I decided up till this point to stay out of the recent news that the Kings had been sold to a Seattle investor group and would be becoming the new Sonics from most likely next season. I have a dog in both hunts – friends who go for the Kings and a dad who bleeds Sonic green. I didn’t want to interfere because as far as I could tell both sides had their merits.
Then I read this article by Tom Ziller, the beat reporter for Sactown Royalty.
Tears came into my eyes. I ain’t gonna lie. Once I dried them off and started reading more into the situation I just found myself getting royally pissed off that this is gonna be allowed to happen.
Here’s the deal. For those who only know the basics – the Three Stooges who owned the Kings had been claiming for the past couple of years that the team was not for sale even though it’s no secret they’re pretty much broke. They fucked up their investments on their Vegas casino and had to sell their family liquor business to keep the Kings. It wasn’t enough.
At the same time, they were negotiating with the city of Sacramento on a new arena. I’ve been to a couple of games at Arco – it’s a great atmosphere when it’s packed and rowdy but by modern NBA standards it’s a dump. Fair enough. After almost moving to Anaheim (really, the biggest kill factors in that deal were Jerry Buss and Donnie Turkowitz) and trying Louisville (where?) and Virginia Beach (huh?), they eventually decided to swallow a little of their pride and sell the team to a group of Seattle based investors led by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and hedge fund manager Christopher Hansen.
When I say “a little” of their pride it’s because there’s one part that hasn’t been heavily reported. 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov (after failing to buy the Warriors when they were for sale) and private equity/grocery billionaire Ron Burkle have announced they want to buy the Kings and keep them in Sacramento and match the Seattle group’s $525 million bid.
The arena question? Kevin Johnson says the original arena deal – where almost all is paid through public funding and private investors other than the team – is still on the table. The Stooges junked that one (AFTER SIGNING IT) over a few technicalities, biggest of them being a $70 million loan that required a guarantee from them (which was a problem since they’re, you know, broke) and a clause that the team had to stay in Sacramento for 30 years. A step too far for the starry eyed scumbags who have been wanting to move the team basically ever since they bought it (it just would have been a bit difficult given that they acquired the Kings at the start of the golden era of Sacramento basketball). Oh, did I mention that this deal was negotiated on behalf of the Maloofs by a gentleman called David Stern? So yeah. He isn’t happy.
So unhappy, in fact, that he’s given Mayor Johnson one last chance to present the Sacramento case to the NBA Board of Governors. That case would be backed by Mastrov/Burkle and the arena deal. With all that said, it’s unlikely that the board will overturn the sale agreement the Stooges made with the Seattle group.
One other last thing I’ll mention here – this whole deal was done in secret WITHOUT THE SACRAMENTO GROUP GETTING A CHANCE TO BID. I put that in caps to emphasise the point. It’s no secret to anyone who has been following this mess for a while (like I have) that Johnson and the Stooges can’t stand each other and haven’t been able to since they backed out of the original arena deal. This is, in effect, their final “fuck you” to Kevin Johnson and the city of Sacramento.
Odds are, they’ll get away with it as well. Stern is sympathetic to the city of Sacramento. He learnt a lot from the Seattle/OKC mess (along with the two lockouts, the blackest mark on his time as Commissioner) and he surely doesn’t want to go through that again. However, money and market size talks, and given that “Stern” is a euphemism amongst Sonics fans for “c**t” I’m sure he would like basketball to return to Seattle before he steps down in 2014 and right that mistake.
I, like most long time NBA fans, want the Sonics back. Seattle is a big market who got behind the Sonics until the last couple of years when it became clear they had one foot out the door. However, I have a real problem with this sort of robbing Peter to pay Paul scenario. Let’s also not forget that, given Sacramento are seen as a small market (20th in the USA, vs 12th for the Seattle metro area – but the Seattle TV market also encompasses a lot of Idaho and Montana as well as the state of Washington) the chance of them ever getting an expansion team when Seattle didn’t get one are close to zero.
Therefore, with expansion on my mind, I’d like to propose this solution.
1) Keep the Kings in Sacramento. Have the Maloofs sell to Mastrov/Burkle and build the new arena.
2) Give the Hansen/Ballmer group an expansion licence for 2014-15 (when the new Seattle arena is supposed to be ready).
3) To keep an even number of teams, issue one more expansion licence for that same season. Just throwing this out there – Kansas City has a fairly new, state of the art arena. Vancouver as well, plus there’s history there. It’s not like the league is getting any more top-heavy, there aren’t enough rich guys queuing up to own teams or the league can’t afford it.
Look, I’ve gotten revved up here because this situation makes me angry. It pisses me off that three rich legacy kids born with silver dicks in their mouths can screw over an entire fan base of loyal fans with a city that (unlike even Seattle the first time) fought tooth and nail to keep their only major league team, and presented completely reasonable proposals to do so. It’s the angry socialist in me, I know.
I’ve been a staunch critic of Stern in the past, but this is his chance to go out on a high. To make three cities very happy (Seattle, Sacramento and Expansion Market X) and put a final positive mark on his legacy, rather than the 2011 lockout and this mess leaving a city heartbroken and another one with a slightly bitter tasting new team.
Will he do it? Let’s wait and see.