The jubilation among basketball fans was palpable Monday, as a deal to sell the NBA's Sacramento Kings from the bumbling Maloof family to an investment group led by hedge fund all star and newly christened Seattle hero Chris Hansen was formally announced. Somewhere, Dale Ellis had a cold one. Vin Baker had a celebratory sandwich. Xavier McDaniel did something badass.
The return of the Sonics!
Though the deal - which reportedly involves Hansen and Co. forking over $340 million for a 65-percent share of the team with an assessed value of $525 million - will need to be approved by the NBA Board of Governors, the writing appears to be on the wall for pro basketball's return to Seattle. As multiple news reports have suggested, if all goes as planned the Kings will be renamed the Sonics and could tipoff next season at Key Arena while construction of a new arena begins. By league rules, the team must file for relocation by March 1.
"While we are not at liberty to discuss the terms of the transaction or our plans for the franchise given the confidential nature of the agreement and NBA regulations regarding public comments during a pending transaction, we would just like to extend our sincerest compliments and gratitude toward the Maloof family," Hansen said in a statement announcing the binding agreement. "Our negotiations with the family were handled with the utmost honor and professionalism and we 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 reelection hopes on pushing Hansen's Sodo arena deal through, was also doing fist-pumps.
"This is an exciting day for our city and for Sonics fans everywhere. I congratulate Chris Hansen and his investment team," said McGinn in a released statement. "While there is more work ahead, this is a major step toward bringing the Sonics home."
High-fives were in no short supply Monday, but not everyone is happy about the deal. For instance, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson - a former NBA player and all around swell guy - has promised his city is "playing to win." Sunday night, via a released statement, Johnson vowed to do everything within his power to find an ownership group that will keep the team in Sacramento.
Then there's the seeming inevitability that Seattle's new pro team will play its home games at Hansen's proposed Sodo arena - an assumption that has been contested on several fronts. An environmental impact study on the Sodo site still must be completed, and the Seattle City Attorney's Office confirms there are currently two lawsuits pending against the Sodo arena pact.
The first lawsuit was filed by the longshore workers union - ILWU Local 19 - and seeks to void the arena agreement on the grounds it was reached illegally before the completion of the environmental-impact statement. Oral arguments are scheduled for Feb. 22. In statements emailed to the media, the longshore workers union maintained that building an arena in Sodo will "adversely impact industrial and waterfront jobs," and "all alternate locations must be considered."
Kris 'Sonics Guy' Brannon on Sportscenter
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 initiative approved by voters in 2006. I-91 requires that the city make a profit on any sports facility investment, but Stockmeyer says the arena deal reached between Hansen, the City and the County relies on flawed valuation of the land where the Sodo 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."
Specifically, Stockmeyer says Hansen is "using the public as an ATM," and the public funds being loaned to Hansen's investment group to help make his envisioned Sodo arena a reality would be better spent on maintaining local infrastructures like bridges or going toward education.
"We just expect the citizens in Seattle will be given our fair day in court," says Stockmeyer. "There are flaws in [Hansen's] valuation. ... His personal guarantee is like Swiss cheese - filled with holes."
Still, despite the hurdles yet to be cleared, most sports fans in Seattle and the surrounding area were ready to jump for joy at confirmation that a deal had been reached.
Like, for instance, the ever-present "Sonics Guy".
"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."