Doyle Rader: Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! reported earlier today that the Maloof family, who own the Sacramento Kings, are finalizing a deal that would sell the team to an investment group in Seattle headed by Steve Ballmer and Chris Hansen. The Maloofs have been looking to either relocate or sell the Kings for some time as their casino and hotel investments have steadily hemorrhaged money over the past several years. Before this season began, there was talk that the team could be relocated to Anaheim as there were investors, namely Henry Samueli, willing to take on some of the Maloofs’ debt in order to relocate the team to the Honda Center. Those plans were stopped when the NBA’s Board of Governors voted against relocation.
While the Maloofs were weighing their relocation options, Louisville, Kentucky and Virginia Beach were also possible destinations at one time, the city of Sacramento was scrambling to do everything in its power to retain the Kings. These efforts were spearheaded by mayor Kevin Johnson, himself a former NBA player. After much planning, a deal was struck that would ensure the Kings stay while building an entirely new arena with surrounding developments. Then the Maloofs abruptly rejected the deal saying that they never agreed to it and the whole situation returned to square one, or square -1,589,247 if you prefer.
That is how we arrive at today’s news and it was met with much hostility on the Internet, especially Twitter. Basketball Twitter is replete with many excellent Kings bloggers and the team has a loyal following. Honestly, it is not surprising that they would be upset (an understatement if there ever was one) today. I, however, am detached from the situation. It certainly isn’t an ideal one but it was simply inevitable that the Kings’ time in Sacramento was dwindling.
Travis Huse: No, the news wasn’t shocking, from any perspective. While I truly feel for the Kings’ fanbase, the move makes perfect sense. David Stern was quoted earlier this year saying that losing the Supersonics franchise was one of the biggest regrets of his tenure as NBA commissioner; with Stern on his way out, this is a way for him to try to shape the NBA in one final way.
But the outrage on twitter has been less about the Kings, and more about Seattle. The Seattle fanbase is being accused of stealing a team, much in the way that they accused Oklahoma City of stealing the Sonics. This is not an appropriate analogy, though, for a few reasons. Primarily, the Kings were going to move. The Maloofs made poor business choices, and in turn, keeping an insolvent NBA franchise was weighing down their financial future. That’s no way to operate a business.
The Maloofs were also terrible owners. They have proven themselves to be incapable of maintaining a winning franchise, nor could they manage to invoke discussion with the city or Kings fans. The Maloofs were never truly invested in the Sacramento area, anyway, so they shouldn’t have ever been expected to take such large financial losses. This has always been a league centered around the dichotomy between large and small-market teams, and in order to stay afloat, teams like the Kings have to ensure one of two things. Smaller-market teams need to either be consistently good, or they have to have a community-centered owner who is willing to ride through tough times for the sake of the franchise. The Maloofs were never anything close to altruists, and the Kings have been bad for a long time now.
DR: I still hold some animosity towards the Kings for all the frustration they caused me in the early 2000s. That doesn’t mean I dislike the team though, but I’m not going to toss around vitriol towards the Maloofs. They are bad owners, plain and simple. They probably think that selling the team to a group in Seattle is the most noble move they can make in the face of NBA fans. However, this has not sit well with Kings fans and others.
I don’t want to be crass about the situation but this is exactly the deal the Maloofs have been looking for. They will be selling the team for $500 million, a mark that is far overvalued. Why wouldn’t they make this deal? With this money they can definitely invest in a new tower for the Palms in Las Vegas where they can start losing money while appearing in fast food commercials.
At least Seattle is getting a team again. It is disappointing that they are doing so in relatively the same manner in which they lost theirs, but that city has been on a mission since Clay Bennett relocated the Supersonics to Oklahoma City. Both Sacramento and Seattle have worked tirelessly to retain or revive their NBA franchise. Yet, as you stated, the Maloofs have never shown loyalty to the city of Sacramento like the fans of the Kings have.
TH: Exactly. This is a dream deal for the Maloofs, they would been foolish to leave it on the table. The writing has been on the wall for the Kings for a long time, anyway. To put this into perspective, the Maloofs were seriously considering moving the team to Virginia Beach, Anaheim, and Las Vegas. Virginia Beach has not shown the ability to hold an NBA franchise, and is situated in an area that has always been known to focus on collegiate sports. A move to Anaheim, while theoretically viable, would trisect the Los Angeles basketball market. Stern is always trying to keep the media happy, so obviously that wouldn’t work. And Las Vegas? The most significant event in Sacramento Kings history was game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, a game and a series defined by the link to the Tim Donaghy gambling scandal. That scandal was a blight on the league, and is another one of Stern’s failings as commissioner. While I don’t mind a team in Vegas, the wound is still too fresh for the NBA to maintain an image of parity.
So, if the Kings were doomed to leave Sacramento, is there a better place for the team? Seattle has always been an NBA city, with a new arena, a set of owners who care more about basketball than their bottom line, and a hunger for the sport it is the most best option. While you never like to see teams move, there is no place better for them. We are only two seasons away from discussions of contracting insolvent franchises, so if shuffling a team or two makes basketball better and the NBA more viable? Absolutely worth it.
