Seattle and Sacramento had very different reactions Wednesday to reports that a group from Seattle is negotiating to buy the NBA's Sacramento Kings.
The day began with a tweet, was fueled by a fast-spreading media report and ended with rumors and reaction. But by the end of the day, nobody seemed to know the fate of basketball in Seattle or Sacramento.
The two cities reacted very differently Wednesday to swirling rumors that a group from Seattle is negotiating to buy the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.
In Seattle, there was excitement that the NBA might return after its exit five years ago. In Sacramento, there was despair among fans and defiance from public officials, punctuated by Mayor Kevin Johnson vowing to fight to keep the team in town.
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“It’s a significant day for the community because it appears it’s the first day that the Sacramento Kings are for sale,” Johnson said at a news conference.
Johnson, a former NBA player, said that if the report is true, it marks an opportunity for his city to find local buyers to keep the team in Sacramento. Indeed, the team’s owners, the Maloof family, have never stated publicly the team is for sale, instead pursuing options in the past to secure a new arena or move the team themselves.
Johnson made it clear he believes it’s unlikely the Maloofs — who bought the team in 1998 for $156 million — will themselves keep it in Sacramento.
A report from Yahoo Sports on Wednesday morning cited one unnamed source saying the Seattle group, led by investor Chris Hansen and including Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, was on the verge of buying the team for roughly $500 million.
If the deal succeeds, the report said, the team would move to Seattle and play the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons at KeyArena while a new arena is built in Sodo.
A Hansen-led plan for a $490 million arena was approved in October by the Seattle City Council and the Metropolitan King County Council.
The Seattle group would pay $290 million, with $200 million coming in public money to be repaid through revenue generated by the arena. It has long been thought Hansen was eyeing the Kings as a possible team to buy and move to Seattle.
Hansen did not comment, nor did the Kings or the NBA. A later USA Today report citing an unnamed source said the Seattle group “has made significant progress in the negotiations” and is “confident a deal will eventually get done.”
Johnson said he had not talked to either NBA Commissioner David Stern or the Maloofs.
Sacramento and the Maloofs have been working since 2006 on various proposals to renovate the city’s outdated arena, or to build a new one. Since a plan fell through last year when the Maloofs balked at the last minute, matters have been at a standstill.
There were reports the Maloofs were talking to officials in Virginia Beach, Va., about moving the team to a new arena in that city. But those were quashed when Virginia Beach officials said Tuesday the plan was dead. The Maloofs also attempted to move the team to Anaheim, Calif., in 2011 before the NBA intervened.
As the day ended Wednesday in Sacramento, Kings’ fans feeling the same angst Seattle fans did five years ago — when new owner Clay Bennett moved the Sonics to Oklahoma City — began an online petition drive titled “Here We Stay,” asking Stern to intervene and keep the team in California.
“The fight isn’t over until it’s over,” the statement read.
The NBA has an annual deadline of March 1 for owners to apply for relocation, and Johnson said that is the deadline for Sacramento to attempt to find new owners to keep the team there.
“Things have been sped up and intensified by the news today coming out of Seattle,” he said.
News that a sale might be imminent began leaking late Tuesday in an unlikely fashion — a tweet from Daina Falk, a food blogger known as “The Hungry Fan” and also the daughter of longtime NBA agent David Falk, whose clients included Michael Jordan and several former Sonics, including longtime team President Wally Walker.
Daina Falk’s tweet read: “So I hear that the Seattle Kings is officially a done deal! The Maloofs finally sold the ailing Sacramento team.”
Her tweet, and a related Facebook message, were deleted by Wednesday morning. But by then, the rumors had spread, and intensified with the later Yahoo reports.
The $500 million price tag would be the most ever paid for an NBA team. The high to date is the $450 million paid for the Golden State Warriors in July 2010.
Hansen’s group also would have to pay an NBA relocation fee, which would be at least $30 million.
Unclear is whether the reported $500 million price tag would include paying back $77 million the Maloofs owe on a loan made through the city of Sacramento. The Maloofs also owe the NBA about $75 million.
Hansen has spent the past year laying the ground work for an arena deal and attempting to buy a team to move to Seattle.
City Councilmember Tim Burgess said Wednesday that council staffers have been working closely for some time with the mayor’s office and Seattle Center — where KeyArena could be used as a temporary home — to be sure the city is ready to act if a team is acquired.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said he first saw the rumors about midnight and hasn’t spoken with Hansen or other investors. “They’re probably in delicate negotiations,” McGinn said Wednesday afternoon
One potential hurdle to moving a team here — a lawsuit brought by the Longshore workers union to void the city’s arena deal with Hansen — could be resolved early this year.
Both parties have agreed to a legal fast track that would allow the judge to decide the case on what is called summary judgment and avoid a prolonged trial, according to Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for the City Attorney’s Office.
A Feb. 22 hearing before Superior Court Judge Douglas North has been set to hear arguments on the suit, which alleges that the city and county illegally reached an agreement with Hansen before the completion of an environmental-impact statement on issues such as freight mobility and alternative locations.
As part of the summary-judgment agreement, both sides agree to the factual issues and argue only the law.
An environmental review was launched after the city and Hansen signed a memorandum of understanding to build an arena, an arrangement the Longshore union described in court papers as a “costly ritual without real practical effect.”
Seattle Times staff reporters Steve Miletich and Emily Heffter contributed to this report. Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.