NEW YORK – The showdown over whether the Sonics will return to Seattle is now under way.
A Seattle group that wants the Sacramento Kings to move to the Pacific Northwest made a two hour presentation that ended just before 3 p.m. EDT in New York City. Investor Chris Hansen, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, plus Pete and Erik Nordstrom, were making their formal presentation to NBA owners. The presentation was done behind closed doors at the St. Regis Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.
"We're optimistic. The ownership group is very enthusastic and we appreciate the NBA's got a tough decision to make and we're hopeful for an outcome in our favor," said Hansen after the meeting.
It is an unprecedented day in NBA history and for the Hansen group.
NBA Commissioner David Stern called the meeting to add some clarity to the future of the Kings franchise. Hansen’s group has purchased 65 percent of the franchise for $341 million. The franchise has already filed for relocation to Seattle and KeyArena this fall.
"I believe Chris did a very thorough job of outlining the deal and what the ownership team was looking at it," McGinn said. "I think Steve Ballmer did a very good job of expressing the kind of the enthusiasm for Seattle, and now's a good moment for us, and George Maloof closed by expressing his desire to close the deal with Chris Hansen. So collectively, I think the team did a very good job."
Hansen would not elaborate on what was said during the meeting, including whether expansion was brought up.
Hansen’s formal presentation is being followed by another from Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and his potential investors in a new arena and franchise. The city of Sacramento recently approved a term sheet to built a new $441 million arena in Downtown Sacramento.
Hansen’s group is expected to include financial data and projections on the long term economic vitality of the Seattle marketplace. Sources say he’s also expected to pitch NBA owners on the corporate base in Seattle, a strong selling point to a league which likes corporate partnerships. Hansen is also expected to show a list of 44,000 names of people who have signed up for Sonics season tickets.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine are also at the hotel and will be part of the formal presentation. Both men seemed confident when speaking with reporters outside the hotel prior to the presentation.
Several NBA owners could be seen entering the hotel, including Clay Bennett. He’s the owner of the former Sonics and current relocation committee chair. He declined to respond to reporter questions. NBA Commissioner David Stern and NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver also declined to comment.
Toronto Raptors Owner Larry Tanenbaum, who is on the NBA Finance Committee, said he was looking forward to “listening and asking lots of questions” during the course of the day. Other owners, including Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck, Knicks Owner James Dolan and Wizards Owner Ted Leonsis declined comment while entering the hotel.
Stern is expected to address the media Wednesday afternoon.
Sacramento paper: Seattle has too many teams already
In Wednesday morning’s edition of the Sacramento Bee, the editorial board says it would be in the NBA’s best interest to prevent the team from relocating.
It claims Seattle already has too many sports teams competing for attendance. Also, it claims more than 10,000 Sacramento fans have already pledged to purchase season tickets for next season and that the Kings have had greater attendance than the Sonics have had in the past.
“The speed of this deal, the wealth of the investors and the public commitment should send a clear signal to the league that with the right owners, the Sacramento market can be a lucrative one," the editorial board wrote.
Still legal battles ahead
No matter what happens Wednesday, it is clear the legal wrangling is not over.
A pair of attorneys in Sacramento, representing a group which calls itself “Coalition for Responsible Arena Development,” says it intends to file a lawsuit over Sacramento’s recent plan. The group alleges the term sheet violates California environmental law, and the terms for a city suite at a new complex would be a “misuse of public funds for private benefit.”
Peter Goldman, an attorney for the Seattle chapter of the ILWU, also filed paperwork to speed up an appeal of the union’s lawsuit over Hansen’s proposed arena. He said he hoped it would mean the appeal could be heard in 2-to-3 months, as opposed to nine. Goldman said he had not had any contact with the NBA over the issue, but he would be watching the mayor’s comments in New York closely.
Chris Daniels is reporting about the NBA meeting all week in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter at @chrisdaniels5.
KING 5's Jake Whittenberg contributed to this report