Citing the potential for economic development, the Yakama Nation today announced the purchase of the Yakima Sun Kings, a minor-league professional basketball team.
TOPPENISH — Citing the potential for economic development, the Yakama Nation today announced the purchase of the Yakima Sun Kings, a minor-league professional basketball team.
The purchase makes the Yakamas just the second American Indian tribe in the nation to own a professional basketball team.
Tribal officials made the announcement amid the faint dings and whistles of slot machines one floor below at their Legends Casino, a business venture for the tribe that has proven largely successful.
“This is another opportunity for us to begin to expand our economic base, an opportunity to promote the Yakama Nation and its enterprises,” said Tribal Council Secretary Davis Washines.
Last year, the tribe purchased a former juice plant to bottle apple juice. Other business ventures include the casino and a sawmill.
“We are embarking on a very significant and very definitive time in the history of the Yakama Nation,” Washines said. “We have communities on our reservation that need more services, and we have to figure out ways to provide those services.
“By promoting the Yakama Nation and our businesses, we have that opportunity, at the same time we have the opportunity to be better neighbors,” Washines said.
The Yakima Sun Kings, entering their 15th season in the Continental Basketball Association, have won three championships. Last season, the Sun Kings tied for the worst record, 17-31, in the eight-team league.
The team has had eight owners in its 15 years.
CBA commissioner Gary Hunter said he was pleased with the purchase and the Yakamas’ involvement.
“That franchise has a rich and storied history, including three championships, and we can’t wait to get their input in league business and operations,” Hunter told the Yakima Herald-Republic.
The team had been owned by a family of local businessmen. The Uceny family bought the Sun Kings in 2002 in an effort to keep the team in Yakima. The Sun Kings suffered “significantly brutal” six-figure losses each of the past three years, Darren Uceny said, declining to elaborate.
The purchase price was $140,000. Net revenue from operation of the team will be used to fund boys and girls clubs and scholarships for young tribal members, Washines said.
The Yakamas, who are celebrating the 150th anniversary of their 1855 treaty with the U.S. government, intend to rename the team the Yakama Sun Kings to reflect the tribe’s ownership.
“We understand and realize that historically Yakima has always been a sports town,” Washines said. “We want to build on that, and we are excited about the future.”
The tribe hired Rich Austin of the Portland Trail Blazers as general manager. Paul Woolpert, the winningest coach in Sun Kings’ history with 106 wins — and 102 losses — will return as coach for a sixth season.
The Connecticut-based Mohegan Tribe purchased the WNBA’s Orlando Miracle in January 2003, moved the team to Connecticut and renamed it the Sun.
The Yakamas’ purchase has been controversial. Last week, a news release announcing the purchase was released prematurely, prompting some tribal members to question whether the team is a solid business venture.
Opponents are circulating a recall petition calling for the removal of the Tribal Council, which approved the purchase of the team.