By Antonio Gonzalez
The Associated Press
The only thing stopping the Sacramento Kings from a sale and move to Seattle is approval by NBA owners.
The Maloof family has agreed to sell the Kings to a Seattle group led by investor Chris Hansen, the league confirmed in a statement this morning. The deal is still pending a vote by the NBA Board of Governors.
A person familiar with the decision said that Hansen’s group will buy 65 percent of the franchise for $525 million, move the team to Seattle and restore the SuperSonics name. The Maloofs will have no stake in the team.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal was waiting approval.
The sale figure is a total valuation of the franchise, which includes relocation fees. Hansen’s group also is hoping to buy out other minority investors.
The Maloofs will get a $30 million non-refundable down payment by Feb. 1, according to the deal, the person said. They will still be allowed to receive other offers until the league approves the sale.
The plan by Hansen’s group is to have the team play at least the next two seasons in KeyArena before moving into a new facility in downtown Seattle. The deadline for teams to apply for a move for next season is March 1.
“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 to thank Chris Hansen for his professionalism during our negotiation. Chris will be a great steward for the franchise,” Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof said in a statement on behalf of the family.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said last week he had received permission from NBA Commissioner David Stern to present a counteroffer to league owners from buyers who would keep the Kings in Sacramento.
Johnson, himself a former All-Star point guard in the NBA, said in a statement that the city remained undeterred.
“Sacramento has proven that it is a strong NBA market with a fan base that year in and year out has demonstrated a commitment to the Kings by selling out 19 of 27 seasons in a top 20 market and owning two of the longest sellout streaks in NBA history,” Johnson said.
“When it comes to keeping the team in our community, Sacramento is playing to win. In particular, we have been focused like a laser on identifying an ownership group that will both have the financial resources desired by the NBA and the vision to make the Kings the NBA equivalent of what the Green Bay Packers have been in the NFL.”
The Kings were in New Orleans preparing for a matinee game against the Hornets when news came down of the agreement.
“It’s just a little weird (but) at the same time I love Sacramento. I love everything about it. Love the fans; the organization just brought me in with open arms. That’s all I really know in this league is Sacramento,” said Kings guard Isaiah Thomas, a Tacoma native.
“But then I am from that area back home. It’s just kind of a different situation. Whatever I say about Seattle, Sacramento fans might be mad at me, and whatever I say about Sacramento, Seattle fans might be mad at me. I just love both cities.”
Added Kings coach Keith Smart, “For us, I’m going to get on the floor and coach the game and players are going to get out there and make shots, take shots, make mistakes, make great plays. And then we’ll deal with it as we do off the floor.”
In a saga that has dragged on for nearly three years, Johnson and Sacramento appear to be facing their most daunting challenge yet.
Hansen, a Seattle native and San Francisco-based investor, reached agreement with local governments in Seattle last October on plans to build a $490 million arena near the city’s other stadiums, CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field.
As part of the agreement, no construction will begin until all environmental reviews are completed and a team has been secured. The arena also faces a pair of lawsuits, including one from a longshore workers union because the arena is being built close to port and industrial operations.
Hansen’s group is expected to pitch in $290 million in private investment toward the arena, along with helping to pay for transportation improvements in the area around the stadiums.
The plans also call for the arena to be able to handle a future NHL franchise.
The remaining $200 million in public financing would be paid back with rent money and admissions taxes from the arena, and if that money falls short, Hansen would be responsible for making up the rest.
Other investors in the proposed arena include Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer and two members of the Nordstrom department store family.
Hansen’s goal has been to return the SuperSonics to the Puget Sound after they were moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City in 2008.
The Kings’ sale price would top the NBA-record $450 million the Golden State Warriors sold for in July 2010.
“While we are not at liberty to discuss the terms of the transaction or our plans for the franchise given the confidential nature of the agreement and NBA regulations regarding public comments during a pending transaction, we would just like to extend our sincerest compliments and gratitude toward the Maloof family,” Hansen said in a statement. “Our negotiations with the family were handled with the utmost honor and professionalism and we hope to continue their legacy and be great stewards of this NBA franchise in the coming years and decades.”
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said: “While there is more work ahead, this is a major step toward bringing the Sonics home.”
Brothers Joe, Gavin and George Maloof bought controlling interests in the franchise from Los Angeles-based developer Jim Thomas in 1999. The Maloofs, who have long waited for an upgrade to the team’s outdated arena, backed out of a tentative $391 million deal for a new downtown venue with Sacramento last year, reigniting fears the franchise could relocate.
Johnson and the Kings broke off all negotiations in the summer, with the team’s owners saying the deal didn’t make financial sense for the franchise.
In 2011, the Kings appeared determined to move to Anaheim before Johnson convinced the NBA to give the city one last chance to help finance an arena.
At one point, Johnson seemed so certain the team was gone he called the process a “slow death” and compared the city’s efforts to keep the Kings a “Hail Mary.”Johnson made a pitch to the NBA Board of Governors in April 2011, promising league owners the city would find a way to help finance a new arena to replace the team’s current suburban facility. That pitch bought the Kings time, before the brokered deal between the city and the Maloofs fell apart last year.