SEATTLE — Just about the time many Sonics fans began to come to grips Monday night with the reality that the team won’t be returning any time soon, Chris Hansen sent out word that the fight is far from over.
In a sharply-worded response on his sonicsarena.com website, Hansen wrote, “We remain fully committed to seeing this transaction through,” even though the NBA’s Relocation Committee voted 7-0 Monday to recommend that the Sacramento Kings not be allowed to relocate.
Hansen also wrote, “We plan to unequivocally state our case for both relocation and our plan to move forward with the transaction to the league and owners at the upcoming Board of Governors Meeting in mid-May.” The BOG will make the final decision on the issue at a meeting that is reportedly set for May 15.
That had many on Tuesday wondering what could be a realistic goal for Hansen. One league source said Hansen might try to convince the league to let him buy the Kings and operate them in Sacramento while the city gets its arena proposal settled. If it ran into problems, he could then try to relocate the team to Seattle.
At the least, league sources said, Hansen would want to make the league publicly deny him the right to buy the team.
It’s thought that the NBA Board of Governors will vote whether to approve the sale of the team from the current owners, the Maloof family, to Hansen’s group, though the league would not confirm Tuesday exactly what the parameters of the meeting will be. Hansen offered the Maloofs $358 million for 65 percent of the team, a total valuation of $550 million that is the most in league history.
As Hansen noted in his statement, “We have a binding transaction to purchase the Kings for what would be a record price for an NBA franchise.” A spokesman for the Maloof family said again Tuesday it would have no comment. But a league source said the Maloofs would still push the league to approve the sale to Hansen’s group. That would require yes votes from 23 of 30 owners.
Michael McCann, a sports law expert and on-air legal analyst for NBA-TV, said a scenario where Hansen gains control of the team seems far-fetched given the unanimous vote of the Relocation Committee.
“It seems unlikely Hansen can turn the vote around on relocation, but I suspect NBA owners do not want to vote against him as an owner,” McCann said. “He is entitled to a full vote from the Board of Governors and he has come this far, I could see why he wants to see the process through, even if it likely means he will be rejected. On the other hand, we only know of seven votes, and only on relocation. Would all seven vote against him as an owner? And would any of the other 23? It’s conceivable, though still unlikely, that Hansen could end up owning the Kings — in Sacramento.”
A spokesman for Hansen said Hansen would not have any comment Tuesday.
One source said Hansen was still trying to determine exactly what happened Monday. One thing that apparently caught him by surprise was the fact that only the Relocation Committee voted — a committee that is chaired by former Sonics owner Clay Bennett — and not the 12-member Finance/Relocation Committee, as had been expected. Sources noted that the committee had four small-market owners who likely were pushing the Sacramento case.
That didn’t help the perception among some in Seattle that NBA commissioner David Stern was aiding Sacramento’s bid to keep the Kings.
One league source said Hansen could also just be attempting to stay in the game should something happen to throw the Sacramento bid off-course from now until the BOG vote. Also, the Maloofs do not have to sell the team to the Sacramento group, though it’s generally thought that they likely would.
In Sacramento, Mayor Kevin Johnson said during a schoolyard garden dedication he didn’t blame Hansen for wanting to press the issue, according to The Sacramento Bee.
“If I were them, I would keep fighting too,” Johnson said. “That’s been our story the last three or four years. I don’t look down or begrudge anybody who’s fighting for something they desperately want.”
But he also said he expects Sacramento to prevail, adding, “I think the message out of New York (with the relocation vote Monday) was very loud and very clear.”
Johnson said the task for Sacramento is to get all of its details finalized for the BOG meeting May 15, in particular the offer it will make to the Maloofs for the team. It has been thought the offer is for the original $525 million made by Hansen’s group, and not the $550 million that Hansen raised it to a few weeks ago. The NBA asked the Sacramento group to place 50 percent of its offer into escrow by Friday, according to USA Today.
“We hope to be in a position at that point where our ownership group gets approved,” Johnson said, according to The Bee. “That’s our end game.”