Two weeks of swirling and contradictory reports based on unnamed sources and cryptic public statements about the return of the NBA to Seattle came to a jubilant end on Monday as the sale of the Sacramento Kings to a publicity-shy investor became official.
This time last year, few in Seattle could pick Chris Hansen out of a crowd of the hundreds of thousands of crestfallen Sonics fans pining for the loss of their franchise. Today he's a newly christened public hero, as he and other investors, including Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, reportedly forked over $340 million to the Maloof family and another owner for a 65 percent share of the team. The exact terms of the deal were confidential.
The league must still approve the deal and the Kings' relocation to Seattle, but if all goes as planned, the Kings will be renamed the Sonics, and could tip off next season at KeyArena while construction of a new arena begins.
In a statement, Hansen thanked the Maloof family, and said that he and other investors "hope to continue their legacy and be great stewards of this NBA franchise in the coming years and decades."
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, who seems to have pegged a large chunk of his re-election hopes on pushing through Hansen's SoDo arena deal, was celebrating Monday. "While there is more work ahead, this is a major step toward bringing the Sonics home," he said.
Meanwhile, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson—a former NBA player—has promised that his city is "playing to win," and vowed Sunday night to do everything within his power to find an ownership group that will keep the team in Sacramento.
Then there's the new arena—which the Seattle City Attorney's Office confirms has prompted two active lawsuits against the city for a memorandum of understanding it entered with King County and Hansen supporting the project.
The first lawsuit was filed by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 19, which fears increased traffic will hurt the Port of Seattle's ability to move cargo. It seeks to void the arena agreement on the grounds that it was reached illegally before the completion of the environmental-impact statement. Oral arguments are scheduled for Feb. 22.
The second suit was filed last week by Seattle attorney Cleveland Stockmeyer on behalf of Initiative 91 sponsor Mark Baerwaldt and several Seattle residents, arguing that the arena deal flies in the face of the city ordinance, approved by voters in 2006, that requires the city to make a profit on any sports-facility investment. Stockmeyer says the arena deal reached by Hansen, the city, and the county relies on a flawed valuation of the SoDo land where the arena will be built. "I think we all know a lot of people want basketball back in Seattle," says Stockmeyer. "[Hansen] just has to follow the law.
"There are flaws in [Hansen's] valuation . . . His personal guarantee is like Swiss cheese—filled with holes," he says.
Still, despite the hurdles yet to be cleared, most sports fans in the Seattle area were ready to jump for joy at confirmation that a deal had been reached.
"If I was a little more athletic, I'd be doing cartwheels," says Kris "Sonics Guy" Brannon, the green-and-gold-clad, Afro-adorned superfan who has come to embody the voice of heartbroken basketball fans since the Sonics left town. "It's almost hard to even describe [the feeling] . . . This is a great day in Seattle and Northwest sports history."