Not that there was any real prospect of a move to Seattle, but the Milwaukee Bucks will no longer be a straw for Sonics fans to clutch. Longtime owner Herb Kohl announced Wednesday, pending NBA approval, a sale of to the team to hedge-fund billionaires Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens for a league-record $550 million.
The figure tops the $534 million paid by Vivek Ranadive and other investors in June 2013 to buy the Kings and keep the club from relocating from Sacramento to Seattle after Chris Hansen’s offer was rejected by NBA owners. Forbes magazine’s annual valuations of pro sports teams listed the Bucks at an NBA-low $405 million.
Lasry is listed at No. 352 in Forbes annual list of 400 wealthiest American at $1.5 billion.
Kohl conditioned his sale on a promise that purchasers would agree to keep the team in Milwaukee, which has been searching without success for a method to fund replacement of the BMO Harris Bradley Center, one of the NBA’s oldest and smallest buildings.
However, Kohl and the new ownership pledged $100 million each to the cost of a new arena, which is expected to be north of $400 million.
In a league rich with bad teams, the Bucks were the worst. Heading into their season finale Wednesday against Atlanta, the Bucks were 15-66, 13 games worse than Sacramento.
Kohl, a retired U.S. senator with deep roots in Milwaukee, bought the team in 1985 for $18 million. In his time, the Bucks reached their apex in 2001 when a team coached by former Sonics head man George Karl reached the conference finals, but lost in seven games to Philadelphia.
Edens is co-founder of the New York-based Fortress Investment Group LLC. According to federal Securities & Exchange Commission documents, the firm has $61.8 billion in assets under management.
Lasry is chairman, CEO and co-founder of Avenue Capital Group, which has $13.6 billion in assets under management.
Since the Kings and Bucks have new ownership, teams for potential relocation are about zero. The collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the players union improved greatly the chances for all teams to break even in annual operations, particularly in view of a pending increase in national TV-rights fees with multiple networks that are under negotiation.
So again, the best option for Seattle’s return to the 30-team NBA rests with expansion, something new commissioner Adam Silver said was not high on his list.
Hansen in 2012 signed a memorandum of understanding for five years with the city and King County to build a $500 million arena on property in SoDo he owns. The deal was conditioned on obtaining an NBA team, then getting the project through the state environmental impact review.
The draft EIS proposal was released in August to considerable criticism from opponents of the SoDo site, who filed complaints during the public comment period. The final EIS is not likely to be made public before September.
In the likely event that opponents will find the final EIS unsatisfactory, they have previously indicated a willingness to sue.