Chris Hansen promised the broke-as-a-Fabergé-football Maloofs $30 million in a non-refundable deposit to close his deal on the Sacramento Kings. This is extremely abnormal in the way of the NBA. Hansen and the Maloofs know full well that the sale of a team requires full approval of the other 29 NBA owners. Hansen and the Maloofs know full well that Hansen's plan to uproot the Kings from a Sacramento market that has fought tooth, nail, hook and dagger to keep them would require full approval from the other 29 NBA owners, and that the city's mayor -- Kevin Johnson -- would refuse to go down without a fight. Hansen is smart. He knows all about what happened to Anaheim in 2011. He knows that Kevin Johnson eats relocation bids for breakfast.
But Hansen put up the $30 million to close the deal with the Maloofs. There was a huge PR value to the move, too, if you pay attention to the national reporters trying to make sense of it all: it lent the theft of the Sacramento Kings an air of inevitability. That deposit signified that a contract was in place, that the deal was over, that there's no reason for Sacramento to try to stop it.
Thankfully, Kevin Johnson won't be fooled by Hansen's bluster, unlike so many reporters.
You see what Hansen is trying to do, right? He's trying to railroad past any and all debate. It's what he does in his day job as a hedge fund investor. In his world, money is the only thing that talks. The most cynical of us believes that applies to the NBA. But if that were the case, I'd be busy previewing the Anaheim Royals' game tonight, right? So when Hansen throws down a $30 million check to get it done, he thinks his plan is now unrejectable. That this is fait accompli. That anyone who stands in the way is a fool who deserves to be run over. His people have even leaked lawsuit threats related to that $30 million.
Nope. That's not how it works in the NBA, son.
Many things are said about David Stern, but there is one thing that is absolutely undeniable: he cares deeply about relationships. He is a loyal man. Fight for him, and he'll do what he can to fight for you. I know our friends in Seattle are rolling their eyes, but Seattle is a perfect example of why relationships trump money for the commissioner. You see, not a soul in Seattle worked with Stern to get an arena built using public subsidy -- which, for better or worse, is the way that things are in pro sports today. And who did work to build a relationship with Stern during that period of time? Clay Bennett, who graciously (and opportunistically) hosted the New Orleans Hornets in Oklahoma City during the horrible aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Seattle politicians wouldn't pay Stern even the slightest bit of respect; Oklahoma City pols and businessmen pulled out all of the stops to help the NBA during a time of crisis.
And you wonder why Stern wasn't more sympathetic to Seattle's pleas?
I think, and have written, that he should have been. I think that despite the Washington state legislature's foolish public antipathy toward the NBA and then-mayor Greg Nickels' self-immolating hostility, Stern should have looked beyond it to a fan base that truly cared about its basketball team and would work to get an arena built or KeyArena renovated. When Steve Ballmer, the Microsoft billionaire, reached his hand out to help, Stern ought to have taken it. But when you look at how the people-in-charge in Seattle treated the NBA, when you look at how a local
son (Howard Schultz) sold the team to an out-of-towner, when you look at how Bennett and Oklahoma City came to the league's aid ... you can see why Stern rejected Seattle's late pleas, even if you disagree as I do.
Kevin Johnson has built a relationship with Stern, a strong one. It began in 2011 when KJ picked up the cause and it was cemented in 2012 when the pair shared strongly brewed disappointment over George Maloof's childish implosion. It's pretty interesting for us in Sacramento to see this unfold, because KJ's nascent political career is all about relationships, too. You wonder if Stern could have, in another life, been an acerbic U.S. senator, a Harry Reid. KJ and Stern are really quite similar in that way.
So what's this matter to Hansen, a golden money man who is treated like a god in the Emerald City? Because he has no relationships in the NBA. None. He's a total unknown, frankly. And while no one would question his ability to be a great owner -- he's young, smart and most importantly of all rich -- there is reason to question his ability to beat KJ at the relationship game. With all due respect, bulldozing through the Seattle City Council to get arena approvals in place, as Hansen did, is not remotely the same as extracting the Kings from Sacramento while Kevin Johnson is fighting. Mike McGinn is no David Stern.
But that's exactly how Hansen wants this to work: the $30 million deposit, the open and frankly gross manipulation of otherwise superb NBA reporters -- this dude thinks Stern and the Board of Governors will lay down at his feet and pucker up like the City Council.
Naw, man. It's not happening like that ... so long as Stern forces the owners to look at this situation holistically.
Hansen's poorly hidden plan: shape the narrative toward inevitability by manipulating NBA writers desperate to get tight with a new ownership group. How else do you think the reports about the non-existent Seattle NBA team's GM position got out there? NBA reporting is a "scratch my back" industry. You help us make this move look like a done deal, we'll leak you our personnel plans. And yes, it really is that disgusting.
Next step: press the NBA league office hard to vet the purchase agreement well before the next planned Board of Governors meeting, and have the owners vote on it in February or early March. Because stripped of all context, approving a Hansen takeover of a Maloof-owned team is a no-brainer. Hansen would then apply for relocation, to be voted on at the April Board of Governors meeting, where Kevin Johnson is set to present Sacramento's case and, you know, provide all of the context required to understand why this result is disgusting. Hansen is trying to railroad the NBA like he railroaded the city of Seattle. It's up to Stern to prevent that from happening.
The only reasonable way to look at this is exactly how the NBA looked at the Anaheim plot in 2011: let both sides make their case before the full Board of Governors in April. The Maloofs are spiteful cowards who sold the team to a Seattle group without ever offering it to Sacramento-based candidates solely to get back at KJ. That should not give Hansen the right to railroad Sacramento. To hell with that. The NBA is not Wall Street, and you don't get to push your weight around with $30 million checks. This is a $4 billion business, son. Just because the Maloofs grope at anything shiny you wave in front of their mugs doesn't mean David Stern or the more reasonable owners do. There is a process here, and the process must be respected.
Sacramento deserves a fair shot, if nothing else. It's time for the NBA to put Hansen back in his place. It's time for Stern to assert that the process be respected.