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Originally published March 27, 2013 at 4:10 PM | Page modified March 28, 2013 at 2:22 PM

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Chris Hansen buys additional 7 percent stake in Sacramento Kings

Chris Hansen, who in January purchased 65 percent of the Kings, agreed Wednesday to buy the smaller share in a Sacramento bankruptcy court.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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When Chris Hansen meets with a group of NBA owners next week in New York, he will take with him a little extra luggage — an agreement to buy an additional 7 percent share of the Sacramento Kings.

Hansen, who in January purchased 65 percent of the Kings, agreed Wednesday to buy the smaller share in a Sacramento bankruptcy court.

The share had been owned by Bob Cook, who had been a part-owner of the Kings since 1985 before he filed for bankruptcy in 2011.

As with the 65 percent share Hansen bought in January, the purchase of the 7 percent share will need approval from the NBA Board of Governors when it meets in New York on April 18-19.

First, though, Hansen and representatives of a Sacramento group attempting to keep the Kings from relocating to Seattle will each make their case before a smaller set of owners next Wednesday, also in New York. That meeting is viewed as pivotal in the NBA's ultimate decision whether to approve the sale of the Kings to the Hansen group, which would relocate the team to Seattle for the 2013-14 season.

Hansen's group did not comment on the news of the purchase Wednesday, which was reported to be for $15.1 million and confirmed by several Sacramento media outlets as well as Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson in a statement. Hansen's bid was reported to be the only offer for the 7 percent share, though other current minority owners will now have 15 days to match it. Cook, himself, apparently told reporters Wednesday he might even attempt to match it.

Michael McCann, a legal analyst for NBA-TV, said the importance of the 7 percent share could rest in part on making it that much harder for the league to turn down Hansen as an owner. The 7 percent share apparently will be considered separate from the 65 percent share.

"I don't think it's a total game-changer," McCann said. "But it puts the NBA in sort of an awkward position — would it approve him as a minority owner but not as a majority owner? Why wouldn't they? It's a strategic move. It puts him in a position where the NBA has to sort of really come up with a reason not to approve him as an owner."

Johnson said Sacramento was aware that Hansen was making a bid for the bankrupt share and said during a news conference, "We are going to respond. We do have a plan."

The news of the purchase came a day after Sacramento's city council approved by a 7-2 vote a term sheet for a $447 million downtown arena, the centerpiece of the city's efforts to keep the Kings.

The term sheet is nonbinding, but McCann said getting the approval will help Johnson when he meets with the NBA.

Johnson attempted to keep the momentum going by announcing the names of 25 local businesses that have pledged $50 million in corporate sponsorships during the first five years of the new arena. He also announced he was kicking off a drive to gather pledges for 10,000 season tickets.

The recent events in Sacramento had some NBA observers speculating the tide might be turning toward the city being able to keep the Kings. Hansen and his group have been under an NBA-issued media gag order since news of the initial purchase of 65 percent of the team in January. McCann said buying the bankrupt share could be Hansen's way of trying to counter events in Sacramento.

"It definitely sends a message to the NBA that he's serious," McCann said.

McCann, though, said one critical piece of information remains unknown — how much the Sacramento ownership group will bid for the team. Hansen's group, which includes Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, bought 65 percent for $340 million based on a valuation of $525 million, the highest for a franchise in NBA history. An initial bid by Sacramento last month was deemed not competitive by NBA commissioner David Stern.

Since then, two more major investors have publicly become part of Sacramento's group, including Vivek Ranadive, a co-owner of the Golden State Warriors.

"We still don't know what this group will actually offer for the Kings — will it match or exceed Hansen?" McCann said. "I think until we know that, it's hard to predict (which way the NBA will vote)."

McCann echoed what others have said, that it's believed Hansen could increase his offer.

"It would be in everyone's interest except Sacramento's to accept a higher offer, so I believe he would be able to do that," McCann said. "Everyone says that they don't want a bidding war, but if I'm an NBA owner, of course I want that."

McCann said the continued efforts by both sides to buoy their case will make the NBA's decision that much more difficult.

"It's tough because there are no question marks that I am aware of with Hansen and Ballmer," he said. "They are offering a ton of money for this franchise and if they are prepared to improve their offer, it puts the NBA in a spot where I really believe this will end in the NBA thinking a lot more seriously about expansion.

"They can't do it for next year, but it is clear there are two communities willing to spend a tremendous amount of money for a franchise and you've got to think if you are the NBA that you've got to take advantage of that by having a franchise in each city."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com


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