NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, January 21st, 2013

The sale of the Sacramento Kings to Chris Hansen shouldn’t be a cause for celebration

This morn­ing, the Mal­oof fam­i­ly, who have owned a con­trol­ling inter­est in the NBA’s Sacra­men­to Kings for more than a decade, end­ed weeks of spec­u­la­tion by announc­ing that they have agreed to sell their stake in the fran­chise to a group of investors led by San Fran­cis­co hedge fund man­ag­er Chris Hansen.

Hansen’s group, as North­west read­ers know, has been try­ing to lay the ground­work for more than a year to bring men’s pro­fes­sion­al bas­ket­ball back to the Emer­ald City fol­low­ing the depar­ture of the Super­Son­ics in 2008 (a sad sto­ry, chron­i­cled in the doc­u­men­tary film Son­ic­s­gate, which can be freely viewed online).

Hansen has pro­posed build­ing a new are­na in Seat­tle’s SoDo (South Down­town) neigh­bor­hood, near Safe­co Field and Cen­tu­ryLink field, that would serve as the home venue for an NBA fran­chise, and pos­si­bly an NHL fran­chise as well. Late last year, Hansen signed a mem­o­ran­dum of under­stand­ing (MOU) with King Coun­ty and the City of Seat­tle to secure access to pub­lic financ­ing and sup­port from local offi­cials for the are­na project. Now, Hansen and his invest­ment part­ners, includ­ing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Peter Nord­strom, have land­ed a team.

Hansen’s state­ment:

We are hap­py to announce that we have entered into a bind­ing agree­ment with the Mal­oofs to pur­chase a con­trol­ling inter­est in the Sacra­men­to Kings NBA fran­chise. The sale is obvi­ous­ly sub­ject to approval by the NBA Board of Gov­er­nors, and we look for­ward to work­ing with the League in the com­ing months to con­sum­mate the trans­ac­tion.

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. 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.

The Mal­oofs issued their own, equal­ly cryp­tic state­ment:

The Mal­oof fam­i­ly announced today that an exe­cut­ed pur­chase and sale agree­ment has been reached to sell the fam­i­ly’s inter­est in the Nation­al Bas­ket­ball Asso­ci­a­tion (NBA) Sacra­men­to Kings to a group led by investor Chris Hansen. The trans­ac­tion requires approval by the NBA’s Board of Gov­er­nors and there­fore no com­ments or details regard­ing the agree­ment will be released.

“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 thank Chris Hansen for his pro­fes­sion­al­ism dur­ing our nego­ti­a­tion. Chris will be a great stew­ard for the fran­chise,” said Gavin Mal­oof, Kings co-own­er speak­ing on behalf of the Mal­oof fam­i­ly.

As not­ed in the state­ments, terms of the sales agree­ment have not been released for pub­lic con­sump­tion. Of course, that has­n’t stopped media out­lets in Seat­tle or Sacra­men­to from report­ing on details of the deal and spec­u­lat­ing that Hansen will move the Kings to Seat­tle lat­er this year and that they will begin play­ing next sea­son at KeyAre­na, which the Son­ics called home for decades.

As far as some Seat­tle sports colum­nists seem to be con­cerned (ahem, Steve Kel­ly!) the deed is already done and the Kings are head­ed to Seat­tle.

Except that they aren’t. Not yet, any­way.

While Hansen sure­ly intends to bring the Kings up north, he has to get per­mis­sion from the NBA’s Board of Gov­er­nors first. The NBA has his­tor­i­cal­ly giv­en new own­ers per­mis­sion to relo­cate teams, although that did­n’t hap­pen with the Min­neso­ta Tim­ber­wolves in 1994. NBA Com­mis­sion­er David Stern has indi­cat­ed that he will allow Sacra­men­to May­or Kevin John­son to present a counter-offer to the NBA’s Board of Gov­er­nors, includ­ing a plan to build a new are­na in Sacra­men­to.

(The cur­rent venue, Sleep Train Are­na, is the small­est sta­di­um in the NBA, and is con­sid­ered out­dat­ed, even though it is only twen­ty-five years old).

John­son is report­ed­ly try­ing to find a deep-pock­et­ed buy­er for the team who will match the price that Hansen and his group paid for the Kings.

Even if Hansen gets the okay from the NBA to move his new­ly-acquired fran­chise to Seat­tle, it will not mean the return of the Seat­tle Super­Son­ics, as Seat­tle May­or Mike McGinn and King Coun­ty Exec­u­tive Dow Con­stan­tine said today. McGinn and Con­stan­tine are both wrong when they talk about “bring­ing the Son­ics home” or “the return of our home­town team” being “with­in reach”.

The Sacra­men­to Kings are not Seat­tle’s “home­town team”. The Kings are not the Son­ics; they are the Kings. Chris Hansen can choose to rebrand the team if he gets per­mis­sion to move it up here, but that will not make the Kings the Son­ics of old.

