Win or loss this week for Hansen’s NBA quest
The NBA Board of Governors will determine in a few days whether the millionaire investor will succeed in bringing the Sonics back to Seattle.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Not that Chris Hansen is counting or anything.
But when the man who wants to bring the Sonics back to Seattle spoke to the media in New York after NBA meetings there earlier this month, he noted it had been “883 days, to be exact, since we started on this mission.”
It will reach an even 900 by the end of the week, by which time Hansen is likely to know if his mission has proved successful or, well, impossible.
Hansen will be in New York again this week when the NBA’s Board of Governors meets Thursday and Friday, likely to finally declare a winner in the battle between Seattle and Sacramento over the fate of the Kings.
It’s a journey that’s been agonizing to fans of the Kings and the Sonics, and likely confusing to many casual observers who might wonder what all the fuss is about, considering the Kings haven’t reached the NBA Finals in more than 50 years.
As we begin the week that might see a return of the NBA to Seattle, it’s worth reviewing the road Hansen has traveled to get to this point.
News of Hansen’s efforts to build an arena and bring an NBA team to Seattle surfaced in December 2011. But he has been working behind the scenes for much longer — as the timeline he declared in New York makes clear.
Hansen first met with Seattle officials in June 2011 to discuss his plan to bring back the NBA, which has been absent since the Sonics left in 2008 for Oklahoma City. The Sonics had been purchased in 2006 by a group of Oklahoma businessmen led by Clay Bennett. Before leaving town, Bennett had made a request for a $500 million arena in Renton with zero contribution from the team’s owners. It had been greeted with, let’s say, a lack of enthusiasm.
Hansen, who was 11 when the Sonics won the 1979 NBA title, is a passionate basketball fan.
He used money made as a hedge-fund founder to quietly buy land in Sodo where he intended to build a new NBA palace.
Hansen eventually was able to help persuade Seattle and King County officials to approve a deal for a $490 million Sodo arena that includes a $290 million contribution from the ownership group and $200 million in loans paid back by revenue from the arena.
He’d already begun figuring out what NBA teams might be available. While some Sacramento residents might beg to differ, Hansen has no beef with their city.
He targeted the Kings from the beginning merely because they were the NBA team that appeared potentially the most available to purchase and move.
The Kings have been owned since 1998 by the Maloof family, who since about 2006 have been angling to either relocate the team or get a new arena built.
With their efforts proving unsuccessful time and again, Hansen knew they were vulnerable and eventually pounced.
If Hansen’s quest proves successful, a name that will live fondly in Sonics history is that of Daina Falk, the daughter of longtime NBA superagent David Falk (who represented Michael Jordan and one-time Sonics President and CEO Wally Walker, among others).
A food blogger who calls herself “The Hungry Fan,” Falk sent out this tweet on Jan. 8: “So I hear that the Seattle Kings is officially a done deal! The Maloofs finally sold the ailing Sacramento team.”
Her tweet sat relatively unnoticed for hours before setting off a firestorm on Twitter that night.
And while there was initial skepticism that such big sports news could be broken by such an unlikely source, it turned out she knew what she was talking about.
The next day, numerous reports surfaced that Hansen’s group had indeed purchased a controlling share of the Kings (65 percent) for $341 million based on a valuation of $525 million, a record for an NBA franchise (the previous high was $450 for the Golden State Warriors in 2010).
Hansen’s group, which also includes Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (who has stayed publicly behind the scenes) as well as members of the Nordstrom family, also agreed to pay a $30 million nonrefundable deposit.
The deposit is reported to be evidence both of their eagerness to seal the deal, as well as possibly providing a degree of legal cover.
Many in Seattle celebrated the news. But caution lay in the fine print: All sales of NBA teams must be approved by the league’s Board of Governors, which meets at the end of each regular season, in April.
And approval requires 75 percent of the owners, meaning dissenting votes from just eight of 30 would block the sale.
Unfortunately for Seattle’s basketball fans, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson happens to be a three-time NBA All-Star who has pretty much made it a life mission to prevent the Kings from leaving town.
The sale of the Kings to the Hansen/Ballmer group was announced Jan. 21. One day later, Johnson — a member of the Phoenix Suns, which beat the Sonics in the 1993 Western Conference Finals — announced his own plan to keep the team.
The Kings moved to Sacramento from Kansas City in 1985, early in the tenure of NBA Commissioner David Stern, who has since regarded the franchise as something of a favorite son, in part because there is no other major pro sport in the town.
Johnson was assured almost immediately by Stern that Sacramento would get a chance to keep the team, and he began assembling an ownership group that would make a counteroffer to Seattle’s, as well as help fund a new arena (the current home of the Kings, Sleep Train Arena, is 25 years old).
The composition of the group has changed markedly since January. But ultimately, Johnson was able to gather a group that received tentative approval of an arena deal and, as of Friday, reportedly had informed the NBA it would match the Seattle purchase offer.
The end game
A few hours after it was reported Sacramento would match the Seattle offer, however, Hansen released a statement on his website late Friday night that he had increased his bid, making the value of the team $550 million.
As of Sunday night, there were no reports that Sacramento had made an updated formal, written offer, and it was unclear if its offer would match the increased bid made by Hansen on Friday.
All that for a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006 (16 of 30 NBA teams qualify each season) and was valued by Forbes Magazine as recently as 2011 at 24th in the NBA, at $293 million.
As much as anything else, it was one last signal to NBA owners how much Hansen wants to return the Sonics to Seattle.
Reports and sources have said Hansen left few stones unturned in the April 3 meeting in New York.
He explained to the NBA group why he thinks Seattle is again a proper home for the NBA, citing the city’s improving economy, longtime support of the Sonics, which played here 41 years before leaving, and plans for a regional sports network.
Most tangible factors seem to be in Seattle’s favor. Sacramento’s biggest advantage, many have said, is Stern, who is due to retire Feb. 1 and apparently doesn’t want one of his last acts to be approving the relocation of a longtime favored team.
Expansion might be an easy way out for the NBA, giving a new team to Seattle and letting Sacramento keep the Kings, but Stern has said consistently that isn’t an option.
Hansen, keeping to an NBA gag order once the purchase agreement was made, has largely stayed quiet through the process. In New York, though, he spoke of his journey to bring back the Sonics.
“It’s taken a tremendous amount of work, acquiring real estate, negotiating with local government officials, going through the environmental process, arranging our financing, negotiating with the Maloofs,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get us to that point.”
Soon, he may have reason to finally rest.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta
A previous version of this story incorrectly said Hansen was attending Roosevelt High when the Sonics won the NBA championship. While he did attend Roosevelt, he was 11 when the Sonics won in 1979.