The Maloof family that owns the Sacramento Kings has reached an agreement to sell the controlling interest in the franchise to a Seattle group intent on moving it in time for next season.
Sources told ESPN.com that NBA teams were formally notified Sunday night that the Kings have been valued at $525 million and that the Maloofs and a group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen have executed a purchase and sale agreement, which the NBA confirmed through a statement Monday morning.
The Seattle group intends to file for relocation by the league’s March 1 deadline.
Although the sale still requires formal league approval, ownership transfers typically go through when they reach this phase.
The agreement to transfer the 65 percent majority stake in the Kings to the Seattle group headed by Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer represents the 53 percent owned by the Maloofs and an additional 12 percent from minority owner Bob Hernreich.
The NBA announced Monday: “The proposed transaction is subject to the approval of the NBA Board of Governors and has been referred to the Board’s committee process for review.”
Sources said that there has not yet been an agreement submitted on the remaining 35 percent of the franchise, which is held by minority shareholders, not the Maloofs.
“We have always appreciated and treasured our ownership of the Kings and have had a great admiration for the fans and our team members,” Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof said in a statement on behalf of the family. “We would also like to thank Chris Hansen for his professionalism during our negotiation. Chris will be a great steward for the franchise.”
“While we are not at liberty to discuss the terms of the transaction or our plans for the franchise given the confidential nature of the agreement and NBA regulations regarding public comments during a pending transaction, we would just like to extend our sincerest compliments and gratitude toward the Maloof family,” Hansen said in a statement. “Our negotiations with the family were handled with the utmost honor and professionalism and we hope to continue their legacy and be great stewards of this NBA franchise in the coming years and decades.”
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said: “While there is more work ahead, this is a major step toward bringing the Sonics home.”
One source close to the process told ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande that the Maloof family, as it was hoping, will retain a “small piece” of minority interest in the franchise after its expected relocation to Seattle and renaming as the SuperSonics for next season. It’s believed, though, that the Maloofs will hold no decision-making power once control of the franchise is transferred.
The deal, according to sources familiar with the specifics, calls for the Maloofs to receive a nonrefundable $30 million deposit from the Seattle group by Feb. 1. The NBA, furthermore, is fully expecting Hansen to apply for relocation to Seattle for the 2013-14 season by the league’s March 1 deadline, enabling the league’s board of governors to vote on the application at their annual April meeting.
But Sacramento officials are not surrendering their long-running bid to keep the franchise in the California capital.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said last week he had received permission from NBA commissioner David Stern to present a counteroffer to league owners from buyers who would keep the Kings in Sacramento.
Johnson, himself a former All-Star point guard in the NBA, said in a statement late Sunday night that the city remained undeterred despite the agreement with the Seattle group.
“Sacramento has proven that it is a strong NBA market with a fan base that year in and year out has demonstrated a commitment to the Kings by selling out 19 of 27 seasons in a top-20 market and owning two of the longest sellout streaks in NBA history,” Johnson said.
“When it comes to keeping the team in our community, Sacramento is playing to win. In particular, we have been focused like a laser on identifying an ownership group that will both have the financial resources desired by the NBA and the vision to make the Kings the NBA equivalent of what the Green Bay Packers have been in the NFL.”
Stern said last week the NBA was still willing to listen to Johnson.
“The mayor of Sacramento has asked me … could I come in and address the board of governors or the relocation committee?’ ” Stern said last week before the New York Knicks played the Detroit Pistons in London. “And I said, ‘Always.’ … Sacramento has been particularly supportive (as an NBA community since 1985 and is) always welcome to present.”
With the OK to present to the board, Johnson said last week that his city is in a “six-week sprint” to put together a proposal.
The Kings were in New Orleans preparing for a matinee game against the Hornets when news came down of the agreement.
“It’s just a little weird (but) at the same time I love Sacramento. I love everything about it. Love the fans; the organization just brought me in with open arms. That’s all I really know in this league is Sacramento,” said Kings guard Isaiah Thomas, a Tacoma, Wash., native. “But then I am from that area back home. It’s just kind of a different situation. Whatever I say about Seattle, Sacramento fans might be mad at me, and whatever I say about Sacramento, Seattle fans might be mad at me. I just love both cities.”
Added Kings coach Keith Smart, “For us, I’m going to get on the floor and coach the game and players are going to get out there and make shots, take shots, make mistakes, make great plays. And then we’ll deal with it as we do off the floor.”
According to Yahoo! Sports, which reported earlier this month that the Maloofs were in serious talks with Hansen and Ballmer, Seattle’s plan calls for the Kings to play two seasons in the SuperSonics’ old home downtown at KeyArena while construction is completed on a new building.
The sale price of $525 million, sources said, is regarded as an overall valuation of the franchise and also includes relocation fees.
Given the league’s desire to halt the long-running saga caused by the Kings’ uncertain future in Sacramento, as well as its hope of seeing NBA basketball return to Seattle before Stern’s scheduled exit from the league office in February 2014, approval of the move by the NBA relocation committee is widely considered a formality.
The committee features several current NBA owners and is chaired by Clay Bennett, who controversially moved the original Sonics to Oklahoma City in 2008 but left behind the team’s nickname and logo. Plans for a new $500 million arena in Seattle were approved in October.
Miami Heat star LeBron James took umbrage at news of the deal, tweeting: “So the Kings getting sold for 525M!! And the owners ain’t making no money huh? What the hell we have a (lockout) for. Get the hell out of here.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.