BY Steve Rudman 06:11PM 04/30/2013

March 9: The Key Date In The Sonics’ Soap

When NBA Commissioner David Stern opened his mouth to reporters March 9, Sacramento received a huge boost in retaining the Kings franchise.

In the battle for the Sacramento Kings franchise, David Stern began calling signals for Sacramento March 9. / Getty Images

I began to have a suspicion that the vote by the NBA’s relocation committee taken Monday would not go Seattle’s way as far back as March 9 when David Stern tilted the board in Sacramento’s favor by the remarks he made following a Golden State Warriors-Houston Rockets game.

Sacramento just made a counteroffer to Chris Hansen’s bid to purchase the Kings and move them to Seattle, and Stern, astonishingly, revealed Sacramento’s pitch to retain the Kings wasn’t nearly good enough. It would have to be increased substantially before team owners would consider it.

“The Sacramento group’s offer has some very strong financial people behind it, but it is not there in terms of a comparison with Seattle’s bid,” Stern told reporters, adding, “unless it increases, it doesn’t get to the state of consideration. I think right now it’s fair to say that the offers are not comparable.”

Somewhat later in talks with reporters covering the game, Stern also said, “There’s a substantial variance in the bids. I have an expectation – a hope – that the variance will be eliminated by the time the owners give it consideration.”

Stern should have never opened his mouth. He should have remained above the fray, allowing the bidding to play out on its own terms without his interference. Instead, Stern unethically – in our opinion — inserted himself into the process and all but told Sacramento what it needed to do to get back in the game and win.

If a judge instructed an attorney on what he needed to do to salvage a losing case, he would be — or should be — thrown off the bench.

In the time it had, Sacramento’s bidders could not present a counteroffer comparable to Seattle’s without Stern sneaking in plays from the sideline and delaying the vote by the relocation committee until Sacramento better prepared itself.

Sacramento’s purchase offer still isn’t as good as Seattle’s (and will wind up far worse in the end), nor is its arena plan. But for Stern, it’s close enough, thanks to the initial intervention he made publicly March 9, the day, in our view, the tide changed against Seattle.

Had Stern not horned in, particularly after initially saying the respective offers would speak for themselves, Hansen would not have had to purchase an additional small percentage of Kings, or bump up an already record offer for the Kings by another $25 million. When Hansen boosted his bid by $25 million, it was obvious he knew that the other team was playing with too many men on the field and getting away with it.

Stern had learned something else by March 9. He’d had ample time to digest one of the greatest offers for a franchise he and other NBA owners had seen, from men of vast wealth, potential owners any league would covet. But so phenomenal was their offer that they had unwittingly made Seattle more valuable to the NBA as a non-league city than as a league city.

Stern surely looked at Seattle and saw individuals so desperate for a team that they would go to historic financial lengths to get one. Stern, we figure, saw he could exploit such epic ankle grabbing. Turns out, Seattle could not have handed Stern a lovelier parting gift to his 30-year tenure as commissioner.

So if nothing changes in the next two weeks to bring a commitment of a team, Seattle will serve as the NBA’s default go-to city, a place other owners can use to their advantage when they bargain over leases in their own cities. Every league needs these hammers.

Tampa-St. Petersburg used to be such a city in baseball. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners all threatened to move to Florida’s Gulf Coast in order to extort what they wanted where they were.

White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf made the boldest evacuation threat to wrangle improvements at old Comiskey Park. It worked. Reinsdorf finally got a new Comiskey Park. The Rangers, Mariners and Giants followed with new parks of their own, to a large degree because Tampa-St. Pete sat there, its municipal skirt hiked up past mid-thigh.

Seattle played the Tampa-St. Pete role long before that city erected the Florida Suncoast Dome – and let it stand empty — in an attempt to lure a major league team. Former Cleveland owner William Daley (1956-62) made numerous threats to relocate the Indians to Seattle in the mid-1960s unless Ohio made it worth his while not to leave. It did. Charles O. Finley did the same thing with the Athletics shortly after Daley got what he wanted in Cleveland.

Seattle is a glittering landing spot for an NBA franchise now precisely because its fans want one too much. Stern did not know exactly how much until Hansen emerged, the SoDo arena ball started rolling, the city and county councils eagerly signed on, and more than 44,000 fans expressed interested in purchasing season tickets. No dummy he, Stern saw no reason not to exploit that.

