SEATTLE — The announcement Monday of an agreement by a Seattle group to purchase the Sacramento Kings made the NBA’s return to this city as close as it has been since the Sonics left in 2008.
But while there was a celebratory feel in the statements from those involved in the sale, as well as city and county officials, there was also caution that a few significant hurdles remain.
“It’s exciting news for Seattle and for Sonics fans,” said Mayor Mike McGinn. “It’s a big day. But there is more work to be done.”
Specifically, the sale of the team from the Maloof family to the Seattle group led by Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer still must be approved in April by the NBA Board of Governors , which could also hear a counteroffer from Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. Johnson is attempting to put an ownership group together to keep the team in Sacramento. To relocate, the team must file notice to do so by March 1. Also, an environmental-impact study on the proposed new arena must be completed, and there are two lawsuits attempting to block the arena.
McGinn, though, sounded confident none of that would get in the way of the eventual return of the NBA, saying, “All major projects go through this, and you deal with the issues as they come up.”
And if the final hoops are cleared, the team could begin playing again in Seattle next fall, spending two seasons at KeyArena while a new arena in the Sodo District is built.
Official confirmation of the sale, which had been rumored for almost two weeks, came Monday morning in a series of statements from Hansen, the Maloofs and the NBA. Varying reports stated that Hansen bought a 65 percent share of the team, with the team valued at $525 million. That would put the Hansen group’s purchase at roughly $340 million.
“We are happy to announce that we have entered into a binding agreement with the Maloofs to purchase a controlling interest in the Sacramento Kings NBA franchise,” read the statement from Hansen. “The sale is obviously subject to approval by the NBA Board of Governors, and we look forward to working with the league in the coming months to consummate the transaction.”
The Maloof family has held controlling interest in the team since 1998, and since 2006 has attempted to get a new arena in Sacramento or move the team. But with those efforts stymied, and with the family running into financial issues, it recently decided to sell the team.
“We have always appreciated and treasured our ownership of the Kings and have had a great admiration for the fans and our team members. We would also like to thank Chris Hansen for his professionalism during our negotiation. Chris will be a great steward for the franchise,” said Gavin Maloof, Kings co-owner speaking on behalf of the Maloof family, in a statement.
The sale would include a 53 percent share held by the current controlling owners of the Kings, the Maloofs, and 12 percent held by minority owner Bob Hernreich. Hansen’s group and the Maloofs have been negotiating for several weeks.
The NBA also released a statement: “The NBA received an executed purchase and sale agreement for the transfer of a controlling interest in the Sacramento Kings from the Maloof family to an investor group led by Christopher Hansen. The proposed transaction is subject to the approval of the NBA Board of Governors and has been referred to the board’s committee process for review.”
Sacramento Mayor Johnson, meanwhile, said he will continue to fight for the team.
In a statement Sunday night, Johnson said: “When it comes to keeping the team in our community, Sacramento is playing to win. In particular, we have been focused like a laser on identifying an ownership group that will both have the financial resources desired by the NBA and the vision to make the Kings the NBA equivalent of what the Green Bay Packers have been in the NFL.”
Johnson is thought likely to unveil details of a new ownership group that could match the Seattle offer and also build an arena in Sacramento that could allow the team to stay where it has played since 1985. Johnson, a three-time NBA all-star, said last week he has received approval from the NBA to present his counteroffer at the Board of Governors meeting, and NBA Commissioner David Stern has confirmed Johnson will get that opportunity. Johnson will be hoping to repeat what he did in 2011, when he was able to help convince the NBA not to let the Maloofs relocate the team to Anaheim, Calif.
Many national NBA analysts, though, portrayed those efforts as a longshot.
“Nothing is done until the vote is done,” said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. “But I think this has been a very good and open process, and I don’t think anybody is going to find any huge surprises underneath the hood of the structure of the deal. It looks very much like Seattle is going to get what it wanted when the Sonics left, which is the Sonics coming back.”
Yahoo.com also reported that NBA approval would be “a formality” and that the team would play in KeyArena beginning next season.
Hansen said in his statement he couldn’t go into much more detail.
“While we are not at liberty to discuss the terms of the transaction or our plans for the franchise given the confidential nature of the agreement and NBA regulations regarding public comments during a pending transaction, we would just like to extend our sincerest compliments and gratitude toward the Maloof family,” the statement read. “Our negotiations with the family were handled with the utmost honor and professionalism and we hope to continue their legacy and be great stewards of this NBA franchise in the coming years and decades.”
ESPN.com reported that other NBA teams were “formally notified Sunday night of the deal.”
ESPN.com also reported that Hansen’s group will give the Maloofs a nonrefundable deposit of $30 million by Feb. 1. The remaining 35 percent of the team is owned by minority shareholders. It is not known whether any of those minority shareholders would sell to Hansen’s group.
An investment group led by Hansen finalized a deal with Seattle and King County in October to build a $490 million sports and entertainment venue in the Sodo neighborhood with $200 million in public money to be repaid through revenue generated by the facility.
Seattle has been without an NBA team since 2008, when the Sonics were relocated to Oklahoma City by new owner Clay Bennett.
Hansen has spent the past year laying the groundwork for an arena deal and attempting to buy a team to move to Seattle. He has said the team would again be named the SuperSonics.
The Kings are currently 16-26 with a roster that includes two area players — Isaiah Thomas, a former Washington guard and Curtis High School of University Place star, and Aaron Brooks of Franklin High in Seattle.
The Kings have played in Sacramento since moving from Kansas City in 1985. The franchise dates to 1945, having begun play in Rochester, N.Y., and later moving to Cincinnati and then Kansas City, when it also played a few games in Omaha.
Swangard noted that few franchises in the history of North American sports have moved as often.
“You just hope the final chapter is being written,” he said. “That it kept moving because it is searching for the right home and Seattle was there at the end of the trail for them.”