It's been a rollercoaster 24 hours for Sacramento Kings fans. On the heels of this week's earlier announcement that a proposed arena in the Virginia Beach area (with the Kings as its tenant) would not be constructed at this time. That news immediately set off news of a possible relocation to Seattle.
According to reporting from Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the owners of the Sacramento Kings, the Maloof brothers, would sell controlling interesting in their NBA franchise to a group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $500 million. This would lead to the long-awaited return of the Seattle Supersonics. Wojnarowski did note that the Maloofs are well-known for dangling this sort of news in their negotiating and for now, this does appear to be a threat. The Sacramento Bee later confirmed that no deal has been struck as of yet, but that the Maloofs are actively listening to offers for the team. Previously, the Maloofs have denied they wanted to sell but The Bee has reported the Kings are $200 million in debt and continue to lose upwards of an additional $7 million a year. That financial picture may have finally pushed the Maloofs to start listening to offers.
The news has lit a fire under Kings supporters as Sacramento's mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star himself, held a press conference Wednesday evening to lay out the city's proposal and to reiterate the city is searching for local investors to purchase the team and keep them in town. The mayor has vowed to "fight like crazy" to secure the long-term future of the Kings. Blogs like Sactown Royalty and fans alike have waited for each news release with bated breath and there's an online petition asking the league to step in and keep the Kings in Sacramento while assuaging Seattle basketball fans with an expansion franchise.
Despite the show of support for Sacramento's only pro franchise, there is a lot of anger out there toward the Maloofs. In 2011, they almost relocated the Kings to Anaheim's Honda Center before an apparent cross-country flight by Mayor Johnson to meet with the Maloofs helped convince them to reconsider becoming southern California's third NBA franchise. Then back in February of 2012, the city and the team struck a deal for a public/private partnership on a new $390 million arena for the Kings. Two months later, the deal fell apart after concerns and new conditions were raised by the Maloofs. The deal was actually brokered by the NBA, and while the Kings signed off on the setup and subsequent arena deal, the Maloofs said they felt certain terms were unreasonable and backed away from the whole thing. Public sentiment towards team ownership has been sour ever since.
The news of a potential sale has further solidified Kings supporters and politicians alike, but will it be enough? The reality is that the Kings need a solution to their aging arena. Without that, the Kings are as good as gone. After proposals for a completely new arena in Sacramento stalled and collapsed, there have been renovation proposals for the Kings current home, Sleep Train Arena. There are reports from the Sacramento Bee that a local group has spoken with the Maloof organization about a significant renovation of the current arena, with a key feature being that it would be completely privately-funded.
If the sale to the Seattle group does come to pass, the Kings would finish out their run in Sacramento before relocating to Seattle for the 2013-14 season. That should make the last games in Sacramento nice and depressing. If/once the deal is made official, the Sonics will play at their old home of KeyArena for two seasons while their new arena in Seattle's SODO neighborhood is being constructed. We've been keeping track of the latest news for that project here at Stadium Journey. It's interesting that any relocation has to be approved by the NBA's relocation committee. The head of that committee? Clay Bennett of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the former Seattle Supersonics.
There appears to be some reluctance from the Maloofs in terms of wanting to sell the franchise. The financial losses are what is driving this. In all these newspaper editorials and message board posts, there's the sentiment that the Maloofs owe a local group a chance to match a deal. Perhaps that reticence will be enough to swing a deal and keep the Kings in Sacramento. Despite the posturing, it appears the Maloofs do feel some sense of loyalty to Sacramento, but is it worth passing on $500 million to take a less lucrative deal?