Published January 21, 2013
Sacramento Kings, NBA announce deal to sell to SeattleTONY BIZJAK, DALE KASLER AND RYAN LILLIS
The Sacramento Kings and the NBA this morning announced that the sale of the team to a Seattle investment group has been finalized, and the deal has been sent to the NBA for review and potential approval in the coming weeks. In a brief statement, the team owners, the Maloof family, expressed appreciation for Sacramento fans, but offered no details on the move. "The Maloof family announced today that an executed purchase and sale agreement has been reached to sell the family's interest in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Sacramento Kings to a group led by investor Chris Hansen. The transaction requires approval by the NBA's Board of Governors and therefore no comments or details regarding the agreement will be released. "We have always appreciated and treasured our ownership of the Kings and have had a great admiration for the fans and our team members. We would also like thank Chris Hansen for his professionalism during our negotiation. Chris will be a great steward for the franchise." The league confirmed it has received sale documents. "The NBA received an executed Purchase and Sale Agreement for the transfer of a controlling interest in the Sacramento Kings from the Maloof family to an investor group led by Christopher Hansen. The proposed transaction is subject to the approval of the NBA Board of Governors and has been referred to the Board's committee process for review." The league comment comes on the heals of source reports Sunday night that the Maloof family has sold the team, after weeks of negotiations. The deal would move the team to Seattle - and sets up a climactic showdown that may not be settled for months. A source close to the situation said Sunday that the Maloof family and the Seattle group, led by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer, could announce a deal as early as today. If the sale is approved by the NBA's board of governors, consisting of league owners, the team would move to Seattle next season and would be renamed the SuperSonics, after the franchise that left Seattle for Oklahoma City in 2008. A sale price wasn't released, but Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has said he believes the Maloofs were working on a deal that would value the entire franchise at $525 million. The Maloofs and a partner in Oklahoma control 65 percent of the team. The Maloof family declined to comment through a spokesman Sunday night, and Hansen's representative couldn't be reached for comment. The price would be a record for an NBA team. ESPN.com, quoting anonymous sources, said Hansen has agreed to give the Maloofs a $30 million nonrefundable down payment and allow them to keep a small ownership stake in the team. Sacramento officials, however, vowed to press on with their plan to assemble a counteroffer that would keep the Kings from leaving. Johnson plans to bring a rival investor group to the board of governors' meeting in New York in April and make the case for keeping the team in Sacramento. The board would then presumably vote on which city would get the Kings – Seattle or Sacramento. "When it comes to keeping the team in our community, Sacramento is playing to win," the mayor said Sunday night in a prepared statement. The sale to Hansen's group "was fairly expected," added Chris Lehane, a political strategist advising Johnson. "I don't think it changes anything. We have our game plan. … The process is under way." Lehane said the mayor has been approached by at least three investor groups, all of which "would qualify under the definition of a whale" – casino parlance for a high roller. Mark Mastrov, a Bay Area investor who sold the 24 Hour Fitness chain for $1.7 billion, has already said he's interested in buying the team. Johnson and NBA Commissioner David Stern have mentioned supermarket tycoon Ron Burkle – who tried to buy the Kings in 2011 – as another possible suitor. Sacramento officials have said they would offer a buyer the same financing package for a downtown arena they offered the Maloofs last spring – including $255 million in public subsidies. The Maloofs scuttled that proposal in April, putting the team's status in limbo. At the behest of Stern, arena operator AEG – which committed $59 million to the downtown project – said last week it remains committed to the proposal. AEG, which has worked on arena projects for years with the NBA, gives Sacramento a powerful ally in its wrestling match with Seattle. Any deal for the Kings proposed by Johnson would have to include financing for a new arena, which is considered necessary to breathe new life into the troubled franchise. A source has told The Bee the team is $200 million in debt and on track to lose $7 million this year. Despite the mayor's efforts and Stern's encouragement, Yahoo Sports, quoting an anonymous source, reported Sunday that the NBA's influential relocation committee would recommend that the larger board of governors approve the Seattle deal. Only once in the past quarter century has the NBA rejected a relocation proposal, when the board turned back a plan to move the Minnesota Timberwolves to New Orleans in 1994. Johnson, however, has said he believes he can build a viable case for Sacramento. "Sacramento has proven that it is a strong NBA market," he said. He noted that the Kings sold out 19 of their 27 seasons in Sacramento and the city is the 20th largest television market. If the league blocks the Seattle deal, the Maloofs could sell to the bidder presented by Johnson or take the Kings off the market. But it seems more likely that one way or another, the Maloofs are about to end their tumultuous 13-year stewardship of the team. The Maloofs bought controlling interest from Southern California investor and attorney Jim Thomas in 1999 and for several years were the toast of Sacramento as the team made runs for the NBA title. But in recent years, the Maloofs have suffered considerable financial setbacks – folding the WNBA Sacramento Monarchs and losing control of their Las Vegas casino to creditors. In 2011 the Maloofs went to the board of governors in New York and were about to petition the NBA to relocate the team to Anaheim. They backed off after Johnson dazzled the league owners with a presentation on Sacramento's virtues as an NBA market – and mentioned that Burkle wanted to buy the team. The league persuaded the Maloofs to give Sacramento another shot at building a new arena. A tentative deal, personally negotiated by Stern, was struck last February but crumbled weeks later. The Maloofs said the plan was based on vastly overblown revenue projections – supplied by the NBA and AEG – and included deal points to which they'd never agreed.