Sacramento Kings sale could bring Sonics back to Seattle
SEATTLE/SACRAMENTO - Reuters
Hedge fund manager Chris Hansen leads a group of investors who are close to a deal to buy the Sacramento Kings to bring the NBA back to Seattle. The city was without an NBA franchise since the relocation of the Supersonics to Oklahoma City.A group of investors led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft Corp CEO Steve Ballmer is close to a deal to buy the Sacramento Kings basketball team for $500 million and move the franchise to Seattle, Yahoo Sports reported on Jan. 9.
The Maloof family, which has wrangled with the city of Sacramento for years over a new arena and held talks with other cities about moving the team, has now agreed to sell, the report said, citing league sources.
Under the reported deal, the Kings would play for two seasons in KeyArena, the stomping ground of the Seattle Supersonics before the team’s 2008 move to Oklahoma City, and then move into a new facility, Yahoo reported.
The National Basketball Association franchise is Sacramento’s only major sports team, and its mayor, Kevin Johnson, is a former NBA star. “I’m going to make every effort that I can possibly do to identify a potential buyer that will ensure that the Sacramento Kings remain in Sacramento,” Johnson told reporters.
American cities often clash over sports franchises, which are seen as economic engines and a source of civic pride.
Johnson promised to locate buyers, mentioning billionaire supermarket mogul Ron Burkle as having expressed an interest in the past.
“It appears to me for the first time that they have possibly shown a desire to sell the team, and that’s what I think is significant today,” Johnson said, referring to the Maloof family.
Seattle sports fans were infuriated by the loss of the Supersonics and have pined for a new NBA team ever since. Hansen last year gained city council approval for a new $490 million arena near the waterfront south of downtown.
Ballmer’s involvement reflects a strong connection between the software giant and local sports.
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen owns the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, and is a part-owner of the Seattle Sounders. Microsoft’s longtime head of human resources, Lisa Brummel, is a part-owner of the Seattle Storm.
When the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder, its owner faulted Seattle officials for not coming up with a plan to replace the aging KeyArena. Many fans still sport Sonics jerseys on the streets of Seattle.
Professional sports have enjoyed a recent resurgence in the city, with the NFL’s Seahawks enjoying success on the field in a relatively new stadium, and the Sounders soccer team boasting the best attendance in the MLS.
Despite resistance from unions and others who fear a third stadium by the city docks will crimp freight transport, the majority of locals favor a new basketball arena and local politicians now embrace the idea. The city council in October signed off on an agreement struck between would-be franchise owner Hansen, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
‘Ain’t it cool?’
“I know as much as you do about the Sonics,” McGinn said. “But if it’s true, ain’t it cool?”
Hansen has spent millions of dollars on land south of downtown Seattle to house a new arena, but locating it there is contingent upon the outcome of an environmental assessment and a review of other potential sites.
“It’s not a done deal. There are discussions, I’m told,” said Marc Ganis, president of consultancy SportsCorp Ltd in Chicago, who is not involved in the deal. “There are lots of unknowns. I think $500 million sounds like the right range.”
The Kings have appeared to be on the brink of leaving their host city in past years.
The Maloofs opened talks with officials to move the team to the Orange County city in 2011, but NBA officials convinced them to give Sacramento another year to get a deal for a new arena in place. Last August, reports circulated that the Maloofs were talking about moving to Virginia Beach, Va.