BY Steve Rudman 12:44PM 04/03/2013

Stern has OK’d 6 relocations; blocked a 7th

The NBA disallowed a relocation in 1994 after a sale agreement was reached to move the Timberwolves from Minnesota to New Orleans. But Seattle’s bid has different circumstances.

NBA Commissioner David Stern stopped the Timberwolves’ move from Minnesota to New Orleans, but for reasons unlikely to be found with the Seattle bid. / Getty Images

The National Basketball Association has approved the relocation of nearly two dozen franchises since 1950, including six since David Stern succeeded Larry O’Brien as commissioner in 1984. Due to retire early next year, Stern would have seven relocations on his watch if the NBA hadn’t blocked the sale of the Minnesota Timberwolves to New Orleans interests in 1994.

While the Minnesota case provides the closest parallel to Seattle’s efforts to convince the NBA to approve the sale of the Sacramento Kings to Chris Hansen, Steve Ballmer et al, the particulars of it differ significantly from the Seattle vs. Sacramento competition over the Kings and offer no clues as to whether NBA owners will vote to keep the Kings in Sacramento or move them to Seattle.

In the Minnesota situation, T-Wolves’ owners Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner were upside down — $73 million worth — on their mortgage on the Target Center, the team’s arena built as part of the franchise’s 1989 entry into the NBA. Wolfenson and Ratner sought public and private investment to purchase the mortgage, but when they failed to find takers, they announced that the team would be sold and probably moved out of Minnesota.

Stern and the league offered to mediate a resolution, but before talks between Wolfenson and Ratner and their debtors could take place, Wolfenson and Ratner revealed that they had engaged in talks to sell the T-Wolves with representatives of three cities, San Diego, Nashville and New Orleans. San Diego eventually dropped out, pitting Nashville against New Orleans.

In May 1994, New Orleans pushed Nashville aside when an ownership group called “Top Rank” announced a purchase price of $152.5 million. Fearing the loss of the franchise, the Minnesota legislature approve a bill that would have earmarked $48 million in public funds for the purchase of the Target Center. That proposed purchase, which bunched up thousands of boxer shorts in the Twin Cities, was contingent on T-Wolves ownership agreeing to a 30-year lease.

But no local ownership emerged to either match or exceed the $152.5 million Top Rank offered. Top Rank announced May 23 it had completed the purchase and would move the franchise to New Orleans. On June 6, 1994, Top Rank filed paperwork with the NBA seeking to relocate the T-Wolves for the 1994-95 season.

The Hansen-Ballmer group, as had Top Rank 19 years ago, has purchased a franchise (Sacramento), announced its relocation for the next season, and filed paperwork with the NBA. But here’s where the stories diverge in Seattle’s situation versus that of Minnesota’s.

When NBA owners got into the weeds of Top Rank’s offer, they discovered that $40 million of the $152.5 million purchase price came from unknown — or at least unidentified — investors; that more than $76 million of the purchase price would come via loans from banks that had yet to commit to those loans; and that nearly $50 million more would come from “projected revenues” from an un-built arena in New Orleans.

Based on such financial flimsiness, the NBA’s relocation committee voted unanimously June 5 to block the sale of the T-Wolves to Top Rank. On June 21, 1994, the league officially denied sale of the franchise to Top Rank. The attempted relocation eventually resulted in Minneapolis businessman and former state senator Glen Taylor purchasing the franchise and keeping it in town. Top Rank sued, but a federal judge tossed it out.

Since the Hansen-Ballmer group obviously won’t issue the kind of financial smoke screen that Top Rank did, the NBA would have to block a move of the Kings from Sacramento to Seattle on other grounds — a matching or competitive offer by Sacramento’s new owners, the NBA’s disinclination to have “Relocation No. 7” mar Stern’s farewell months, or even the league’s desire not to punish loyal Sacramento fans.

Seattle and Sacramento sides made their respective cases to the NBA’s relocation committee Wednesday and will make a recommendation prior to a vote of the Board of Governor April 19.  Hold tight, Seattle fans, to your briefs.


No city played host to an NBA franchise longer than Seattle — 41 years — before losing the team to another city. Only one city, San Diego, has twice lost NBA franchises, the Rockets moving to Houston in 1971 and the Clippers leaving for Los Angeles in 1984.The following are the major NBA franchise relocations since 1950 (list does not include the temporary move of the New Orleans Hornets to Oklahoma City in 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina):

Year Spurned Years* Blessed Relocation Reason
2012 New Jersey 35 Brooklyn Team sold to Brooklyn businessmen
2008 Seattle 41 Okla. City OKC owner wanted team in his city
2002 Charlotte 14 N. Orleans Fan revolt against owner George Shinn
2001 Vancouver 6 Memphis Weak Canadian dollar; lockout fallout
1985 Kansas City 10 Sacramento Minuscule attendance in Kansas City
1984 San Diego 6 Los Angeles Poor attendance, bad arena lease
1979 New Orleans 5 Utah Team couldn’t turn profit in N. Orleans
1978 Buffalo 8 San Diego Team sold to California-based owner
1972 Cincinnati 15 Kansas City Team sold to Kansas City businessmen
1971 San Diego 4 Houston Low attendance in San Diego
1968 St. Louis 13 Atlanta St. Louis refused to build new arena
1963 Syracuse 14 Philadelphia Syracuse too small for NBA
1963 Chicago 2 Baltimore Chicago didn’t embrace NBA until Bulls
1962 Philadelphia 16 San Fran Team sold to California owner
1960 Minneapolis 12 Los Angeles Lakers fizzled after George Mikan
1957 Rochester 9 Cincinnati Rochester couldn’t turn profit
1957 Fort Wayne 9 Detroit Fort Wayne too small for NBA
1955 Milwaukee 5 St. Louis Poor attendance in Milwaukee
1951 Tri-Cities 2 Milwaukee Tri-Cities (Illinois) too small for NBA

*=Years the team played in the spurned city


  • Pixeldawg13

    Note that the following are all the same team:
    1957, Rochester to Cincinnati (Royals to Royals)

    1972, Cincinnati to Kansas City (Royals to Kings)

    1985, Kansas City to Sacramento (Kings to Kings)
    Yet, the Sacramento fans and government are whining about someone ‘stealing’ their team. Anyone heard from Rochester, Cincy, or KC lately?

    2013? Sactown to Seattle? (Kings to Sonics?)

    • art thiel

      It has been a vagabond franchise, and Kings fans get the irony. But any fan under 35 has no real memory of a city without an NBA team. They don’t much care about irony.

  • PokeyPuffy

    Nice overview Art. Given the persistence of the two groups going after Sacramento, it seems certain there will be legal action after the decision comes down. Do you think we would fare better than the 24 hour fitness bunch under this scenario?

  • jafabian

    Froom 1971 until the Nets move to Brooklyn the franchises moved in part due to owner wanting to move the team closer to where they were. Donald Sterling lives and works in LA. Stood to reason he’d want the team closer to him and didn’t put much effort in marketing the Clippers. Also he got burned when he signed Bill Walton and the NBA awarded the Blazers three players as compensation. The Kings moved to Sacramento IIRC because they were sold to a Sacramento based group.

    IMO, this list simply shows how fickle NBA owners are. And impatient. Hopefully Chris Hansen can show everyone how its done when you put some heart and soul into it. Hate to admit it but right now the Thunder seem to be the model professional sport franchise. But lets see how Clay-Clay does during the lean years though. Durant won’t be there forever. Heck, neither will Sam Presti. And Aubrey McClendan could bail any day with his money troubles going on. Don’t see that being an issue with Hansen’s group.