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Sunday, May 12, 2013 - Page updated at 09:00 p.m.

Jerry Brewer
Price of Sonics' resurrection nears $1 billion for Chris Hansen group

By Jerry Brewer
Seattle Times staff columnist

Before this is over, it seems Chris Hansen is going to buy something from the NBA. It might have to be a hologram of a team. It might have to be a lifetime supply of NBA socks for every Sonics fan in the world. But he is determined to buy something.

Hansen and his investor dream team started their pursuit of the Sacramento Kings with an insane offer. Now it's $100 million beyond insane. And it still isn't enough to put them in a comfortable position to purchase and relocate the Kings to Seattle.

You know, $1 billion just doesn't go as far as it once did.

That's the number, if you add it all up, that this investor dream team is approaching in its incredible effort to return a civic asset.

Crazy? Well, if the straitjacket fits ...

If money talks, then the Hansen group has been prattling nonstop like Eddie Murphy in his heyday. But it remains unknown whether enough NBA owners are listening. With the NBA Board of Governors set to meet this week in Dallas, supposedly to decide this wild and unpredictable Seattle/Sacramento custody fight, the sobering reality is that a Hansen victory is still far from given.

While the fight is admirable, this process has emphasized one lesson: It's so insanely difficult to get a professional sports franchise back. As these investors pile up money and strain to make it happen now, you're left with frayed nerves and a disappointing truth that looms larger than the size of their wallets.

You never let a pro team go unless you're certain that you won't want it back.

Five years after letting Clay Bennett move the Sonics to Oklahoma City without sufficient resistance, Hansen, Steve Ballmer and Peter and Erik Nordstrom are fighting valiantly for the city's redemption, extending themselves in a manner that could've been avoided. They aren't just paying for a team to relocate. They're paying for a previous lack of foresight by former owner Howard Schultz, by previous political leaders and by some public funds-averse citizens who couldn't see the big picture. And, for all their money, they just might be paying for nothing, other than a letdown.

They're fighting like we've never seen before, and over the past two days, they've gone from seemingly defeated to back in the competition. On Friday, Hansen announced the group had raised its offer to the Maloofs one more time, this one a $75 million increase, lifting the franchise's total value to a jaw-dropping $625 million.

And on Saturday, ESPN.com reporter Brian Windhorst broke news of another financial bombshell: The Hansen group is willing to pay a record $115 million relocation fee. And the Maloofs have told the owners that, if their deal with the Seattle group isn't approved by the league, they will keep the Kings and not sell it to the competing Sacramento group. Instead, they will make the Hansen group a minority partner by selling Hansen 20 percent of the team for $125 million, which will elongate this battle and make next season embarrassingly awkward for the NBA.

These are bold, shrewd moves that just might turn this thing in Seattle's favor. If it does, then coldhearted business will win out, and since that's what took the Sonics from here, please excuse die-hard Seattle fans for not caring about the fallout.

This commitment is staggering, even for a wealthy team of investors with a combined net worth in the billions. Because he's seeking to purchase the Maloof family's 65 percent controlling interest, that means he's willing to put in $406.25 million, plus another $15 million to get an additional seven percent share that had been in bankruptcy, plus pledging $290 million toward the building of a new $490 million Sodo arena, plus about another $80 million that has already been spent to buy the land in Sodo. And now, there's the $115 million expansion fee.

If this entire deal goes through, the Hansen group is on the hook for about $906.25 million on the items listed above, and that doesn't even include the millions that will have been spent on things such as studies, lawyer fees, permits, public relations and a minor renovation of KeyArena. The group would be well on the way to $1 billion.

It's mind-blowing. It's a little concerning. It's nuts.

It's financial redemptive suffering for the city's past NBA sins. Five years ago, if Schultz had been transparent about his intentions, a new owner could've spent two-thirds of what the Hansen group might pay to purchase the team ($350 mil back then) and privately finance the entire proposed KeyArena renovation ($300 million was discussed in 2008). Or it could've been significantly less if that new owner could've worked out a creative deal with the city and/or state.

Five years ago, the local attitude was that the NBA would return, that it needed Seattle more than Seattle needed it. For some, that arrogance carried over into 2013, but this process has been as humbling as it gets.

The NBA didn't fall apart without Seattle. And when given a prime opportunity to return here, NBA commissioner David Stern used it as a way to con Sacramento into figuring out its own arena deal.

The best way to get a new NBA team? Take exquisite care of the one you have.

Otherwise, as the Hansen group is learning, it can be crazy expensive to make a comeback. While you praise this investor dream team for its willingness to go bonkers, it's impossible to ignore the financial burden it could bear for the city's shortsightedness.

Crazy: A commitment nearing $1 billion still only amounts to a longshot.

Talk about a costly mistake.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @JerryBrewer

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