What I find interesting is the league’s willingness to put its neck on the line for a franchise such as the New Orleans Hornets, which the league bought to ensure the franchise’s future in the region. Sacramento has a metro population of 2.6 million, and the Kings are the only professional sports franchise in town. In comparison, New Orleans only has a metro population of a little more than a million, and the Saints gobble up the lion’s share of the television market. Why? It seems apparent to me that not only have the Maloofs found the franchise to be failing, but the league itself. If the NBA felt that a local buyer would be able to keep the team in Sacramento, they would have.
But some blame still falls on the city for risking losing the Kings. They gambled by refusing to fund a new arena. Sometimes, when you gamble, you lose.
DR: Actually, the city did put a plan forward in which they would construct a new arena. As I wrote above, it was a plan that the Maloofs agreed to at first before claiming that they never accepted the terms of the arrangement. Seattle is actually the city that voted against funding a new arena as most of the funding would come from tax dollars. The city had already invested public funds in Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field, where the Mariners and Seahawks play originally. The public was simply not behind funding yet another sports stadium at the behest of a billionaire owner.
Because of this, David Stern came down hard on the city because he was one of the key advocates for a new arena as he felt KeyArena did not represent his product as well as some of the newer arenas in the NBA. This, essentially, was the catalyst that brought us to the events of today.
I think you’re right in thinking that the league has found that, under the Maloofs in recent years, basketball has been a poor product in Sacramento. This is due to the ownership and front office. Yet, Stern, because of the flack he took after the Sonics debacle, has been in support of many of the proposed plans to keep the Kings in Sacramento. He certainly doesn’t want his tenure to be marred yet again by another relocation. He already has two lockouts under his belt.
But for Seattle to gain a team again it will have to be through relocation. There is seriously no chance that the league is willing to absorb two new franchises, which they would have to do to balance the league if a new team was created in Seattle. This is especially true with all the talk of contraction that you mentioned.
Also, there were local buyers in Sacramento, Ron Burkle being the one who has garnered the most attention. However, when he came forward the Maloofs were unwilling to sell. They were looking for theirs. They always have been.
It is admirable that the Kings fans have stuck with this organization through everything that has transpired over recent years. Even today they continued their Here We Stay campaign creating a petition to keep the team in Sacramento. One cannot fault them for their persistence and effort. Yet, the final decision is out of their hands.
That being said, rumors have been circulating that the Maloofs may back out of the deal from Ballmer and Hansen, despite how lucrative it is. Selling a team is always profitable for the owners and this deal would take the cake. Of course, this cannot be confirmed but it leads me to believe that this chapter isn’t quite over yet.
TH: But Burkle could never offer what the Seattle group has. The Maloofs, who bought the Kings solely as a business venture, are wholly unable to understand basketball beyond the business side. This is also why they fail.
It is more important to me to have basketball in Seattle than it is in Sacramento. I only really have this to offer as explanation: The Supersonics have always been fun, exciting, memorable. I think more about the Sonics than I do about the Kings at any given moment, yet the team that currently exists is a floundering team. A dull, very bad basketball team. Simply by BEING the Seattle Supersonics, their marketability skyrockets.
The Thunder took a good franchise away from an NBA city and the culture surrounding it. The Kings will be restoring that culture, and most likely saving the team. Would it be any better if they had moved to Virginia Beach or folded? Seattle ensures team viability, with a good owner in place. The Kings have steadily gotten worse, due to ownership.
DR: Well, I don’t think anyone will fault you for trashing the Maloofs, but you’re luck no one ever reads The Kobe Beef after that diss of the Kings. But, I understand where you are coming from. The Kings have only been in Sacramento since the mid ’80s and were only relevant during the turn of the millennium. Adelman had a monster team and if it wasn’t for Robert Horry they could have reached the Finals. And who can forget Doug Christie’s wife?
Seattle does have the provenance, though. That is why I feel that if the Kings do relocate they might as well go there. I hate to see a fanbase lose a team but the sad truth is it is all too common in sports. Fans should remain bitter if they lose a team. Baltimore did when the Colts left, Cleveland did when the Browns moved (Cleveland is always bitter, though), and Seattle continued to beat the war drum when the Sonics were snatched away.
I also don’t think that the Maloofs bought the Kings just as a business venture. They grew up in the NBA. Their father owned the Houston Rockets and it can be argued that they fell in love with the NBA during that time. Tom Ziller does an excellent job of explaining it and how the family was torn, just last month, about selling the team.
If there is an upside to all of this, though, it is the outpouring of support and the mobilization of the fans. I’m not sure there has ever been a time in which the fans’ voice was so loud. Twitter erupted today, for better or worse, and Kings fans’ emotions were rampant. This was the case with Sonics fans too. The level of outreach, though social media and other platforms, that the fan now has at their disposal has definitely influenced the league.