Demand won’t go away, although Chris Hansen conceivably could. Stern is clearly willing to bet he won’t.

We know people who know, and have worked, directly under Stern. They tell us that after the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City, Stern developed a genuine regret that Seattle fans lost their team after 41 years — among relocated teams, the Sonics franchise had the longest tenure in its original city — and that he became determined it wouldn’t happen again on his watch. All very laudable.

But in a burst of perversity, Stern used Seattle’s pain at losing the Sonics to justify squashing Hansen’s bid to bring them back. No more smoked salmon for him.

For Sonics fans, there is currently not another Sacramento out there, not even bratwurst-clogged Milwaukee, ruled out by its longtime local owner, former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl. Expansion, Stern insists, is not an option — at least not until Stern leaves office in February.

Hansen said after Monday’s vote that he wouldn’t give up his pursuit of a franchise. If that’s the case, his best option still might be Sacramento, whose plan to build a downtown arena, according to Hansen, is seriously flawed and will crumble under further examination.

If that arena plan is as much of a non-starter as Hansen has suggested it is, we may yet get to witness Stern explain how he backed a losing horse. Or not. If it comes to that, Stern will probably make himself unavailable for comment.


  • Jared S.

    We know people who know, and have worked, directly under Stern. They tell us that after the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City, Stern developed a genuine regret that Seattle fans lost their team after 41 years

    I’d love to believe that, but it seems like every time someone asks Stern about it, he obnoxiously points the finger at the politicians, and ignores all the other factors. If he is regretful, he does a great job of hiding it.

  • uolj

    This analysis treats this whole saga as just a game. A competition between Seattle and Sacramento to see who can “win” the team. But this isn’t a game and Stern is not a referee charged with maintaining a fair playing field and sitting back to see who comes out ahead. This is about the Maloofs, Hansen and his team, the folks in Sacramento, and the NBA all working towards their own best interests. Stern is not supposed to be impartial, he is supposed partial to the league and its best interests.

    He clearly made an effort to help Sacramento, but the idea that doing so was unfair doesn’t make sense. His interest is in the NBA, and it should be assumed from the beginning that he would act based on what he felt was best for the league.

    The fact that Stern assisted Sacramento is certainly disappointing to folks hoping to get the Sonics back in Seattle, but saying he shouldn’t have acted that way is because he shouldn’t insert himself into the process ignores his entire job description. He is supposed to insert himself into the process. It just didn’t work out the way Sonics fans hoped.

    • Guy Dude

      David Stern got mad at Chris Daniels for suggesting he was helping Sacramento. So even Stern wants it to seem like he is impartial.

  • Leon Russell

    The NBA is like an extremely exclusive private club. They get to decide who they want to let into their club. They get to decide what criteria they use to choose who gets to join their club. They don’t have to accept the “best offer,” even if Chris Hansen himself tells the NBA that his offer is better than Sacramento’s. The NBA can refuse to allow someone to join their club just because they don’t like them. It is not necessarily always about the money.

    Hansen comes across looking very bad. He is in effect telling the NBA that they have to let him in their club because he made the best offer. And he said so, himself!

    Hansen to the NBA: “My offer is clearly the best. I explained that to you in our presentation. Their offer is flawed. I explained that to you too! Weren’t you paying attention to what I told you? Are you too stupid to understand what is very clear to me?

    “My offer is the best! Their offer is flawed!
    “My offer is the best! Their offer is flawed!
    “Do you know who I am???? Do you know who I am????”

    This is not necessarily the best strategy to get yourself invited to join a very exclusive club.

    • Todd

      Hansen is doing what all good business people would do. I would do the same. You don’t go into the night meekly. Even if the Seattle group doesn’t get the Kings he puts a lot of pressure on the NBA to award them expansion because they “can’t be denied”, their credential are too strong. If you are in a position of power then you display it when necessary or you will not be taken seriously. It’s expected. This is a well financed group with world class business men. They could release aggressive litigation on the NBA and probably collect damages. But that would under mind their goal, bring a NBA team to Seattle. The NBA would be stupid to not want to partner with that kind of strength.

