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Ball in Sacramento's court in battle with Seattle over Kings

Rich Pedroncelli
AP Photo

The agreement to sell the Sacramento Kings to a Seattle investment group - with the goal of moving the team to Seattle - is not a slam dunk. It still needs NBA approval. And momentum is growing in Sacramento to try to keep the Kings there.

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel tries to clear up some of the confusion Seattle fans may have about what's going on.

The campaign to keep the Kings in Sacramento began this week with the announcement from Mayor Kevin Johnson that 21 local business people will contribute $1 million each to a new ownership group.

Art says they're serious.

"Generally speaking, only a crisis brings together government and business at once. And they see this as a crisis. The difference between Seattle and Sacramento is that Sacramento has only one pro sports team.

Sacramento's move came a day after a $525-million purchase and sale agreement was signed between the Maloof family, majority owners of the Kings, and a Seattle group led by arena investor Chris Hansen. The agreement still needs the approval of the NBA Board of Governors, who will meet in April.

Passionate fan base 

Art points out that Sacramento sold out 19 of the 27 seasons the Kings have played there.

"That's an impressive statement about loyalty that should not be overlooked."

More financial muscle coming?

From Sportspress Northwest: The counterpunch from Sacramento grew more serious with a report Wednesday that California supermarket tycoon Ron Burkle and Bay Area investor Mark Mastrov are in “serious discussions” to team up on a bid to buy the Kings and partner with the city on a plan to help finance a new downtown sports arena, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Art says the campaign began as a grassroots effort, and is growing.

"This is how it starts. And this is what probably could have and should have happened in Seattle, but Howard Shultz never told us the team was for sale."

The Seattle SuperSonics were sold to an Oklahoma investor group led by Clay Bennett in 2006. The team moved to Oklahoma City two years later.

Art draws a parallel to what's happening now in Sacramento.

"The Maloofs have locked elbows for six years and said 'Sacramento, no we're not going to sell the team to anybody.' And then they can say 'Well, we just changed our mind.' And they got, from Chris Hansen, an out-of-town price of $525 million. Now the Maloofs are in this great position to receive a counteroffer."

Sale and relocation completely different things

Art says there's a chance the NBA could approve the sale of the Kings to Hansen but deny relocation.

"If the Sacramento bid is substantial, credible and vetted properly, that means that Chris Hansen could be approved as the owner of the Kings but he must operate them in Sacramento. He will not do that. The only option for him then, if he's denied relocation, is to sell the team. And with each passing day, with each passing millionaire joining the Kings, that prospect looms a little more likely."

Expansion better option for Seattle

Art has said all along that expansion would be the best scenario for Seattle, so the city wouldn't have to put Sacramento through what it went through when the Sonics left town.

"It would be bloodless, it would be orderly, it would be great all the way around. The problem is that Chris Hansen can't begin his project without a team in hand. Even if the (proposed) arena is approved - after the environmental impact statement and after the lawsuits that are fighting it - if some deal can be struck where Hansen gets an expansion team guaranteed in three years, that would be good enough. But the NBA hasn't even touched that one yet."

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.