I’m a Timberwolves fan living in Seattle. I was excited when Isaiah Rider and Christian Laettner were drafted. After moving out here, I made my wife come with me 6 hours roundtrip to Portland just to watch the Timberwolves come to the Northwest. And I was worried back in the Wolves’ early days when the New Orleans group came knocking.
But I want the NBA to approve the sale of the Sacramento Kings to Chris Hansen not because I want to be able to see the Timberwolves without having to drive three hours. I want them to approve the sale because it’s good for the NBA, its fans, and, most especially, the cities that are its bedrock.
On the surface, it appears that the Hansen, Ballmer, Nordstrom group are guilty of doing the exact same thing to Sacramento that Clay Bennett did to Seattle. Dig just a little bit, though, and you’ll find a host of differences. Dig a bit farther than that, and you’ll see that actually the Hansen deal is far better for NBA fans and their cities than the Kevin Johnson/Vanadive deal is…and I think that’s why the relocation committee voted against it.
You see, before Hansen could even make an offer to the Maloofs, he had to appease the Seattle city council (as well as jump through some extremely high legal hoops). The whole reason the Sonics left Seattle in the first place was the public opposition to public funds being used in the construction and operation of a private sports arena. Hansen had to bend over backwards in order to make sure that his entire plan would a) be approved by the city council and b) meet the city’s legal requirement that any public financing for a sports arena be guaranteed a greater rate of return than basic investment options typically available to a city. And the amazing thing was he was able to do that. Using a substantial private investment, the Hansen group was able to offer the city something that even its most diehard anti-sports members could stomach. (Just compare the terms and numbers to the deal Minnesota gave to Zigi Wilf and you’ll see how good the Hansen deal is to the city of Seattle)
So with that in mind let’s compare Seattle’s offer and Sacramento’s offer: on the one hand, in Seattle’s offer you have more money being paid for a team, all of the funds in escrow, the terms of the deal already finalized with the Maloofs (including a non-refundable deposit), and an arena waiting to be built with zero public roadblocks as well as substantial private financing. And as we’ve been reading about lately, Hansen’s guarantee that not only would the Sonics not take any money from revenue sharing, they would actually contribute to it.
Now let’s look at the Sacramento offer: a lower overall valuation of the team, only half of the funds in escrow, zero negotiations done with the Maloofs (who may refuse to sell to the Ranadive consortium…in fact, why would they sell if they can get the same arena built that Ranadive is getting?), and an arena that is getting pushed through on terms that may easily require unrecoverable public funds (and thus higher taxes).
If you’re a city that has an NBA franchise, is there any question which deal you take? With no need to dip into the general fund, no need to raise taxes, everybody wins in the Seattle deal. In the Sacramento deal, the only clear winners are the NBA (arena built with less owner contribution) and the NBA (possible creation of an Indian/South Asian fan base through Ranadive). You could say the city of Sacramento wins in the short term, but even in the long term it's not clear that they come out glad they made this deal.
If you’re a fan, you hate to see any city lose a team. All of us can remember the cowbells (hey, we ran over them on our way to our best season/post-season). But you’re a fan you want teams in cities where they can remain competitive over the long-term. The Seattle set up has all the markings of that: an arena built on the owner’s back, an ownership group more than willing to pay the price now to get the team and later to keep the team competitive, and a city that is booming economically. The Sacramento effort has short-term written all over it.