      • Effzee

        I don’t even really “Want” the NBA to return, as I have personal disdain for Stern. The league is completely orchestrated at every level, as should be obvious to all of Seattle by now. From free agent movement to trades to back-room handshake deals amongst owners to crooked officials, there is virtually no legitimate activity in the NBA. Stern is totally unscrupulous and smarmy. In fact, when I visit the rest room now, I call it “Taking a Stern.” That said, I hope HanBallStrom (what I think they should call their ownership group) pushes this thing as far as it can go. Stern is out in a year. He is trying sooo hard to not have a franchise move as he exits because it would basically destroy the integrity of the latest collective bargaining agreement, and all he said it accomplished and stands for. I can’t wait for Hansen to take it right to the owners themselves, basically circumventing the lame-duck Commish. There is no logic whatsoever to forcing an ownership group into taking a deal that is inferior in every way. The owners should be more interested in working in the best interests of the league than making sure Stern solidifies his legacy. I think this is going to be Hansen’s main objective in the next meeting.

        • Todd

          ^very good post. My thoughts exactly.

      • Leon Russell

        I think it’s equally possible that the NBA does not like the way Hansen went about this, and might want to make an example out of Hansen to discourage other posers from trying the same strategy in the future.
        Anyway, I think it’s cute how you try to tell the NBA how they should conduct their business. You probably have a lot more knowledge and experience in these matters than David Stern.

        • Todd

          Just observing business strategy. Nothing ground breaking here. I really don’t think KJ’s “whales” are going to be in harmony when they are required to put up the deposit (20%, 50%?) tomorrow.

    • Michael Kaiser

      You nailed that one.

      • Steve Rudman

        Thanks, Michael.

      • Todd

        ^like the kid on the short bus giving high fives to his buddy across the aisle.

  • sonics fan

    Any doubt this kid of favoritism has played a role at other key moments in the last 30 years? A certain draft, instructions to officiating crews, point guard trades. This commish is second only to Vince McMahon.

  • Seattle Sports Hell

    Which makes it all the more mind-boggling that so many Sonics fans at the time thought that was a great sign of things to come. You should know better by now, Seattle. Stern does not have our best interests at heart …

    • Todd

      I never did. When Stern said that I yelled “why is he helping KJ so much?”. David Stern is a lawyer and he never evolved into a business leader. He’s too unprofessional and emotional. He enjoyed the $ falling from the sky when the economy was good but now it’s not that easy. He’s timely retirement of 2/1/14 has a lot to do with the NBA losing $ over the past years and Stern is directly responsible. He never accounted for an economic down turn with his forecasting. All he does is lobby for new arenas with public $ these days. Cheesy.

      Look at this article from almost 2 years ago when they were drafting the new collective bargaining agreement. I quote “The league contends that 22 of the 30 teams are losing money, to the tune of about $370 million per season collectively. The individual team owners are seeking a complete overhaul of the league’s financial model, and have submitted proposals to the players that feature a $45 million hard cap and rollbacks to existing salaries (reductions in existing contracts of 15 percent to 25 percent, based on the players’ starting salary) — a proposal the players association termed “a non-starter.” They have also discussed an alternative in which salaries are pegged near their present levels, so the players’ share of revenues declines over time as revenues increase over the next 10 years.”

  • jafabian

    The Tampa-St. Pete comparison is nicely done. IMO, the NBA likes to hold Seattle over cities heads and say if you don’t give us a new arena you’ll be just like Seattle. You could say maybe Hansen should just build he arena so the NBA can’t deny him however Kansas City has had the NBA ready Spring Center available since 2007 and you never hear of them being mentioned as a possible locale for an NBA team.

    Agree that Sterno has sabotaged everything going for Seattle since all this started. At some point that has to come back to bite him.

    • Michael Kaiser

      The NBA like to hold Seattle over cities’ heads? Ya, the NBA just came in and grabbed Seattle and said go try and steal the Kings from Sacramento so that we can get a new arena out of Sacramento.

