By Ben Golliver
The Maloof family is nearing a deal to sell the Sacramento Kings to a group of Seattle-area investors for "approximately $500 million," Yahoo! Sports reported Wednesday. The group, led by Valiant Capital's Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, will reportedly eye relocation to Seattle as soon as the 2013-14 season. Back in October, it was reported that the NBA was pressuring the Maloof family to sell the Kings to the Seattle group. The franchise would replace the SuperSonics, who played in Seattle from 1967-68 until 2008, when they were relocated to Oklahoma City and renamed the Thunder.
The Seattle group has worked extensively with the city of Seattle to build a new arena. The current plan, Yahoo! Sports reported, is for the franchise to play in KeyArena for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons before the new arena opens.
Eric Rose, a spokesman for the Maloofs, told SI.com Wednesday that the organization would have no comment on the reported sale.
"As we have said for nearly a year, we will not comment on rumors or speculation about the Sacramento Kings franchise," Rose said.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who played 12 seasons in the NBA, asked his city's residents to "keep the faith" on Twitter.
"Bottom line Sacramento: it's not over," Johnson tweeted.
The Associated Press reported that the NBA league office declined comment on the report.
In a recent ESPN.com radio interview, NBA commissioner David Stern sounded optimistic that an NBA franchise would return to Seattle.
"There's so much activity now in Seattle," Stern said. "There's a plan for a building, land has been acquired, reviews are being undertaken. I think a predicate for a team is a building. I think those plans are underway. I think the answer to your question is yeah. I think there will be a team in Seattle again and I hope there will be."
Wednesday's report comes after years of financial struggles for the Maloof family, which was forced to sell a vast majority of its stake in the Palms Casino in Las Vegas and its beer distributorship in New Mexico. The family pursued relocation efforts to Anaheim and Virginia Beach and, back in February 2012, Stern, the Maloofs and the city of Sacramento, represented by Mayor Kevin Johnson, announced a tentative agreement to finance a new stadium. That deal fell apart by April, though, and Stern appeared to wash his hands of the matter during a press conference at the 2012 NBA Finals in June, saying he wouldn’t speculate about the future of the Kings other than the fact that a move to Anaheim wouldn’t be approved by the NBA’s Board of Governors.
During his annual preseason conference call on Oct. 25, Stern offered Kings fans no assurances, merely lip service.
“There are many people who appreciate the fact that Sacramento was, is, and can be a first class NBA city,” he said. “It is true that it needs a new building. We have our differences of opinions with all of our owners, and in this case with the Maloofs on some of the issues that have gone down here. But my advice to Sacramento is to continue the enormous support that you have shown for the team, and we’ll see what the next steps turn out to be.”
In a 2011 interview on an ESPN.com podcast, Stern mentioned the SuperSonics’ departure from Seattle as one of his regrets, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
“My regrets are that we didn’t do a -- weren’t able to do a better job of getting a building moved along so that we could have kept a team there.”
“I have regrets about both Vancouver and Seattle,” Stern said. “I think [Seattle is] a very prime city for an NBA franchise.”
“But our goal here is to keep all of our teams where they are,” Stern said, “but recognizing that that hasn’t been a goal that we have successfully achieved in the past.”
Forbes valued the Kings franchise at $300 million in January 2012. The Kings franchise moved to Sacramento from Kansas City in 1985 and the Maloof family took majority control of the franchise in 1999. The Point Forward's New Year's resolution for the Kings was for the Maloofs to sell the franchise. Unfortunately, it looks like the transaction, which is not yet a done deal, will come at the expense of a very loyal Kings fan base.