Sacramento, nearly beaten five months ago, is keeping its Kings after all.

Meeting behind closed doors in the sprawling Hilton Anatole hotel, the NBA board of governors on Wednesday finally resolved the most vexing question the league has yet faced over a team's future – and did so in resounding fashion.

By a 22-8 vote, following hours of debate and last-minute pitches, the league's 30 owners killed a 5-month-old deal between the Maloof family and wealthy Seattle suitors to buy the team and move it to the Pacific Northwest.

The board ruled that Sacramento's last-minute push to put together a buyer's group, draw up an arena financing plan and win City Council approval was more than enough for the city to keep the team it has called its own the last 28 years.

The decision, announced by Commissioner David Stern at a packed news conference in the Hilton, represents a huge victory for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who led the city's come-from-behind effort that seemed a few months ago to have little or no chance against a well-financed Seattle deal to buy the team.

Johnson recruited an ever-evolving group of deep-pocketed private investors – he called them "whales" – who hastily put together a counter-offer for the Kings. The mayor also rushed a $448 million arena deal, with a city subsidy of at least $258 million, through the City Council.

Stern said the battle between the two cities came down to a simple fact. "It was advantage incumbent," he said. "This wasn't an anti-Seattle vote, this was a pro-Sacramento vote."

A major issue remains unresolved, however. The Maloof family, owners of the Kings since 1999, have not yet agreed to sign a backup offer from the Sacramento investor group, and team co-owner George Maloof insisted after the vote Wednesday that "there's no pressure on us" to sell the team.

Stern said he will personally push for a deal to be signed by the end of this week. Maloof and Vivek Ranadive, the Silicon Valley tech executive who heads the Sacramento buyers group, both acknowledged their attorneys have been talking quietly about a deal for several weeks.

One person close to the talks revealed late in the day that attorneys between the two sides had been talking "seriously" throughout the day, even before the NBA board of governors voted. Those talks included exchanging deal documents, the source said.

Speaking to The Bee late Wednesday, Ranadive, a current Golden State Warriors co-owner, affirmed his confidence.

"I have no doubt we'll get something done," he said.

At a press briefing in Dallas after the vote, a pleased but notably subdued Mayor Johnson expressed gratitude across the board, to the NBA, to Ranadive, to Sacramento's fans and to the business community. He also lauded the Maloofs, whom he called a proud family that deserves credit for keeping a critical door open for Sacramento by allowing the the city to make a backup offer to Seattle's bid.

"I got a chance to see George Maloof, Gavin and Joe afterwards," Johnson said. "We shook hands. They said congratulations."