  • Wish someone would make a life size Stern doll and burn it publicly

  • Todd

    Great thoughts Art. I agree with you but I do believe the NBA will reward Seattle with an expansion team if the Sac group executes the P&S. I personally have many doubts since the public funding is relying on parking. The #’s have been over stated to say the least. So who covers the short fall? Whale poop. I honestly think this last minute pod of whales will self destruct because the investment is terrible now and in the future. Their financial advisers have to be stressed out right now considering the short amount of time to make this kind of decision. But I am sure Stern will give them more time to work it out? Are they taking into account the payroll that is going to be needed to make this team into a winner again? KJ has a horrible past and has shown that ethics are not always his thing. I think he sold this plan to his investors like the public money was going to be flowing like honey? But they will see they are going to be on the hook for much more than the purchase price, mainly the arena. The Sac group is too flawed and you don’t make this big of a decision this fast. What does KJ care? It’s other people’s money.

    • Michael Kaiser

      Uh, this was a Steve Rudman piece.

      • seattlenative57

        Why are you here considering your comments are so hateful and disrespectful of Seattle and Washington, in general? Do you express yourself publicly this way? Or just hide behind your keyboard and play hater?

        • Todd

          He’s got a bitter beer face.

          • seattlenative57

            That and a severe case of asshole-itis.

          • Todd

            He tries but his posts are redundant and rudimentary at the same time. Much like a trained monkey.

  • Michael Kaiser

    That is interesting. I would not have looked at those comments as a tip off. And while I think it was obvious–and why not–that the Commissioner did not want to see a franchise moved because of, ultimately, lack of community support (as happened in Seattle, among other places)–I think his comments could just as easily have been read as saying “let’s at least give the owners a real decision to make.” And I know Seattle feels like it got screwed–of course it was also “someone’s else’s fault” when they lost the Sonics–but, really, what do you expect of the Commissioner? It does not look good to have franchises moving around. Heck, he trucked down to Olympia at the time of the Sonics’ matter and I did not hear the Okies saying that was “unethical,” and you can be damm straight you never will hear anyone in Seattle say it was. I know, “totally different situations.” In fact, ask anyone in Seattle. If they did not have the differences already parsed in their head, they will come up with them on the spot.
    And who is to say the NBA thinks all-private money is a good foundation for an arena. They may feel it is better to have a community with some skin in the game.
    And Hansen did not “have” to do anything. He is a big boy. He made all of his own decisions. Makes him look like the absolute wimp to say that Stern made him do things.
    And Stern spent less time “looking at Seattle,” (I know, Seattle is the center of the Universe in many people’s minds) than he did looking at Sacramento and the fact he wanted to see that work. Only some people in Seattle actually think it was ever even close.
    And once again, Stern did not “use Seattle’s pain to squash Hansen’s bid.” It is not all about us. It was about Sacramento. And as soon as some people start to realize that they might start to develop the mindset that really will be needed to convince the people that will need convincing at some point in the future if Seattle hopes to land an expansion franchise.

    • Todd

      The problem with you is that you’re not objective. You pull the cover over your head when you see or hear things you don’t like. Stern can’t even compete with this level of shrewd business and possible litigation. I don’t care how good Stern thinks he is as a lawyer, he will get bulldozed by this legal team. His mouth has already got him in trouble through this process. I can tell he’s frustrated because he is out matched. This ain’t over. ;)

    • seattlenative57

      Go back to where you came from (if you weren’t banished). You are not welcomed here, douche.

  • Big

    Just Play Fair? All’s fair in pro sports. Role models not.

    • Michael Kaiser

      “Role models not?” What does that mean? I moved out of grade school thirty-five years ago?

      • Todd

        Not even witty… sigh

  • 3 Lions

    The league would prefer to have cities cave in to their wishes in the form of tax subsidies. In that sense our offer was too good. It set a precedent of ownership paying a fare share for a new arena. The Sacramento offer continues that rich tradition.
    However, there is a shred of daylight. The NBA has done everything to allow Sacramento a chance. Consequently, if they screw it up in the next two weeks they will not be able to argue that they were treated unfairly & perhaps we could get this mess of a franchise.

  • Todd

    “There is no acceptable deal possible” with the Sacramento group, a Maloof family spokesperson told Reuters, “and no serious desire by the Sacramento group to arrive at one. It has become too onerous for us to continue spending time and resources on a process that cannot succeed.”

    Translation: The Maloofs are NOT going to sell to the Sacramento group because they are not matching the Seattle offer.

  • Todd

    Trust me Sac, this ain’t over. Stern deserves this turmoil and he’s reaping what he sowed.