On Friday, the Seattle investor group declared it would now stick a $625 million value on the Sacramento Kings, putting the franchise $175 million clear of the previous record sale. On Saturday, ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported that the Maloofs had reached a backup deal with Seattle's Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer: if the NBA still rejects relocation to the Emerald City, the family will sell 20 percent of the franchise to Hansen for $100 million and retain majority control, setting up a helluva 2013-14 season in Sacramento.
Has any longtime owner ever treated a city with such contempt?
Clay Bennett sure wasn't nice to Seattle after he bought the Sonics in 2006, but he was gone by mid-2008. The Maloofs have owned the Kings in Sacramento since 1999. They've cheered with Sacramento, wept with Sacramento, sweat with Sacramento, cursed the skies (and refs) with Sacramento. But they've never really loved Sacramento, and tried to leave a few times, beginning in 2006. They saw an exit path in 2011: Relocation to Anaheim was basically a done deal ... until Sacramento stood up and said no.
Kevin Johnson, the Sacramento business community and fan groups rallied to convince the NBA to keep the Kings home, and the Maloofs never forgave Sacramento for it. They told anyone who'd listen that as a family they couldn't just leave Sacramento. Bull puckey. They just knew the NBA wasn't going to back their plan to cash out in a major market at the expense of one of the NBA's old bright shining beacons of mid-market success. So the Maloofs waited for the next opportunity to cash out huge at Sacramento's expense, and Hansen provided it.
The so-called backup plan doesn't help the Maloofs at all. They get about $100 million for selling 20 percent of the franchise. Selling their 65 percent majority to the assembled, vetted Sacramento group gets them $341 million. After debts are taken out, they can walk away free and clear with some cash to spend on their brilliant business ideas (vodka flavored like red velvet cake, bedazzled phone cases and a pro skateboarding tour). If the backup plan works, they'd spend the next year losing money hand over fist on a team they no longer want in a city they dislike with no clear path for relocation. What ... is the NBA going to change its mind in a year, when it has heretofore supported Sacramento's bid to keep the Kings? Is watching an embarrassment of a season -- no fans will show up for that disaster -- going to flip the league to the Maloofs' side?
No other owner would do this to a city, any city. It's spite, plain and simple. And all we can do in Sacramento is hope that the NBA remains steadfast in refusing to honor that spite. There's chatter about anger from the league office, and that a hastily scheduled relocation/finance supercommittee conference call on Monday will revolve around whether David Stern has support from the owners if this thing gets to the courts.
Given the way the Maloofs have sullied the league the past couple years, leaving a stain on the NBA owners' club, chances seem good that Stern will have support. Whether that will be defense against anti-trust litigation or the invocation of the bylaw that gives the league (meaning the Board of Governors) a wide berth to protect the brand (the so-called "good of the league" bylaw), we'll see. But the odds that Stern and the owners that two weeks ago voted 7-0 to reject relocation will now bow before the Maloofs' belligerence and Hansen's pocketbook don't seem great. Stern has never been one to be bullied.
Just like Sacramento.