Sacramento Kings ownership recently met with a former owner of the Seattle SuperSonics, according to multiple league sources, though the reason for the meeting is disputed.
While sources indicate the Kings were exploring whether Seattle was a viable option to which they could move their franchise, George Maloof, who attended the meeting that took place about a month ago, said it was only an exploratory meeting to discern exactly what the Sonics went through in their failed pursuit of an arena.
For years, the Kings have been embroiled in an effort to build an arena to replace Arco Arena, and the referendum has been overwhelmingly rejected by voters on several occasions.
Seattle also pursued getting a publicly funded arena to replace KeyArena, a movement that was rebuked by the state legislature and ultimately led to the Sonics relocating to Oklahoma City and being renamed the Thunder.
"One of our minority partners asked us if we were ever in Seattle to meet with folks in Seattle to see what they went through," Maloof told SI.com from Las Vegas. "It had nothing to do with us moving the team. It was more of a meeting to understand what their experience was as it relates to what we could do in Sacramento because it's very difficult to build arenas anywhere. That was basically the meeting."
However, sources said the Maloofs, frustrated by the hurdles they are facing in getting a publicly funded arena in a bankrupt state with a worsening economy, are exploring their options for moving the team.
Where else they have looked is unclear, but two options are Las Vegas, where they own the Palms, and Anaheim, where The Pond hosts only the National Hockey League's Ducks. Las Vegas is less likely because, like Seattle and Sacramento, it also does not have an arena that creates enough revenue streams.
Sources say Maloof came away from the meeting in Seattle understanding that it would be as hard, if not more difficult, getting an arena built in Seattle as it is in Sacramento and quickly rejected the notion of moving there.
The meeting was attended by Maloof, several unidentified colleagues -- though Gavin and Joe Maloof were not believed to be there -- and Sonics minority owner Wally Walker, who also served as the team's general manager and president from 1994 until Howard Schultz sold the team to Clay Bennett in 2006.
"We had already known what Seattle was going through," Maloof said. "It was not us reaching out to see if it was a viable market. That should not be characterized differently. It wasn't like I went out there to meet with them specifically -- and that is the truth.
"They had a very hard time in Seattle. We kind of knew that going in. There was nothing that came out of it. It was a helpful meeting. Nothing came of it that we didn't already know."
Walker confirmed the meeting but declined to give details, saying it was a private matter.
Maloof said that despite his family's financial struggles and the Kings' drop in attendance during the team's on-court struggles in recent seasons, they are not considering selling the franchise, even as they saw two hours away the Golden State Warriors sell for $450 million on Thursday.
"No sir. No sir, we are not selling," Maloof said. "My brothers would kill me. Joe and Gavin would kill me. We believe in the long-term health of the league. We believe in the league. We believe in David Stern."
If they are planning on hanging onto the team, and it seems increasingly unlikely they will get an arena, Maloof was asked why his family would not simply move to another city like Kansas City, which has an arena built and is waiting for a tenant.
"Some of it is the proximity. We live in Southern California and Las Vegas. To fly to Kansas City is a little longer, a little further," Maloof said. "Here is the thing. We have not given up on an arena in Sacramento. The NBA is involved. They are going to get to a point and they are going to let us know what the results are. At that point we are going to decide whether to continue on to try to get a new arena or continue on with what we have. It is all about timing. We are trying to pull out of this crazy recession. That is how we look at it now."
One of the deals the NBA is trying to complete is a complex land swap with local businessmen that would allow an arena to be built closer to downtown Sacramento while the land around Arco Arena could be used for the state fairgrounds.
That deal is being brokered by the NBA, but it would require the Maloofs to commit $300 million in lease payments over a 30-year period, a figure that is substantial even for the largest markets, much less Sacramento.
"It's definitely high," Maloof said. "We weren't 100 percent on board with that plan. There were other things besides the lease payments that would get us up to that ($300 million figure), but it was expensive. But we were there to listen and see if they can put something together.
"I'm not sure where that deal stands. We haven't been briefed by the NBA. I'm sure we will hear from them in the next 60 days probably. From what I hear, they are having a few issues, a few challenges putting it together."