The group that has reached agreement to buy the Sacramento Kings announced plans Wednesday to relocate the team to Seattle, NBA commissioner David Stern confirmed.
Speaking to reporters in Minneapolis before the Timberwolves' game against visiting San Antonio, Stern called the potential new owners -- led by Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer -- a "very strong" group and that league owners have begun performing due diligence on the sale and potential move.
"We have had submitted a signed agreement to have the team sold to a very strong group from Seattle," Stern said.
The deadline for making a relocation application to the league is March 1.
The Hansen-Ballmer group has reached agreement to buy 65 percent of the Kings, worth about $340 million of the team's overall value of $525 million, and plans to move the franchise to Seattle and restore the SuperSonics name of the former franchise that played there before relocating to Oklahoma City and becoming the Thunder.
Even with the tentative agreement in place to purchase and move the Kings, Sacramento mayor and former NBA star Kevin Johnson isn't giving up without a fight. He said Tuesday that he will be at the upcoming league All-Star Game in Houston to lead lobbying efforts to keep the Kings in Sacramento. Johnson has said he is trying to put together a local investment group that will purchase the Kings from current owners Joe and Gavin Maloof.
Stern said he is not anticipating a "bidding war." But in an unusual twist, rather than have separate committees vet both the new ownership group as well as the relocation of the Kings, Stern has combined both committees into one. That combined group will prepare a report to the league's Board of Governors, which is expected to vote approval of both the sale and relocation at its next scheduled meeting in mid-April.
"So I did the sensible thing, I combined the committees and said, `You guys figure it out.' We'll see how that works," Stern said.
However, even with a combined committee, the sale of the franchise needs just a majority vote by the Board of Governors, while relocation would require a three-fourths majority, according to NBA bylaws.
In a report in Wednesday's Sacramento Bee, it was revealed that discussions were held last May to move the Kings to suburban Las Vegas, where the brothers' business empire is headquartered, highlighted by their ownership of the Palms Casino. Those discussions came about a month after last-ditch plans to build a new arena in downtown Sacramento proved unsuccessful.
The Maloofs announced last month that they would be selling almost two-thirds of the controlling interest in the team to the Hansen-Balmer group.
Also in the newspaper report, it was revealed that the city of Henderson, Nev., where the Kings potentially would have moved to if a new arena deal could have been struck, has sued developer Christopher Milam, for allegedly lying to the city about the viability of building such an arena and getting the team to relocate.
Milam claimed he was earnest in building an arena, as well as getting the Kings to move there, according to papers filed this week in Clark County (Nev.) District Court.
Milam claimed he met last May in New York City with longtime Maloof business partner Tony Guanci and Oklahoma businessman Bob Hernreich, who has a 12 percent ownership share of the Kings, along with Henderson mayor Andy Hafen and acting-city attorney Christine Guerci-Nyhus.
A spokesman for the Maloofs told the Bee, "Our policy is not to discuss who the Kings had their discussions with."