The NBA's relocation committee voted unanimously Monday to recommend that the Sacramento Kings should not be relocated to Seattle.
The committee has held several meetings in recent weeks and prepared a report for the NBA's full Board of Governors, who will vote on the matter during the week of May 13. League rules require a seven-day waiting period for that report to be considered before a final, definitive vote of the Board of Governors can be taken.
Monday's vote is widely regarded as a sign that the Kings will remain in Sacramento for the 2013-14 season, as any franchise sale requires approval from 23 of the league's 30 owners while any prospective relocation requires 16 "yes" votes. Should the full Board of Governors vote against the relocation as expected, pressure will mount on the Maloof family to agree to accept a Sacramento-based group's competing bid for the franchise.
"I didn't see a unanimous vote coming," Stern said. "But they decided as strong as the Seattle bid was, and it was very strong, there's some benefit that should be given to a city that has supported us for so long, and has stepped up to contribute to build a new building as well."
Stern also said that he "can't predict" how the full Board of Governors vote will turn out, but again ruled out the possibility of expansion as a means to accommodate Seattle's desire for a team.
"That discussion will have to wait for [future] commissioner [Adam] Silver to oversee," he said. "Right now, expansion is not on the agenda. I would never say never. It doesn't make a lot of sense unless we know what the new TV deal is."
The decision on the Kings' fate has dragged on longer than anticipated. Stern initially expected the decision to be made during mid-April Board of Governors meetings, only to push that back multiple times. Stern has repeatedly referred to the handling of the Kings as one of the toughest decisions he's faced as commissioner.
“It’s the only time in the last 47 years that I haven’t known the answer,” he said, earlier this month. “No, but this is one that’s just been quite difficult and confusing for the owners as well. And we’ve been working very hard to give it a structure at their direction. We’re the staff, and we are trying to answer every question that they have.”
The NBA announced a purchase and sale agreement between the Maloofs, who own a controlling interest of the Kings, and a Seattle-area group of investors -- led by Valiant Capital’s Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer -- back in January. That deal involved a purchase of 65 percent of the team at an overall franchise valuation of $525 million. The group later filed the requisite paperwork to relocate the franchise to Seattle for the 2013-14 season, where the organization would take on the “SuperSonics” moniker, and then upped its offer based on a $550 million valuation. The original SuperSonics relocated to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder in 2008.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and a number of investors -- including 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, billionaire Ron Burkle, TIBCO chairman Vivek Ranadive and Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs -- have worked diligently to keep the Kings where they are, preparing a competing offer for the Kings and agreeing to terms on a new Downtown Plaza arena deal. Kings fans organized "Here We Buy" nights to show their support for keeping Sacramento's only major professional sports franchise in town.
Back at All-Star weekend in February, Stern noted the possibility that one of the two cities would be left empty-handed in heartbreaking fashion.
“I don’t see any scenario in which both cities are happy here,” he said.
Monday's news was met with elation from Johnson, who has seen the Kings survive multiple previous attempts at relocation by the Maloofs.
"That's what I'm talking about SACRAMENTO!!!!! WE DID IT!!!!!," Johnson tweeted on Monday. "I've never been prouder of this city. I thank the ownership group, city leaders, but most of all the BEST FANS IN THE NBA!!!"
Hansen issued a statement late Monday night on his website, SonicsArena.com, promising to fight on.
"We have a binding transaction to purchase the Kings for what would be a record price for an NBA franchise, have one of the best ownership groups ever assembled to purchase a professional sports team in the US, have clearly demonstrated that we have a much more solid Arena plan, have offered a much higher price than the yet to be finalized Sacramento Group, and have placed all of the funds to close the transaction into escrow. As such, we plan to unequivocally state our case for both relocation and our plan to move forward with the transaction to the league and owners at the upcoming Board of Governor’s Meeting in Mid-May.
When we started this process everyone thought it was impossible. While this represents yet another obstacle to achieving our goal, I just wanted to reassure all of you that we have numerous options at our disposal and have absolutely no plans to give up. Impossible is nothing but a state of mind.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn also offered a brief statement on Twitter.
"I'm proud of how Sonics fans have rallied together to help Seattle get a team," he wrote. "We’re going to stay focused on our job: making sure Seattle remains in a position to get a team when the opportunity presents itself." The Maloofs, which had appealed to the league's owners this month to approve the sale to Seattle, had no comment on the latest developments, according to CBSSports.com.