Chris Hansen never learned the most important lesson of Sacramento's unlikely, successful bid to save its Kings: all things being equal, relationships make the difference. Sacramento got a shot at matching Hansen's huge bid to buy the Kings precisely because the city's mayor, Kevin Johnson, had such a strong relationship with David Stern and other heavies in the league office and throughout the ownership ranks. The Kings stayed in Sacramento because, yes, Vivek Ranadivé and friends ponied up $535 million. But also because Vivek and friends were known to other NBA owners -- Vivek was in fact a minority owner with the Warriors -- and had been vetted by the league. Sacramento won because, in part, over the years the folks in Sacramento had played by the rules and done everything asked of them by the NBA. Sacramento always lived up to its end of the bargain: the family selling the club was the weak link. The NBA understood that, valued its relationship-building in Sacramento over the previous half-decade and, in the end, set the stage for the owners to vote overwhelmingly to keep the Kings there.
If Hansen understood the importance of all of that, he wouldn't have given an anti-arena effort in Sacramento $80,000 a month after the NBA rejected him. A lawsuit by California's Fair Political Practices Commission revealed Friday that Hansen was the source of the mystery $80,000 in funding for petition gatherers in Sacramento who are trying to derail the arena by putting it to public vote. (The funding mechanism used to include public funding for the project is not a tax, and thus not subject to a popular vote. The Sacramento City Council has repeatedly approved the mechanism by an overwhelming margin.)
The FPPC had to sue Hansen's law firm -- the same firm used by the Maloofs in their attempts to strongarm a move to Anaheim in 2011 -- to uncover the source of the funds weeks after such disclosures were due. Given that Hansen now faces a major fine for the lack of disclosure, it sure seems like he meant to obscure his involvement. Which means he knew it would be looked upon poorly, by Sacramento officials, by NBA officials and by the Sacramento public. No one likes to be duped, and Hansen blatantly tried to dupe the Sacramento public by funding an anti-arena movement no major consultants or organizations will touch. (Not even the major anti-tax groups in California are touching the anti-arena movement at this point.)
The most stunning thing in all of this is that Hansen did this well after the NBA rejected him. In his apology released late Friday, Hansen said he made the decision to fund the opposition in the heat of the battle. (Which also would have been inexcusable.) A month elapsed between the NBA Board of Governor's 22-8 vote to keep the team in Sacramento and Hansen's payment to the group. After doing a number of things in such a way to force the sale and move to Seattle, he stuck one more thumb in the NBA's eye. And thought he could get away with it!
This is a mistake that Hansen is now partially owning -- he's still being totally glib about the timing and his level of participation. But he has admitted a mistake. I don't think that's enough to repair the relationships he's damaged. His only saving grace at this point is that David Stern is leaving office in February -- perhaps Hansen can start fresh with the next commissioner, Adam Silver.
Or perhaps this is the death blow for Hansen's hopes of becoming an NBA owner and bringing the league back to Seattle. If so, can another money man step up and take over his plan? Will he allow it? Just when you thought Seattle's odds of bringing back the Sonics could only go up, Hansen thought he was too smart to get caught and messed that all up. He continues to throw money at problems when it's relationships that are required. For Seattle's sake, I hope he's finally learned that lesson.