SACRAMENTO, Calif. – After saying for years they would never sell their basketball team, members of the Maloof family now appear close to unloading the Sacramento Kings to a group that wants to bring professional basketball back to Seattle.
Sources told the Sacramento Bee on Wednesday the family has been talking with a deep-pocketed investment group – led by financier Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer – about a sale that would move the team to Seattle. One report pegged the sale price at an NBA record of $500 million or more.
But, during a whipsaw day of Internet rumors about a possible secret sale, two sources with knowledge of the situation adamantly told the Bee no deal is done and no formal offer has been made.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson reacted late in the day, holding a news conference to say he is trying to recruit local buyers for the Kings.
“For the first time, they have publicly shown the desire to sell the team,” he said of the Maloofs.
One source, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak on the matter, told the Bee that discussions between the Kings and Hansen are only “conceptual” at this point.
Another source characterized media reports Wednesday of a potential sale as “premature,” and said the Seattle group has not made a formal offer.
Still, the news reflects a dramatic shift by the Maloof family. The team’s two most active owners, Joe and Gavin Maloof, previously said they would never repeat the mistake their family made in 1982 when it sold the Houston Rockets.
Faced with a tough financial picture in their 13th season as Kings owners, the family has crossed an emotional threshold, sources said.
“If someone was to put a crazy number on the table, their perspective could change,” said a source with connections to the team. “If somebody like a Hansen were to actually make an offer, which hasn’t happened yet, and that offer was ridiculous, things could change.
“Nothing crazy has happened yet.”
On Wednesday, several national media reports said a sale is near. A USA Today report said the Seattle group is confident a deal will get done.
Yahoo Sports went further, saying the two sides are close to signing a roughly $500 million deal. The report said the team would play at old KeyArena in Seattle for two years, then move into a proposed new arena south of downtown.
If the Kings do reach an agreement to sell, the move could not occur until next season. It would require approval from fellow NBA owners. The deadline for teams to file for relocation is March 1.
NBA officials declined comment Wednesday, as did a representative for Hansen.
Hansen has been working for the past year to bring NBA basketball back to Seattle. The SuperSonics left the city following the 2008 season. Hansen’s investor group has signed a financing deal with the city and county, purchased the land for the arena and launched an environmental review for construction of the $490 million facility.
In an afternoon news conference, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said “the next piece of the puzzle” is for Hansen’s group to buy a team, but he said he could not confirm any deal with the Kings. He said he had not spoken to Hansen since that day’s rumors surfaced.