Uncertainty Looms As Seattle, Sacramento Groups Battle For Kings

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Former NBA star and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is trying to keep the Kings from moving to Seattle. But doing so won't be a layup...
Former NBA star and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is trying to keep the Kings from moving to Seattle. But doing so won't be a layup... (Jeff Robbins/AP)

Seattle, which lost the SuperSonics in 2008 when the team moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder, is on the verge of rejoining the NBA fraternity…unless it isn't.

On Monday the Maloof family, owners of the Sacramento Kings, announced that that team would be sold to a group headed by Chris Hansen, who plans to move the team to Seattle, where it will presumably become the reincarnation of the SuperSonics.

Jason Reid, the director of the documentary Sonicsgate, which represents the sad loss of the team five years ago as having occurred in a fog of lies and broken promises by alleged villains, regards Hansen as very good news for a city that's been missing the NBA ever since.

“It’s night and day with what Chris Hansen has done,” Reid said. “He’s come in with over $300 million of private money to invest in the arena. The additional $200 million to get to the $500-million price tag is paid for by city and county bonds that get repaid through revenue generated by the arena over the course of the 30-year lease.”

But there's a catch. Or at least there might be. Ex-NBA star Kevin Johnson, currently the mayor of Sacramento, wants the Kings to remain where they are. His allies include billionaire Ron Burkle and fellow heavyweight Mark Mastrov, as well as 20 additional investors, each willing to put up a million dollars to keep the Kings in Sacramento. That would apparently suit NBA Commissioner David Stern, who's on the record as opposing the relocation of franchises, except for the ones over which he has already presided. Dale Kasler, a reporter for the Sacramento Bee, is among those unwilling to regard the sale and departure of the Kings as a done deal.

“Who knows what's going to happen?” Kasler said. “Whether there are two very strong countervailing forces. This is a market here in Sacramento, which is not as big as Seattle, but it is the 20th largest TV market. It's a monopoly market for the NBA. And it has in the past supported the NBA very, very strongly. It's only been in the last few years when the Maloofs, frankly, ran the franchise into the ground and the fans have stayed away.”

The agreement the Maloof family reached to sell the team to Chris Hansen cannot be official until the NBA's Board of Governors ratifies it. The Board is unlikely to vote on the sale before April, which means that between now and then, the battle between Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and Seattle Mayor Michael McGinn will continue, or at least that's the way Johnson recently put it. In a game of one-on-one, Johnson, late of the NBA would have a significant edge. But Chris Hansen's money has already spoken, and the Maloof family has listened, so Seattle would seem to be the favorite. Though Dale Kasler of the Sacramento Bee thinks making a prediction regarding the future of NBA ball in Sacramento or Seattle would be premature, he's inclined to lean north.

“I'd say right now, it's far too crazy,” Kasler said. “Here's what's in play. Seattle is a terrific market, everybody knows that. It's a wealthier market, it's a bigger market. If the league approves the sale to Chris Hansen, it gets Seattle, it gets to sort of make amends to Seattle for what happened five years ago, and, let's face it, it gets the Maloofs out of the NBA, and there are people within the NBA that would be celebrating that."

And Sacramento would be celebrating, ah, being warmer than Seattle, I guess, and having less rain.

This segment aired on January 26, 2013.

Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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