Four years after losing its NBA franchise, Seattle is working on getting a team back. However, Seattle’s gain may be Sacramento’s loss.
The city of Seattle has been talking to hedge fund manager and Seattle native Christopher Hansen about his desire to buy an NBA team and build a new arena near Safeco Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners, according to documents obtained by the Seattle Times.
A Times story last week stated that Hansen’s representatives and Seattle mayor Mike McGinn’s aides have been talking for eight months about bringing a team back to Seattle as early as Fall 2012. It just so happens that the Sacramento Kings face a March 1 deadline to secure financing for a new arena or else that franchise could make its long-threatened move.
The Seattle Times said Seattle officials have been keeping an eye on developments in Sacramento regarding the Kings’ future there.
NBA Commissioner David Stern, in an interview last week about the state of the league with the Salt Lake City Tribune, acknowledged meeting Hansen about a year ago. “Just a general conversation,” Stern told the Tribune. The commissioner also said he was open to an NBA return to Seattle.
The Seattle SuperSonics were purchased in 2006 by an Oklahoma City-based group led by Clay Bennett, who moved the team to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and renamed it the Oklahoma City Thunder. The SuperSonics had played in Seattle since 1967, when they began as an expansion team.
City officials, burned by the departure of the team four years ago, are wary of public money being used to finance a new arena. In fact, Seattle voters approved an initiative in 2006 that prevents the city from subsidizing an arena unless it can make a profit from it. The Times said Hansen has told city officials that minimal public financing would be needed. In a presentation to the Seattle city council last week, a sports consultant hired by McGinn said some revenue could be raised through admission taxes to tickets for events at the new arena.
An NHL team in Seattle is also a possibility should a new arena be approved. The NHL-owned Phoenix Coyotes could be a relocation candidate.
If the Kings move to Seattle next season, a temporary home could be Key Arena, which is where the SuperSonics played and which is also the source of the contentious lease negotiations that led to the team’s move to Oklahoma City. The NBA had raised objections to the 17,000-seat facility, last renovated in 1995, before the Sonics moved.
Fan support has never been an issue in Seattle. The Sonics had 22 playoff appearances, won a championship in 1979, and reached the NBA Finals in 1978, 1979, and 1996. Despite rumors of a move to Oklahoma City after Bennett bought the team, Seattle averaged about 16,000 at Key Arena in 2006 and 2007 before dropping to 13,000 in 2008 as the legal fight continued to keep the team in the city.
The Sonics drafted Kevin Durant in 2007 and he has gone on to become one of the NBA’s elite players and has turned the Thunder into a perennial playoff team.
Meanwhile, about 750 miles south of Seattle, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA All-Star guard, has a plan to raise half of the $400 million needed for a new arena by privatizing the city’s parking garages and lots and leasing the rights. The Kings play at 17,317-seat Power Balance Pavilion, formerly ARCO Arena. That facility, built in 1988, has the smallest capacity in the NBA.
The Kings owners, brothers Gavin and Joseph Maloof, nearly moved the team to Anaheim, Calif., last spring before Johnson convinced Stern to give Sacramento another year to get a deal done.