SACRAMENTO, Calif. — After saying for years they would never sell their basketball team, members of the Maloof family now appear close to unloading the Sacramento Kings to an out-of-town group for what could be a record price.
Sources told the Sacramento Bee on Wednesday the family has been talking with a deep-pocketed Seattle investment group about a sale and team move to that city. One report pegged the sales price at an NBA-record of $500 million or more.
But, during a whip-saw day of Internet rumors about a possible secret sale, two sources with knowledge of the situation adamantly told the Bee no deal is done and no formal offer has been made.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson reacted late in the day, holding a news conference to say he is trying to recruit local buyers for the Kings.
“For the first time, they have publicly shown the desire to sell the team,” he said of the Maloofs.
He declined to identify potential local bidders, but said he has been hearing from people since plans for a new arena downtown fell apart last spring. “I heard from a number of people who said, ‘If the team was ever for sale, let us know.’”
For now though, Sacramento finds itself again on the sidelines, similar to its position two years ago when news broke that the Maloofs were planning to move the team to Anaheim. That deal eventually fell through after the NBA convinced the Maloofs to keep the team in Sacramento for another year.
One source, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak on the matter, told The Bee that discussions between the Kings and Seattle financier Chris Hansen are only “conceptual” at this point.
Another source characterized media reports Wednesday of a potential sale as “premature,” and said the Seattle group has not made a formal offer.
Hansen has said he would be willing to buy a team and have it play in KeyArena for a season or two while a proposed arena in the Sodo District is constructed.
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 move” if a team is acquired.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn wasn’t aware of all the noise being made about the possibility of the Kings coming to Seattle.
“I know as much as you do about the Sonics. … But if it’s true, ain’t it cool?”
He 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.
Plans to build a $490 million arena were approved by the City Council and the Metropolitan King County Council last October.
In Sacramento, the news reflects a dramatic shift by the Maloof family. The team’s two most active owners, Joe and Gavin Maloof, previously said they would never repeat the mistake their family made in 1982 when it sold the Houston Rockets.
Faced with a tough financial picture in their 13th season as Kings owners, the family has crossed an emotional threshold, sources said.
“If someone was to put a crazy number on the table, their perspective could change,” said a source with connections to the team. “If somebody like a Hansen were to actually make an offer, which hasn’t happened yet, and that offer was ridiculous, things could change.
“Nothing crazy has happened yet.”
A flurry of tweets
According to a source with knowledge of family finances, but who was not authorized to speak publicly, the Maloofs may have been forced into the decision to consider a sale.
The team is $200 million in debt, and could lose between $6 million and $7 million during the current NBA season.
If the Kings do reach an agreement to sell, the move could not occur until next season, and would require approval from fellow NBA owners. The deadline for teams to file for relocation is March 1.
Kings representative Eric Rose told the Bee on Wednesday that the team had nothing to report. Rose has previously acknowledged that the Kings have been approached by numerous cities interested in wooing the team.