The campaign to keep the Kings in Sacramento kicked off Tuesday afternoon when Mayor Kevin Johnson announced the names of 19 local business people who will contribute $1 million each to a new ownership group. But he did not identify the private equity partners that will do the heavy lifting to beat the bid of $525 million offered this week by a group led by Chris Hansen to move the Kings to Seattle by the fall.
Johnson said he hopes to identify the big investors by Friday – “we’re making progress on the whales,” he said.
Speaking at an event called “Think Big,” Johnson said Sacramento, which has been searching for nearly a decade for a replacement for the current arena in suburban Natomas, deserves to keep its team.
“It is unprecedented for a team to be relocated from a city where people have done everything that could be done by a community,” Johnson said at a press conference that introduced three of the $1 million investors. “Let me say this about Seattle: I played in the NBA for 12 years and they had some of the best fans in the NBA, incredible fans. When they lost (the Sonics in 2008), it was devastating to me. Those fans fought like crazy.
“I feel strongly they deserve a team. Just not ours.”
NBA Commissioner David Stern said last week that Sacramento will be allowed to present an offer at the mid-April meeting of the Board of Governors. Besides offering to buy the team from the Maloof family, the bid must include a plan to building a new arena downtown, Stern said.
Johnson’s event seemed more like a pep rally for local citizens, three of whom spoke to the gathering that frequently broke into applause and cheers. The $19 million commitment is nowhere near what’s needed, even if Sacramento gets a “hometown discount” because they would not have a $35 million relocation fee, nor repay at once a $77 million debt the Maloof family, Kings owners since 1998, owes the city.
The reported offer for the team, which is believed an NBA record for a team-only purchase, is for 53 percent of the team owned by by the Maloofs and another 12 percent owned by a minority investor, which adds up to about $340 million. Hansen will be required to provide a $30 million nonrefundable deposit by Feb. 1.
Real estate developer David Taylor, who would have helped develop an arena proposal for downtown’s railyard that collapsed last year when the Maloofs backed out, said he wishes the Maloofs well, “but I wish they’d sell to us.”
The Maloofs have no obligation to sell locally, nor are they burdened by an arena lease. They have said in the past they are not interested in selling to Sacramento buyers.
But Hansen’s arena proposal is faced with two lawsuits over the arena’s location in SoDo near the football and baseball stadiums and next to the Port of Seattle. Opponents, including the Mariners, cite a likely big increase in traffic and congestion with more than 100 new event dates. An environmental impact study also must be completed before the city and county councils make a decision.
Hansen has said the team, which would be renamed the Sonics, would play two years at KeyArena, which housed the Sonics for 41 years but is now considered economically obsolete as a long-term answer.
One of Hansen’s principal partners, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, came under fire by California state senate president pro tem Darrell Steinburg. He’s upset that Ballmer and his company, which does business in California, is “engaging in activities which are clearly measurably detrimental to our state’s job and revenue base – not to mention use profits earned through business with our state to appropriate a California-based asset.”
His complaint was contained in a letter the state’s department of General Services.