NEW YORK – Calling it a “wrenching” decision, NBA commissioner David Stern told reporters Friday that the thorny issue of the Sacramento Kings’ proposed sale and relocation would be resolved within the next three weeks.
Which way it goes – the Kings staying and playing right where they are or shifting north as the second coming of the Seattle SuperSonics – remains unclear. And, as Stern told it after the latest NBA Board of Governors meeting, it even has him guessing.
“It’s the only time in the last 37 – 47 years – that I haven’t known the answer,” Stern said, playful with his own timeline in response to a reporter’s question, then turning serious about the process. “No, but this is one that’s just been quite difficult and confusing for the owners as well. And we’ve been working very hard to give it a structure at their direction.”
Whether you believe that assessment might hinge on your view of Stern. Did the most powerful (and some would say controversial) commissioner in sports get that way by behaving like Lady Justice, blindfolded and scales all even-steven? Or is he still the delicatessen owner’s son from Teaneck, N.J., adept at resting a thumb ever-so-slightly on the scale?
Advocates on both sides of the Maloof family‘s possible sale and transfer of the franchise to Seattle interests headed by investors Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer are skeptical that Stern isn’t shading or influencing the process in some way. If both sides are worried that it’s tilting against them, that at least is worth something.
The bottom line out of the BOG sessions held Thursday and Friday, after diligent work by the relocation and finance committees, was that any tilting would matter after the week of May 6-10. That’s when a FINAL final vote will be taken and the Kings’ fate decided.
Why the wait? Those committees will meet again next week to sort through remaining questions about arena construction and financing and about the particulars of each group’s offer. The report they issue will be sent to the entire Board of Governors, which must have at least seven business days to review it. Also, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson told NBA.com Friday that he thought his group would be permitted to make a final pitch on that city’s behalf.
All of that pushes the BOG vote out three weeks. A league spokesman said it could be held face-to-face again or via conference call. Any meeting might be back in New York or could be held in one of the active playoff cities. Then and only then would folks watching the NBA Draft Lottery know whether the team card in the big envelope said Sacramento or Seattle.
Said Stern: “What makes this particularly difficult … is the Seattle group has done a lot of work. It’s well funded. It’s got spectacular businessmen who support the community behind it, and the Sacramento group has a very strong base of economic support as well.”
The Hansen-Ballmer group recently upped its offer to $357.5 million for a 65 percent controlling interest in the Kings, which pushed the team’s valuation to $550 million. The Sacramento group led by Johnson and investors Vivek Ranadive and Mark Mastrov also have made a bid that, Stern said Friday, is being treated as a signed agreement. Both offers are “in the ballpark,” Stern said when asked about significant differences.
Both have the same negative, too: Neither the Kings’ current home or an NBA return to Seattle’s KeyArena offers the long-term solution.
“We’ve got two temporary facilities that we’re going to be playing in,” Stern said, “whichever way the board goes, and the quality of those facilities and there’s so many other issues and the critical path based upon environmental reviews, potential lawsuits and the like.”
It’s a hot mess, an either/or dilemma that is likely to leave one of the markets – the capital of California or the former Pacific Northwest home of one of the league’s showcase teams – on the outside looking in.
When asked about expansion to Seattle as a compromise solution, Stern said: “I haven’t heard that in any shape or form, particularly when we don’t know at this time what the next television network contract would be.” Remember, beyond dilution of talent and scheduling and alignment concerns, divvying up the hundreds of millions of dollars a 31st NBA franchise would pay for entry would mean cutting another slice from the broadcast revenues in the future.
Then there is Stern’s legacy, which will be sealed next Feb. 1 when he resigns after 30 years. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver has been tabbed as his successor.
Said Stern: “We have expended not only enormous man‑hours but enormous sums of money for outside consultants. This will be by far our most extensive review of anything like this in the league’s history.”
Among other items on the BOG agenda Thursday and Friday:
— Reports on revenue-sharing and the impact of the collective bargaining agreement were heard. “Very upbeat in terms of improving team operations and the competitiveness of the league,” Sterm said.
— Jeannie Buss was approved as controlling governor of the Los Angeles Lakers, as the family continues its succession of late owner Jerry Buss. Also, Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert and partners purchased additional interest in the Cavaliers franchise.
— The governors “had fun” with a report on officiating, while formally welcoming former NBA player and league exec Mike Bantom as the new head of officiating.
— A report from the competition committee was educational for the owners in highlighting the trends of increased 3-point reliance – from no teams that averaged 20 or more attempts from the arc in 2001 to a dozen that did so this season, Stern said. That, in turn, has opened up the game to the bosses’ satisfaction.
— Security matters also were discussed, especially in the wake of the events this week in Boston. The bombings at the Boston Marathon led to the cancellation of Tuesday’s Pacers-Celtics game in that city. The NBA will be making a “significant contribution,” the commissioner said, to the One Fund established to aid victims of that terrorist attack.
— Stern said he remains optimistic that human-growth hormones will be added to the NBA’s anti-drug testing program but that addition involves cooperation of the National Basketball Players Association, which is busy finding a replacement for executive director Billy Hunter.