In a major blow to Seattle arena proponents, a 12-member NBA committee voted unanimously today to reject relocating the Sacramento Kings to Seattle. Although a final decision on the sale will have to be made by the NBA's entire 30-member board of governors, the relocation would require a supermajority of 23 members, making the 12 "no" votes enough to kill the sale.
Hedge fund manager Chris Hansen, who had negotiated a deal to buy the Kings, spent several years quietly buying up land in SoDo and negotiating with Seattle and King County officials behind closed doors to ink a memorandum of understanding with the city to build an NBA arena in SoDo and bring a team to Seattle. Among the MOU's terms: Hansen must secure an NBA team before an arena can move forward.
With "Bring Back Our Sonics" fever at full pitch, Hansen's plans took on a bit of an aura of inevitability, as he secured land-use permits, assembled an ownership group that included Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, and moved forward with plans for arena construction and design. Sacramento's majority owners, the Maloof family, appeared ready to sell the Kings to Hansen, but Sacramento—whose mayor is former NBA star Kevin Johnson—began to put together an alternative group of buyers.
It's unclear what Hansen will do next (his spokesman declined to comment about today's startling news), but his options are pretty much limited to: suing; pursuing an expansion team (the NBA has said they won't consider expanding the league, but they could change their minds); launching a search for another available team; or walking away. Hansen's memorandum of agreement with the city remains in place for another four and a half years.
Hansen has been tenacious so far—increasing his bid, buying up land, and moving doggedly through the city bureaucracy—so it's hard to see him quitting now. On the other hand, none of his remaining options are good.
Mayor Mike McGinn's spokesman did not return a call for comment; in a brief statement, McGinn said, "We’re going to stay focused on our job: making sure Seattle remains in a position to get a team when the opportunity presents itself."
The full NBA board of governors will vote on the recommendation on May 13.