New game plan needed to return Sonics to Seattle

The News TribuneMay 1, 2013 

Seattle’s slam dunk turned into an airball Monday.

A group of buyers headed by billionaires Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer appeared to have a done deal to buy the Sacramento Kings and move the team to a site south of Safeco Field in Seattle. They thought so. So did Northwest fans. The team’s owners certainly did. Even a lot of people in Sacramento assumed the Kings were out the door after an earlier arena deal there fell through.

So what happened? Why did a panel of team owners recommend against allowing the sale of the Kings to buyers that would be one of the NBA’s best-financed ownership groups in a more desirable market?

Conspiracy theories abound: The NBA was just using the competing bids to jack up franchise values and get Sacramento to help pay for a new arena. It wants to kill the possibility of an arena built with minimal taxpayer funding — a radical precedent. It wants to encourage foreign markets for pro basketball (the ownership group that wants to keep the team in Sacramento is headed by an Indian-born software tycoon, Vivek Ranadive). The other owners wanted to stick it to the Maloof family, who own the Kings, so they shot down their preferred buyer.

Any, all or none of those theories may apply. But this is obvious: Sacramento just showed Seattle how a city goes about keeping a team. Begrudging kudos to its mayor, former NBA player Kevin Johnson, who led the fourth-quarter rally to find buyers who would match Seattle’s offer and agree to help pay for a new arena.

That said, Hansen’s group still could be in the picture. The NBA’s rationale for allowing a team to move is that its current market isn’t tenable. (KeyArena’s supposedly dire inadequacies were the reason why the league allowed the Seattle Sonics’ Oklahoma City owners to move the team in 2008.) Should the Ranadive group’s negotiations with the Maloofs go south, the Seattle bid might get another shot.

If that doesn’t happen, and the team stays put, fans who want to see the Sonics back in Seattle have to hope that Hansen and his partners hang in there and look at other options — the Milwaukee Bucks, perhaps. It’s difficult to imagine that this region would ever get a better group of buyers stepping forward with a proposal that involved so little public investment.

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