SEATTLE — Nearly five years after their colors, banners and history were packed away into storage and their franchise relocated, the SuperSonics are one significant step closer to returning to Seattle.
And the Kings are on the edge of leaving Sacramento.
All that appears to stand in the way now is approval by NBA owners.
The Maloof family has agreed to sell the Kings to a Seattle group led by investor Chris Hansen, the league confirmed in a statement Monday morning. The deal is still pending a vote by the NBA Board of Governors.
A person familiar with the decision said that Hansen’s group will buy 65 percent of the franchise, which is valued at $525 million, and move the team to Seattle and restore the SuperSonics name. The deal will cost the Hansen group a little more than $340 million. The Maloofs will have no stake in the team.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal was waiting approval.
The sale figure works off a total valuation of the franchise, which includes relocation fees. Hansen’s group also is hoping to buy out other minority investors.
The Maloofs will get a $30 million non-refundable down payment by Feb. 1, according to the deal, the person said. They will still be allowed to receive other offers until the league approves the sale. The Kings sale price of $525 million would surpass the NBA record $450 million the Golden State Warriors sold for in 2010.
The plan by Hansen’s group is to have the team play at least the next two seasons in KeyArena before moving into a new facility in downtown Seattle. The deadline for teams to apply for a move for next season is March 1. The office of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn confirmed Monday it is already working with Hansen on an agreement for using KeyArena, including scheduling and short-term upgrades to the arena.
“While we are not at liberty to discuss the terms of the transaction or our plans for the franchise given the confidential nature of the agreement and NBA regulations regarding public comments during a pending transaction, we would just like to extend our sincerest compliments and gratitude toward the Maloof family,” Hansen said in a statement. “Our negotiations with the family were handled with the utmost honor and professionalism and we hope to continue their legacy and be great stewards of this NBA franchise in the coming years and decades.”
Hansen was not available for further comment.
Momentum was building toward a sale agreement after word of talks between Hansen and the Maloofs leaked nearly two weeks ago. Sacramento will get its chance to counter with Mayor Kevin Johnson already receiving permission from NBA Commissioner David Stern to present a counteroffer to league owners from buyers who would keep the Kings in Sacramento.
Johnson, a former NBA All-Star point guard, said in a statement that the city remained undeterred.
“Sacramento has proven that it is a strong NBA market with a fan base that year in and year out has demonstrated a commitment to the Kings by selling out 19 of 27 seasons in a top-20 market and owning two of the longest sellout streaks in NBA history,” Johnson said.
Yet Johnson will be fighting an uphill challenge trying to pull together an ownership group in a small window of time while Seattle begins preparing for the return of the green and gold.
The SuperSonics became a historic footnote when owner Clay Bennett moved the franchise to Oklahoma City in 2008. It was the conclusion of a contentious two years of lawsuits, broken leases, negotiations and ultimately a settlement that allowed 41 years of pro basketball history in Seattle to be moved away.
While Seattle was excited about Monday’s news, there was an air of caution as well, with many fans still stung about the Sonics previous departure not wanting to believe in their return until everything is signed and delivered. Others in Seattle have wanted an expansion franchise rather than taking a team from another city.
“It tore the hearts out of the city when the (team) left the first time and it’s just wonderful news to get a team back,” said Jerry Brown, who was at KeyArena Monday buying college basketball tickets. “I feel sorry for the people of Sacramento, they have good fans there, but we want our team back.”
Ironically enough, it will be Bennett that has a say in whether Seattle returns to the NBA portfolio as the head of the league’s relocation committee.
Caught in an awkward spot is the Kings’ basketball team itself, some of whom have Seattle ties. Guard Isaiah Thomas grew up in Tacoma, Wash., and before the Kings played in New Orleans on Monday was already feeling the discomfort of being wedged between two cities.
“It’s just a little weird (but) at the same time I love Sacramento, I love everything about it. Love the fans, the organization just brought me in with open arms. That’s all I really know in this league is Sacramento,” Thomas said. “But then I am from that area back home, it’s just kind of a different situation. Whatever I say about Seattle, Sacramento fans might be mad at me and whatever I say about Sacramento, Seattle fans might be mad at me. I just love both cities.
“It’s out of my control.”
The saga of the Kings’ future in California’s Capitol city has dragged on for nearly three years and now faces its most daunting challenge.
Hansen, a Seattle native and San Francisco-based investor, reached agreement with local governments in Seattle last October on plans to build a $490 million NBA/NHL arena near the city’s other stadiums, CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field. No construction will begin until all environmental reviews are completed and a team has been secured. The arena also faces a pair of lawsuits, including one from a dock workers union because the arena is being built close to port and industrial operations.
Hansen’s group is expected to pitch in $290 million in private investment toward the arena, along with helping to pay for transportation improvements in the area around the stadiums. The remaining $200 million in public financing would be paid back with rent money and admissions taxes from the arena, and if that money falls short, Hansen would be responsible for making up the rest.
Other investors in the proposed arena include Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer and two members of the Nordstrom department store family.
“While there is more work ahead, this is a major step toward bringing the Sonics home,” McGinn said.
Sacramento fans hope this is not the final chapter in their quest to save the Kings. Johnson has once already saved the Kings from relocation when he made a pitch to the Board of Governors and bought the city time to broker a deal that appeared to solve the team’s arena woes. But the Maloofs backed out of that tentative $391 million deal for a new downtown venue with Sacramento last year.
Already, Johnson and other politicians have started wrangling for the Kings again.
California state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, wrote a letter to state officials dated Tuesday — and released to several news outlets — asking them to detail how much money Ballmer’s Microsoft company earns on state contracts.
“I cannot stand idly by while a prominent out-of-state company that has significantly profited from business with the State of California actively attempts to acquire and remove one of my State and region’s leading private assets,” he wrote in the letter to Fred Klass, director of the state Department of General Services.
Johnson said recently he’s heard from various parties interested in trying to put together an ownership group that would keep the team in Sacramento, but only with a new arena. He is expected to unveil more about his plans as early as Tuesday.
“We have always appreciated and treasured our ownership of the Kings and have had a great admiration for the fans and our team members. We would also like to thank Chris Hansen for his professionalism during our negotiation. Chris will be a great steward for the franchise,” Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof said in a statement on behalf of the family.