After a swell of support from Kings fans and politicians to save their NBA franchise and keep them in town, the Sacramento Bee has reported this morning that the Maloof family has sold a controlling interest in the Sacramento Kings to Chris Hansen's Seattle-based ownership group. The sale to Hansen means the Kings will be relocated to Seattle and become the Supersonics. Additionally, once made official by the league, Seattle can begin construction on its new arena near Safeco Field.
For Sacramento fans, it's a heartbreaking moment even as the relationship with the Maloofs went sour long ago. Despite the best efforts of local groups and Mayor Kevin Johnson to work out a deal to keep the Kings in town while plans for a new arena were sorted out, it appears Hansen's offering (rumored to be around $525 million) was too good to pass up.
It's too soon to tell if those groups will attempt to petition the NBA to ensure Sacramento has a shot to get a team back, but I'm sure we'll see some sort of public push like that as the city attempts to save face and placate fans who are certainly angry and disappointed. Even after the news of the sale to Hansen was made public, Sacramento's mayor has vowed to continue plans to submit a plan for local ownership and a path to a new arena for the Kings. Given the track record of pro sports towards franchise relocation, the mayor's plan may just be prolonging the inevitable. The sale agreement has been sent to the league for approval, a process that can take a couple months but will most likely be extended as Sacramento attempts to tie up the sale in court, one last gasp to save the Kings.
As for Seattle fans, despite any guilt some may feel about taking another city's team, this must feel like some level of justice was done. After having the Sonics stripped away from them, they have remained loyal supporters with many a green and gold-clad public gathering clamoring for a return of their beloved team. I've mentioned it in past articles on the Seattle situation, but for a great profile on how the loss of the Sonics affected local fans, the documentary Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team.
The plan for the Sonics involves playing at KeyArena for the first two years (starting next season) while construction on the new arena is ongoing. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Sonics fans as the first iteration of the team played most of its 41 seasons at KeyArena. Hansen's group is apparently not wasting any time planning for the Sonics arrival with rumors that NBA legend Larry Bird, amongst others, will be targeted to run the franchise.
Another facet to the deal that remains a possibility is the potential of an NHL franchise coming to Seattle. The arena deal with the city was tied to having an NBA tenant first, but public funding for the arena is only $120 million with just the Sonics and $200 million with an NHL franchise in tow. NHL franchise territories extend 50 miles from their respective arenas, so while a Seattle NHL team would be well outside that (about 150 miles to Vancouver), I'm sure the Canucks will raise some objection to their TV market being impacted by a new team.
While the NHL has publicly stated they have no plans for expansion, it's long been believed Seattle, along with Quebec City, are the leading candidates for a relocated franchise. The financial incentive Hansen's group has to gain from an NHL team may help to make them more aggressive in luring a team.
Despite the sale agreement, it seems the legal process is just beginning. One should expect soap opera levels of drama over the next few weeks as efforts are made to somehow save the Kings in Sacramento.