Republic, who got a screening copy and did plenty of pointing and laughing on his own:

Down In The Valley amounts to a 77-minute political advertisement for Johnson, a man who in 1995 paid a 15-year-old over $230,000 to keep quiet after she alleged that he had sexually abused her…

A narrator explains that this often-overlooked city would soon need to call on one of its own to save it. Cut to pictures of a young Kevin Johnson, playing baseball and basketball, and growing up on the rough side of town before developing into a world-famous basketball star.

This sounds Sharknado-level awful, and I’m more sorry than ever that it’s not going to be available for livetweeting.

And what about the Kings arena project, which is set up as Johnson’s finest hour?

The film focuses solely on Johnson for its final hour, letting him provide the play-by-play of the procedures involved in convincing the NBA to not let any new ownership move the team…

Completely missing from the film is any meaningful information about the cost of that new basketball arena. Johnson intentionally crafted the bill approving the arena to be immune to any public referendums, even though the public is on the hook for $226 million, almost half of the cost. Johnson, in his desire to keep the team in the city, convinced software tycoon Vivek Ranadivé to lead up an ownership group to buy out the Maloofs for a then-record $534 million. Johnson then got the city council to pass a spending bill that would avoid a public vote to pay for a new arena for the team, now assured that they would be staying. Down in the Valley mentions none of this.

ESPN, as Rivlin-Nadler notes, has a long history of being caught between its role as a news agency and its role as a network in the business of buying the rights to sporting events and using them to extract huge carriage fees from cable companies, and hasn’t always done the best to balance the two. So it’s not really surprising that ESPN green-lit Down in the Valley, nor that it got spooked and backed away from it at the last minute. I guess we should all just be glad that the network’s vacillation put its decision-making process on full display — and let at least a lucky few get a glimpse at the thing itself. The need to at least pretend to professionalism does have its benefits.

5 comments on “ESPN Kevin Johnson doc killed, was more awful even than you thought

  1. Of course, none of this matters – according to the Sacramento Bee ( We should only look at his public record (he saved the kings!!!!) not his lack of integrity, not his lack of honesty, not his criminal behavior, not the fines he has had to pay to the Fair Political Practice Commission, not the back-room dealing, ………

  2. Long-story short I was with a startup asset management firm in 2011 that was trying to build a muni-bond desk. So I had the idea that we should try and pitch mid-sized cities and the head of our firm knew someone who knew KJ. So I thought we should lob in a call. This was before the feasibility study was done.
    So I would suggest taking a look at the relationship between ICON Venue Group, AEG, and this project.

  3. There is a big dinner tonight to raise funds for KJ’s charter school, St Hope Academy. In my opinion, the timing could not be worse. I’ve been to these dinners in the past, and was also invited to attend this one; I declined to go.

    The main speaker: Marion Jones. That was enough for me to say no. I’m a pretty hard-core cyclist, and I wouldn’t go to a dinner where Lance Armstrong was the keynote; why should I voluntarily listen to Marion Jones? I don’t believe or trust her.

    Anyway, at this dinner, they tout the achievements of KJ’s schools. I do not doubt for a minute there are individual success stories at that school. But, overall, I know their track record — it’s pretty terrible — and I know what kind of negative impact St Hope has had on the District.

    There are plenty of organizations scheduled to attend tonight who deal with sexual and other forms of assault. Even though the dinner is sold out, I can only think there will be no-shows tonight. I personally did not want to associate myself with this dinner, this charter school, or this man and his wife.

  4. The use of the term “campus” for the blob that
    ate Bristol – and all the tax breaks they get – is
    a fitting description of “the mother ship”.
    In my 3 years there, I saw very little “professional journalism”, more like fawning fans wanting to be aspiring/budding writers.
    “Happiness is seein’ Bristol in ‘yer rear-view mirror”…


    ^^ This.

    Basically, he’s the old guy in the office who calls all the 20 year olds “Sweetie.” It does get annoying. And it raises suspicions. I don’t like it when he does that.

    It’s not just City employees, either.