For several months, the Sacramento Kings have been on the brink of being sold to an ownership group headed by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer that would move the franchise to Seattle, ushering in a second SuperSonics era. The sale initially looked like a sure bet, with Hansen's group agreeing to buy 65 percent of the franchise from Joe and Gavin Maloof at a $525 million valuation. Sacto mayor Kevin Johnson fought back with his own group of potential owners and arena developers, and the last few weeks have been full of slight adjustments to offers, petty ultimatums, and sincere efforts to have NBA basketball in one of two deserving cities.
On Monday afternoon, all involved parties received the clearest indication yet that a resolution has been reached. In a unanimous vote, the NBA Board of Governors Relocation Committee recommended that the Kings should not be sold to Hansen's group. Barring an unforeseen change in the situation, the Kings will stay in Sacramento.
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The NBA relocation committee recommended Monday that Seattle's bid to buy the Kings and relocate them to the city that lost the Sonics in 2008 should be denied. A full vote of the league's owners won't take place until May 13, but this is expected to set the tone for the final outcome. [...]
Johnson organized a group of investors led by software company tycoon Vivek Ranadive, a minority owner of the Golden State Warriors whose Indian background appealed to the NBA at a time when they are attempting to grow in that region, and the Jacobs family that founded the Fortune 500 company, Qualcomm. Both cities have viable arena plans in place, but the NBA clearly felt confident enough about Sacramento's downtown plaza proposal that includes $258 million in public subsidies that it offered this recommendation.
There were signs earlier this week that Sacramento had a very good chance of receiving this recommendation. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, Sacramento's group was asked by the NBA to deposit a significant portion of its purchase price for the team in an escrow account by this coming Friday. A deposit of 20% was discussed, but it's not known what percentage they were ultimately asked to secure. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the discussions.
To clarify, this news does not mean that the Kings will 100-percent stay in Sacramento. The entire Board of Governors must vote on the Seattle sale to make its negation official, and even then the Maloofs will still own the franchise. To ensure the Kings' long-term future in the city, the NBA will have to push a sale to the Sacramento ownership group (it might be more accurate to say they'll force the Maloofs to do it), after which the Board of Governors will have to vote again to make that transfer official. However, the path towards that resolution is now clearer than it has ever been, and there appear to be few potential roadblocks.
This development is obviously a huge victory for Kings advocates and fans in Sacramento. Since the Maloofs expressed interest in moving the franchise to Virginia Beach several years ago, these groups have done everything possible to ensure the team stays, from Johnson's short-lived handshake agreement with the Maloofs for a new arena to more recent last-ditch efforts to keep the team in town. They have now achieved the biggest of their goals — the next step will be to reclaim the franchise from on-court irrelevance with functional ownership and management.
Unfortunately, this vote was a zero-sum game, and Seattle is the clear loser. The city has waged its own fight for a franchise since losing the Sonics to Oklahoma City under questionable circumstances in 2008, and Hansen's bid represented their best shot at claiming a team in that timeframe. The silver lining is that Seattle absolutely proved itself as a viable market for a franchise, because of both the financial strength of this bid and the outpouring of support from basketball fans in the area. There will be more chances to bring a team to Seattle, and it's likely that the NBA will have better reason to support them in a future scenario, whether via relocation or expansion.
In fact, Seattle proved its viability so effectively during this purchase attempt that the entire saga should strengthen the NBA. Sacramento will keep its team and considerably improve its ownership situation, Seattle will stand as a clearly viable location for any failed or new franchise, and the value of all teams will jump higher. Sacramento deservedly gets to keep its team and will make the NBA richer now and in the future. The league wins yet again.
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