So it looks like goodbye Sacramento and hello Seattle, goodbye California and hello Washington State. The Sacramento Kings are on the verge of being sold, and the implications are that the franchise will likely be re-located away from the capital of California to Seattle. Bad news if you are a fan of the Kings, but good news if you are a hoop fan yearning for the NBA to return to The Emerald City.
Of course, there is a lot of toing and froing and behind the scenes political manoeuvres to be done, but by all accounts it looks a done deal, the Maloof family that owns the Kings has reportedly reached an agreement to sell the franchise. The buyers are a Seattle group led by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, a consortium that is set to tie up a controlling 65 percent ($525 million) stake in the franchise.
Controlling is of course the all-important word, because without control the buyers cannot even begin the process of relocating. So what does $525 million buy in Basketball? Well, it seems the ability to virtually construct a new franchise from the foundations of an old, not that there is anything wrong with that of course. Teams moving cities and states is hardly new in the history of the sport, and in fact the Kings were once to be found in Cinncinati and Kansas City.
So it looks a certainty that the sale will go through, although Kevin Johnson, the Mayor of Sacramento claims he has permission from NBA Commissioner David Stern to deliver a counter-proposal. Johnson is understandably irked by the idea of losing a revenue stream for his city and a source of refuge and entertainment for his people, but the chances of him derailing the sale seem slim at best.
There is of course the possibility that the relocation to Seattle will be blocked by the NBA, something that Johnson (who it is worth mentioning was a point guard for the Phoenix Suns so knows the sport) is hoping.
Johnson will get the chance to convince the Board of Governors to block the move, but he faces one major hurdle, that Board is comprised of one representative from each team in the NBA.
Now that may seem innocent enough, but the major reason for any franchise move is financial, either the current location is not generating enough cash, or the proposed location is a gold mine. Either way, at some point in the future, one of those teams represented on the Board of Governors may need the favour returned; they may need to move their team. Blocking other movements would not sit well when they hope to have the favour returned.
There have been exceptions of course, such as the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were subject to a buyout bid that would have seen them move to New Orleans. The move was rejected, although that was more to do with the sketchy financials of the buyer and not the actual proposal. Maybe we should look at the Seattle Supersonics, remember them? The Supersonics were relocated from Seattle to Oklahoma City when the state ceased providing enough funds, but the Board of Governors were against the move if a solution to stay in Seattle could be found.
However, unless a local buyer can be found then there is no reason to block a move for the Kings to relocate to Seattle, and at this late hour the outcome seems inevitable.
So what of the future? Any relocation would come with a lot of negotiation, not least what to do with the histories of both teams. Firstly, it seems very likely that the new Kings in Seattle will be renamed the Supersonics, so we will probably see the return of the Seattle Supersonics but as an entirely different entity. That raises a question about the Supersonics 1979 NBA victory, who would that belong to? The original Supersonics are now the Oklahoma Thunder, but does the NBA championship belong to the brand (Supersonics) or the business (Thunder)? Could it be shared among the two, or does one have an outright claim?
One thing seems clear, the consortium behind the buyout are taking things seriously. Rumours are already abound about Phil Jackson (he of 11 NBA Championships) is being brought in to mentor whichever coach is given the job. Also RC Buford is being touted as the GM for the franchise, which would be a major coup considering how highly he is thought of in the business. Buford steered the San Antonio Spurs to 4 NBA titles, while he is also widely recognised for helping to build and promote a stronger league. Another option is Larry Bird, the legendary player turned star president (Bird was named executive of the year in 2011 while he was president of the Indiana Pacers) although health issues forced Bird to leave the Pacers and there are no guarantees that he would return to the game.