NBA to Sonics fans: Not so fast
NBA Commissioner David Stern said Wednesday that the issues involved in the battle between Seattle and Sacramento over the Kings are so “complex” that it might take longer to reach a decision on whether the team can move.
Seattle Times staff reporter
NEW YORK — As the NBA met Wednesday to debate the future of the Sacramento Kings, there appeared at least one certainty: A decision was coming in a couple of weeks.
But the presentations by groups from Seattle and Sacramento proved so “extraordinary,” in the words of NBA Commissioner David Stern, that the battle for the Kings appears headed for overtime.
“This one is so weighty,” Stern said. “We’ve never had a situation like this.”
The NBA’s combined finance/relocation committee, which heard the cases made by each group at the St. Regis Hotel, will send a recommendation to the NBA Board of Governors. The board is scheduled to meet in New York on April 18-19 and was expected to vote then on the proposed sale of the team and move to Seattle.
Stern said Wednesday, though, the issues involved in the battle over the Kings are so “complex” that it might take longer to resolve the issue. He said he did not know when the final vote would come.
Asked as he left the hotel if there was a “drop dead” date for a decision, he said, “There may be, but it isn’t here yet.”
The difficulty of the decision seemed to wear on the face of Stern, who has announced his retirement effective next Feb. 1. He appeared somber afterward, in contrast to representatives of both Seattle and Sacramento, who portrayed varying degrees of jubilation as they met the media after their presentations.
Each city had a roughly two-hour closed session — 90 minutes followed by questions — in front of the eight-member NBA committee, as well as Stern and Adam Silver, the league’s deputy commissioner, who will succeed Stern.
Seattle’s contingent was led by Chris Hansen, who in January reached an agreement to buy the Kings with plans to relocate them to Seattle. The Seattle group emphasized the readiness of its plan as well as its economic advantages over Sacramento.
King County Executive Dow Constantine, part of the group, said afterward, “If I was confident going in, I am even more confident, optimistic now.”
Also involved in the Seattle presentation was Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, part of the investment group. Others who spoke were Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, and George Maloof, one of the Kings owners, who was said to have told the NBA of the family’s desire for the sale to be completed. Also part of the Seattle group, but not speaking, was former Sonics CEO Wally Walker, who has been working behind the scenes with the group.
But the driver of the presentation was Hansen. He met the news media afterward for the first time since the sale was announced, and revealed little, saying the “ownership group is very enthusiastic, and we appreciate the NBA has got a tough decision to make, and we’re hopeful for an outcome in our favor.”
Constantine, though, said Hansen was much more dynamic in the meeting room, laying out every step of his quest to bring the NBA back to Seattle.
“The way he put the whole story together, chapter by chapter, it was very difficult to see how the counteroffer could live up to the financial viability, the certainty and the political support that the Seattle offer has.”
Constantine and McGinn said their role was to assure the NBA there were no insurmountable hurdles in Seattle’s arena plan.
“They really wanted to know about the things that traditionally have been the hardest to pin down, like the political will, for example,” Constantine said. “And we were able to convincingly, I think, answer those questions.”
Sacramento’s group, led by Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star, emphasized its long history of support of the NBA, plus the background of the new leader of the ownership group, Vivek Ranadive, co-owner of the Golden State Warriors.
Johnson echoed a familiar theme of the past few months, that the Kings have fulfilled every NBA request. He also mentioned that the Kings had better attendance than Seattle in 20 of 23 years each city had a team (though the Sonics played in a smaller arena much of that time).
Ranadive, who was raised in India, talked of how his involvement with the Kings could help the NBA branch out into international markets, something he termed “NBA 3.0.”
Stern, though, indicated the real pull of Sacramento might be emotional. Neither the Sacramento group, nor Stern, would say if Sacramento had made an offer that was comparable to Seattle’s. Hansen’s group has offered $341 million for 65 percent at a total valuation of $525 million, the most ever for an NBA team. Stern said as he left the podium that Sacramento’s offer was not one of the pressing issues.
“There’s no question that Seattle is a vibrant and thriving market with plans for a great building,” Stern said. “And Sacramento has been a great and supportive market of the NBA with plans for a new building.”
Stern mentioned the owners needing more time to fully examine the arena plans of each city, as well as the plans to play at older arenas while new ones get built.
Expansion of the league was not discussed during the Seattle presentation, and Stern said it remains something the league is not favoring. “Without knowing what you’re selling, what the next TV deal is worth, what the full scope of international is, what our social media, digital rights, etc., to cut off a chunk of that and have an expansion is just imprudent on a quick decision,” Stern said. “It doesn’t mean that at some time in the future it isn’t potentially on the table, but right now it’s not.”
The owners who heard the presentations were Peter Holt (San Antonio Spurs and chairman of the board of governors), Glen Taylor (Minnesota Timberwolves), Clay Bennett (Oklahoma City Thunder), Jim Dolan (New York Knicks), Ted Leonsis (Washington Wizards), Larry Tanenbaum (Toronto Raptors), Herb Simon (Indiana Pacers) and Wyc Grousbeck (Boston Celtics). The owners have a history of acceding to the wishes of other owners, and it’s thought the Seattle group emphasized the Maloofs’ desire to sell the team to Hansen.
Constantine, asked if he could get a sense of the owners, said: “They were playing it a little close to the vest. But you could tell that the owners liked a lot of what they heard about the financials, about the state of development of the proposal and I imagine they also put themselves in the shoes of the other owners, the Maloofs, thinking, ‘How would I feel if I was in this position having an agreement with these guys to sell the team?’ ”
Hansen, asked if his confidence level changed following his presentation, seemed to indicate in the affirmative. “I think my confidence is really just from the fact that we’ve really been working on this very hard for 2½ years; 883 days, to be exact.”
A Hansen spokesman wrote via email after Stern’s news conference that Hansen would have no comment on the NBA statement that the decision might take longer than expected.
After 883 days, he might figure there’s no harm in adding a few more.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.