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Ball Don't Lie

Chris Hansen donated $100,000 to group focused on stopping the new Sacramento Kings arena

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Chris Hansen addresses the media in April, when the Kings were still available (Jesse D. Garrabrant/ Getty).

When Vivek Ranadive and his ownership group were approved to buy the Sacramento Kings from the Maloof family in May, it appeared as if the long fight to decide the franchise's future had finally reached an end. The Kings had a new owner committed to keeping the team in Sacramento, an arena plan, and hope for the future. The Seattle-based ownership group determined to bring back the SuperSonics had lost.

It now appears as if the leader of that ownership effort has not stopped fighting. According to a report from Dale Kasler and Tony Bizjak of The Sacramento Bee (via Sactown Royalty), investor Chris Hansen donated $100,000 to a group focused on stopping arena construction in California's capital:

On June 21, Hansen donated $100,000 to a group gathering signatures in Sacramento. His contribution came just weeks after the National Basketball Association owners vetoed his deal to buy the team and move it to Seattle. [...]

The group, called Citizens for a Voice in Government, made the belated filing one day after the state's political watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission, sued a Los Angeles law firm that wired $80,000 of Hansen's $100,000 to the signature-gathering campaign organizers in Sacramento. The lawsuit demanded to know the identity of the donor. A court hearing had been scheduled for Monday. [...]

Afterwards, Hansen told a radio interviewer in Seattle that, while it remains his dream to bring an NBA team back to Seattle, he regretted trying to grab the Kings away from Sacramento's loyal fans.

"It kind of made me sick to my stomach," Hansen said. He added that he would go after another city's team again only if he was convinced the team was going to leave. [...]

Since spring, a small group of volunteers known as STOP - Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork - has been circulating petitions to force a public vote on the city's proposed $258 million arena subsidy. Without a new arena, the NBA says the team will eventually leave.

There are many legitimate reasons to oppose public funding of sports stadiums and arenas, but Hansen cannot rely on these principles to oppose such measures. His Seattle arena deal requires $200 million in public funds for construction, so it's not as if he's opposed to the idea. Based on the available evidence, it appears as if he bankrolled this group to try to put the Kings' future back in limbo, presumably so he could swoop in and bid for the team once again.

Even if this is Hansen's plan, the risk-reward factor does not seem to fall in his favor. This signature-gathering effort is a very early step in the process to block the arena — they need 22,000 names in all to put the measure on the ballot, and 1,700 preexisting signatories have already sued STOP to have their names removed from the petition. Of course, that would only bring up a vote, which now has the stigma of being pushed for by someone who want to take the Kings (a team that, all economic questions aside, stands as a source of great civic pride). Given that Hansen is reportedly worth billions, it's hard to see how a six-figure investment would do enough to offset the potential losses of being seen as a predator unwilling to accept that the NBA deemed Ranadive's group the winners of this battle.

In fact, it's possible that Hansen's actions are hurting Seattle's chances at nabbing a team (whether via expansion or a more palatable relocation effort) in the future. Throughout the Kings ordeal, Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, the group's other leader, stood out as fairly stellar options to own a team, businessmen with the largesse and commitment to reestablish the Sonics. When they were unable to buy the Kings, it was more a function of Sacramento's efforts than of any mistakes on the part of the Seattle group. They did enough to jump to the front of the line for any available franchises.

These actions won't necessarily stop Hansen from getting a team, but they do introduce new doubts where there previously were very few. At the time of the sale, Hansen claimed to feel sick about trying to take a team from a committed city, and now it looks as if he disregarded those emotions just a few weeks later to bankroll this group.

As Hansen learned during the Kings process, the NBA decides which owners it brings into the fold. To be certain, many of those people — Donald Sterling owns an NBA team, for crying out loud — are not saints. Nevertheless, Hansen's reputation is not quite so pristine. Will the NBA trust him?

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