If the Okla­homa City Thun­der were relo­cat­ing back to Seat­tle, it would be accu­rate to say “The Son­ics are com­ing home!”, for that fran­chise was the Son­ics for forty-one years before Clay Ben­nett and his Okla­homa City Raiders moved the team to the mid­dle of the coun­try. But that is not what is hap­pen­ing.

(Ben­nett, as North­west read­ers know, bought the team in 2007 from Star­bucks chief exec­u­tive Howard Schultz with the inten­tion of mov­ing it, though he ini­tial­ly claimed to be inter­est­ed in try­ing to keep the team play­ing in Seat­tle).

Why is this impor­tant? Because McGinn and Con­stan­tine are speak­ing as if a deal has mirac­u­lous­ly been struck to bring the team for­mer­ly known as the Son­ics back here — or as if Seat­tle has been award­ed a brand new fran­chise by the NBA to replace the stolen Son­ics, when in fact the NBA has done no such thing.

At the risk of sound­ing like a robot, I’ll say this again: The Kings are Sacra­men­to’s team. If they move to Seat­tle, they will no longer play in Sacra­men­to. Seat­tle will have tak­en the Kings away from Sacra­men­to, just as Okla­homa City took the Son­ics from Seat­tle near­ly a half decade ago.

Where is the jus­tice in that?

The tak­ing of the Kings from Sacra­men­to is not the return of the Son­ics; it is the relo­ca­tion of the Kings to Seat­tle. Let’s not deceive our­selves here.

I seem to remem­ber diehard Son­ics fans feel­ing pret­ty bit­ter about the loss of the Son­ics back in 2008. And those fans had, and still have, every right to feel that way. Our region was robbed of its men’s pro­fes­sion­al bas­ket­ball fran­chise by a group of wealthy con­ser­v­a­tive busi­ness tycoons from the Soon­er State.

Well, imag­ine how bas­ket­ball fans in Sacra­men­to are feel­ing right now. (Or bet­ter yet, read what they’re say­ing).

They’ve just received the news that the major­i­ty stake in their beloved team — the only major league sports team in Sacra­men­to — has been sold to an own­er­ship group from out-of-town who are build­ing an are­na in anoth­er city.

They’re hear­ing news reports that their team is as good as gone. They’re endur­ing the same unset­tling scut­tle­butt and gos­sip that became a fix­ture of con­ver­sa­tions around these parts after Howard Schultz announced the sale of the Son­ics and the Storm. (The Storm stayed in Seat­tle after being resold to Force 10 Hoops).

My guess is that many of you read­ing this post feel the same way I do about this news: it’s not a cause for cel­e­bra­tion. If the Kings come here and are rebrand­ed as the Son­ics, I know I won’t think of them as the Seat­tle Super­Son­ics. I’ll think of them as the Seat­tle Kings. New col­ors, new uni­forms, and a new name won’t change the fact that our region will have tak­en anoth­er city’s major league team… some­thing we haven’t done before. (Sounders FC, the Mariners, and the Sea­hawks all began play in Seat­tle as expan­sion teams).

Some of you read­ing this post, on the oth­er hand, may be hap­py and excit­ed, because you’ve wished, hoped, and prayed for the return of men’s pro­fes­sion­al bas­ket­ball to Seat­tle for years, and you don’t care how the city gets a team as long Chris Hansen (who does­n’t even live here) gets one. It is after all, true that the Kings have moved before… from Rochester to Cincin­nati, from Cincin­nati to Kansas City/Omaha, and then from Kansas City to Sacra­ment in the mid-1980s.

If you feel that way, fine, but be open and upfront about what’s going down. Have some com­pas­sion for the fans in Sacra­men­to. Don’t ignore what they’re going through by call­ing the poten­tial relo­ca­tion of the Kings a home­com­ing.

Remem­ber, the Kings are not the Son­ics. They are a club that began play­ing decades before the Son­ics even exist­ed.

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One Comment

  1. The Kings are prob­a­bly in the posi­tion that the Mariners were in before the spe­cial ses­sion of the leg­is­la­ture was con­vened. I believe that the Kings com­ing here would mark the first time that Seat­tle would receive a Pro­fes­sion­al team through relo­ca­tion rather than expan­sion.
    Because of that, many fans are feel­ing uneasy about obtain­ing the Sacra­men­to Fran­chise.
    Accord­ing to agree­ment, though, the new team will be known as the Son­ics and sdopt the Son­ics his­to­ry, as weird as it seems, it was the agree­ment that May­or Nikkles made with Clay Ben­nett, oth­er than receiv­ing improve­ments to Key Are­na should Seat­tle receive an NBA fran­chise in a lim­it­ed amount of time that has already past.
    So know it is wait and see. I’m just glad we did­n’t get the New Orleans fran­chise, noth­ing would make us look worst than tak­ing a fran­chise from a hur­ri­cane torn city,

    # by Mike Barer :: January 23rd, 2013 at 2:28 PM