The Seattle group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft chairman Steve Ballmer has made significant progress in negotiations to buy the Sacramento Kings and is confident a deal will eventually get done, according to a person who was briefed on the status of the negotiations.
The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks between the Hansen-Ballmer group and the Maloof family that owns the team. If the deal is completed, the Maloofs – who have a history of backing out of deals that appeared to be done before – may retain a small percentage of ownership and the team would be called the Sonics.This deal is not done, however, and there are no immediate indications of a timeline for possible completion.
Yahoo! Sports first reported on Wednesday morning that the Hansen-Ballmer group was finalizing a deal to buy the team for $500 million and that the first two seasons would be played in Seattle’s Key Arena before a new arena is built.
The Maloofs had gone missing from their own arena recently, no longer attending games and leaving their own employees to speculate that a sale or a move was on its way. A person with knowledge of the Kings situation told USA TODAY Sports that the minority owners of the team haven’t been informed of the sale as of early Wednesday afternoon. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. The person said terms of the ownership agreement dictate minority owners must be told before a sale is complete.
The Maloofs released a statement via family spokesman Eric Rose: “As we have said for nearly a year, we have been contacted by several cities and parties interested in the Sacramento Kings organization. The announcement yesterday from Virginia Beach does not change our long-held position that we will not comment on rumors or speculation about the franchise.”
What’s more, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, the league issued a memo to owners on Wednesday warning them not to comment on the Sacramento situation. The memo did not include any detail about the state of the any negotiations.
The Kings, who came to Sacramento in 1985 from Kansas City, nearly moved to Anaheim in March of 2011 before the deal fell apart at the 11th hour. It happened again nearly a year ago, when the Maloofs had an agreement in principle on an arena deal in Sacramento and even cried tears of joy when it seemed the deal was done. Weeks later, however, the Maloofs backed out of the deal after deciding it wasn’t financially feasible for their family.
Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson hasn’t given up on the city keeping the team. Wednesday afternoon, he tweeted: Kevin Johnson just tweeted, Bottom line Sacramento: it’s not over… #keepthefaith #playingtowin”. He indicated at news conference on Wednesday afternoon in Sacramento that he has been working to line up potential buyers who would be willing to keep the team in Sacramento.
Seattle has been without an NBA franchise since the SuperSonics left following the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder in Oklahoma City. In October, Seattle and King County government officials approved a deal to build a $490 million arena in Seattle with $200 million coming from taxpayers. According to the deal, the public funds will be paid back through rent and admission taxes from the arena. If tax revenues fall below projections, “teams using the arena will make up the shortfall by paying additional rent,” according to an arena FAQ at www.seattle.gov.
Hansen’s group wants to build the arena in the stadium district near where the Seahawks and Mariners play. There is opposition to the arena deal, especially from a local longshore workers union, which filed a lawsuit in October arguing another arena south of downtown – an area called SoDo and just blocks from Puget Sound – will impact “great working class jobs.”
It’s no secret the NBA would love to have a team back in Seattle. The loss of Seattle franchise to Oklahoma City gave the league a black eye. NBA Commissioner David Stern, who will retire in the middle of the 2013-14 season, would leave his job happier with an NBA team in Seattle.
“To be very serious, we think it’s a great development in Seattle, and we are excited about it,” Stern said at the NBA’s Board of Governors meeting in October, also adding, “but there is no current team in play, and that’s going to be an issue for the owners to have to consider.”
The Kings have been a part of the league since the beginning. In 1949 the franchise, which was located in Rochester, New York, was one of 17 charter members of the new league that was created by the merger of the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League.
The Royals, as they were called, eventually became the Cincinnati Royals, the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, and the Kansas City Kings.