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SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - A day after the announcement of a binding agreement that would move basketball's Sacramento Kings to Seattle, the mayor of Sacramento said he was still fighting for the team and warned Seattle fans not to celebrate just yet.
Mayor Kevin Johnson said he had lined up 19 local investors to chip in $1 million each toward a counteroffer and was in negotiations with several big-money equity investors who were considering an ownership role in the team.
"I want to caution the folks in Seattle, don't celebrate too early," Johnson, a former star for the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns, told a news conference on Tuesday.
"We have something that's ours. We want to keep it and we're going to do everything we can to make Sacramento the final resting place of the Sacramento Kings," he said.
A investment group in Washington state led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen announced a binding agreement on Monday to buy a controlling interest in the Kings and move the team to Seattle, which is still pining over the loss of its SuperSonics in 2008.
The National Basketball Association confirmed that a deal had been reached, but the terms were not disclosed. The NBA must approve any such agreement and that could take several months.
Hansen's group, which includes Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, has city approval to build a new $490 million arena near the waterfront south of downtown Seattle, although that plan still faces opposition from the city's port authority.
Several reports put the value of the deal at about $340 million, but neither of the negotiating parties nor the NBA would comment on details.
Johnson has previously said that NBA Commissioner David Stern had given him consent to submit a counterproposal that would keep the Kings in Sacramento and suggested on Tuesday that the offer still stands.
"I have a commitment from Commissioner Stern that we'd be able to share a compelling case for why a team should stay," he said.
Speaking to more than 100 people at Sacramento City Hall and flanked by most of the members of the city council in front of a banner that read "Playing to Win," Johnson said the 19 local investors had come forward in the space of less than a week.
He said he was also in talks with several equity investors he referred to as "whales."
"This was the first step because we wanted our community to be leading the way," he said. "For us to rally at the speed that we did says an awful lot. We are making great progress on the whales. We believe there are people who are going to invest in Sacramento."
Johnson declined to identify any of the big-money investors but said he may identify them by the end of the week and was expecting to deliver a counter-proposal to the NBA by March 1.
Sports network ESPN has reported on its website that the Kings have been valued at $525 million.
Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and David Brunnstrom