It was one of those days where people remember precisely where they were when they got the news. Like assassinations, market crashes and so many other seismic world events, the day Seattle lost the SuperSonics — officially, July 2, 2008 — didn’t just come and go. It seared itself into the hearts and psyches of NBA fans in that Pacific Northwest city.
“It killed me, man,” former Sonics coach George Karl said Wednesday night. “I was in the Seattle area with my daughter, in Olympia. There were rumors and then it was over. It happened so quick.”
There had been promises, there had been worries, there had been political wrangling. When the clock ran out, all that remained were accusations, recriminations and, yes, tears. The reality was stark: Starbucks impresario Howard Schultz and his partner had sold the SuperSonics to an investment group headed by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett. Talks about a publicly financed arena broke down, and the Sonics were headed to Oklahoma and a new life as the eventual Thunder.
Forty-one years of NBA history was over. The source of some of the league’s biggest names and most entertaining teams — and the only Seattle franchise to claim a championship in major professional sports — was gone.
“Destroyed,” was the word chosen by Boston’s Jason Terry, who grew up in Seattle and starred at Frankin High, which is about 5 miles from the Sonics’ old haunt, Key Arena. “There [were] all kind of ‘Save the Sonics’ shirts, signs and blogs.”
As of Wednesday though — four years, six months and seven days since the moving vans rolled in — Seattle is as close as it’s been to getting the NBA back. Investor Chris Hansen was close to a deal to purchase the Sacramento Kings and relocate them to the Emerald City, according to multiple media outlets.
First reported by Yahoo! Sports, Hansen — who already has a deal to build a new arena, this time largely through corporate funding — was offering the Maloof family that owns the Kings more than $500 million. The team’s future in Sacramento has been shaky for several seasons because of squabbling over a new arena in the California capital, with possible destinations such as Orange County and Las Vegas mentioned in the past.
Seattle, via Hansen, has been an interested party from the start, though. According to Yahoo!, the Kings would be renamed the SuperSonics, begin play in time for the 2013-14 season and be based in KeyArena for two years while their new home is constructed.
Just how imminent the sale might be morphed through the day Wednesday; some reports out of Sacramento had the Maloofs reconsidering Hansen’s offer. Details of Hansen’s financing for the arena in Seattle’s “SoDo” section — south of downtown — still must be worked out. In October, he reached an agreement with local government to build the $490 million facility near the city’s other stadiums, Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field. An estimated $290 million would come from private investments, with $200 million in public financing repaid through rent, admission taxes and Hansen’s own sources, the Associated Press reported.
The NBA, meanwhile, has its own requirements for a franchise sale and relocation. For the former, an application for transfer must be filed, due diligence is performed on the people and finances involved and then the league’s Board of Governors votes, with 75 percent approval — 23 out of the current 30 teams — needed for new ownership.
For relocation, a team must apply by March 1 if it wants to move in time for the following season. The NBA’s relocation committee than has 120 days to study the proposal and make its report to the Board of Governors. When the owners vote, a simple majority — 16 of 30 — is needed for approval.
The NBA declined to comment on Monday’s news reports. It is believed that KeyArena, the Sonics’ home before their departure and the driving force in Schultz’s decision to sell, would be acceptable as a temporary home should the deal go through.
Hansen is a Seattle native and San Francisco resident who made his fortune working with Blue Ridge Capital and, since 2008, as managing partner of the Valiant Capital firm he founded. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and two members of the Nordstrom department-store family are among his fellow investors in the NBA deal. (more…)