I was up all night because of rumors swirling around the interwebs right now… This is potentially the equivalent to all the Christmas Eve’s of my lifetime all wrapped up in one… The night before it is announced that Chris Hansen has purchased the Sacramento King’s with the intention of moving the team to Seattle. The night before us grieving, wounded Seattlites are finally made whole again with the return of our team. I am talking about the return of the Seattle SuperSonics!!!!
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports is reporting that the Maloof Brothers, owners of the Sacramento Kings, are very close to a deal selling the team to an ownership group who wants to bring the Kings to Seattle. The Maloofs have a history of being squirrelly, to put it nicely, but AW said that the deal is essentially at 1st and Goal from the 1 yard line… just needs to be punched in. The details are as such: $500 million from the Seattle ownership group, the Maloofs will retain a very small ownership interest in the team, but have no decision making power, and the team will play in Key Arena for two years until construction on the new Seattle NBA arena is complete. There are also reports that the deal is moving along nicely, but the goal is to have it finished by the end of January.
Continuing our saga of the City of Seattle and our relationship with the Supersonics and the NBA, we now look at how we clawed back into the discussion and got to where we are right now – on the cusp of getting our team back.
Enter the Savior
As we detailed in Part 1, the Sonics’ departure left the City of Seattle reeling – we were dazed, confused, bamboozled… but mostly just angry. We were angry at the local government for giving up the fight to keep the team so easily, angry at Howard Schultz for selling the team to someone he knew would take it from us, angry Clay Bennett for doing said taking, and angry at David Stern, the NBA Commissioner, for being complicit in it all and allowing such a tragedy to take place.
The anger continued on for a while. Seattlites bemoaned the loss of their beloved Supersonics to anyone who would listen. Most national sportswriters and even NBA players were sympathetic – a majority could not believe that there were no more Sonics and that the NBA actually allowed a team to leave Seattle, the 14th largest media market in the nation, for Oklahoma City, the 47th largest media market. Bill Simmons, a prominent national writer for ESPN, and now Grantland.com, has refused to refer to the Oklahoma City Thunder by their name, preferring to call them the Zombie Sonics, in protest of what happened.
After a while though, people began to realize that the anger and sadness was not going to get us anywhere – action needed to be taken. The first true groundswell of support to get something done came as a result of a documentary on the saga of what had taken place – aptly dubbed “Sonicsgate.” The award-winning documentary raised awareness and kept the Sonics on the minds of the community at large. There were two or three bids to build a new arena that failed around the time the city gave in and the Sonics bolted town. They all failed because they involved too much guesswork, conjecture, and promises, and lacked the substantive value a legitimate proposal would have had.
Things were all quiet along the front until early in 2011 when it was announced that a Bay-Area Hedge Fund Manager with Seattle ties by the name of Chris Hansen had been buying up property in the SoDo area of downtown Seattle right next to the NFL and MLB stadiums with the intention of building an NBA arena on that land. He had successfully kept the purchase quiet for a few months until word got out that he was going to submit a proposal to the city to build a new arena.
The excitement in the city was palpable the day the proposal was announced by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine. Fans decked out in Sonics gear flooded the room and let out a raucous cheer after the announcement was made – there was finally real hope for a Sonics return!! When the details of the proposal were released, it quickly became apparent that this was the best deal to build a sports arena a private investor had ever presented to a city in the United States.
Things moved swiftly after that. Hansen negotiated with the city and county for months over building sites, environmental studies, tax surveys, economic impact studies… you name it, they haggled over it. The city and county were committed to their duty to the taxpayers to do their due dilligence in making sure this was a good deal. In the end, Chris Hansen, leading an investment group that included the Nordstrom brothers and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (a group worth well over $20 billion), agreed to put up $300 million of the estimated $500 million cost to build the arena, with the remainder covered by government bonds to be repaid by the ownership group over a thirty year period. On top of that, the entire bond was personally guaranteed by Chris Hansen, who is worth over $3 billion himself.
The agreement contained one looming stipulation though: the stadium could not be built until Hansen and his group were in possession of a team. Again, the city had been left to play the waiting game. The consensus among Seattlites was that we would not have to wait very long – a year, maybe two… five at worst. We would get our team back though. This city would not be denied. We trusted that such a formidable ownership braintrust would never have taken the actions that they did without a STRONG sense that they would be in possession of an NBA franchise sooner rather than later.
Fortunately for Sonics fans, it seems as though our trust has not been misplaced.