Martin Luther King III speaks in Washington, DC. (Jan. 19,...

Martin Luther King III speaks in Washington, DC. (Jan. 19, 2009) Credit: Getty Images

Martin Luther King III, the son of the esteemed civil rights leader, has attached his famous name to a group of investors looking to become partners with the Wilpons in owning the Mets.

Larry Meli, the former general manager of SportsChannel, said King's group of investors - which includes Meli, former Mets first baseman Ed Kranepool and Donn Clendenon Jr., son of another former Mets first baseman - hopes to meet with the Wilpons this week.

The Wilpons, whose Great Neck-based Sterling Equities is the Mets' sole owner, announced Friday that they are willing to sell 20 to 25 percent of the team to offset "uncertainty" created by the lawsuit brought forth by the special trustee in the Bernard Madoff fraud case.

Sources have indicated that special trustee Irving Picard's lawsuit seeks hundreds of millions of dollars from the Wilpons. They have been engaged in settlement talks since the suit was filed last month.

After hearing the Wilpons' surprising announcement Friday afternoon, Meli said he immediately contacted King, Kranepool and Clendenon Jr. - along with several financial backers "with deep pockets" - and decided on the spot that they needed to act swiftly.

"He's got a love for New York, he's in New York a lot and this just seems like the right place and the right opportunity," Meli said Sunday of King. "We won't know until we get there, but at least on the surface it seems that way."

Meli described King as a big baseball fan who enjoyed throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the Mets played the White Sox in Major League Baseball's annual civil rights exhibition game in 2008.

King, 53, who is based in Atlanta, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Meli said the idea of owning the Mets as opposed to another baseball franchise is even more attractive to King because of how the franchise has embraced the memory of Jackie Robinson at Citi Field.

Forbes estimated that the Mets are worth $858 million, meaning a potential investor looking to buy a 20 to 25 percent share has to be able to put up about $200 million. Meli declined to identify his financial backers but said he is "more than confident" they can round up that much money.

"We have more than sufficient resources to buy the whole team if we had the opportunity," Meli said.

Glaceau Vitaminwater founder Mike Repole, who sold the company for a reported $4.1 billion in 2007, also has expressed interest in owning part of the Mets.

A spokeswoman for Repole confirmed Sunday that he has reached out to Fred and Jeff Wilpon since their Friday announcement.

Repole, 42, grew up in Queens as a Mets fan and often has said in interviews that his dream jobs are general manager of the Mets and coach of the men's basketball team at St. John's, his alma mater.

At Repole Stable, he made sure that the colors of his silks are blue and orange in honor of the Mets, his spokeswoman said.

A Red Storm booster, Repole spent Sunday afternoon attending St. John's victory over Duke at Madison Square Garden.

Vodka maven Martin Silver of Syosset also held a news conference Saturday at a Manhattan bar to announce his interest in buying a part of the Mets.

Major League Baseball will have to approve whoever the Wilpons ultimately choose to do business with.