(Reuters) - A committee of NBA owners recommended on Monday that the league reject a proposal to move the Sacramento Kings basketball team to Seattle, a decision that should pave the way for a group of California investors trying to buy the team.
The unanimous decision by the 12-member relocation and finance committee, announced in a brief statement by the National Basketball Association, is seen as carrying considerable weight in a vote expected in the next two weeks by the league as whole.
"That's what I'm talking about SACRAMENTO!!!!!," tweeted the city's mayor, former NBA player Kevin Johnson. "WE DID IT!!!!!"
The panel's recommendation is not binding but will hold strong sway when the rest of the NBA's 30 team owners vote in May. It disappointed fans in Seattle, who were hoping an NBA franchise would return to their city, which lost the Supersonics to Oklahoma City in 2008.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said "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 Kings' tenure in Sacramento has been shaky for a few years, as its majority owners, the Maloof family, have considered moving the team to either Anaheim, California and Virginia Beach, Virginia.
In January, a group led by Seattle hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made a formal offer for the team, which the Maloofs accepted, and the team appeared to be on its way north.
But Johnson, a Sacramento native who played for the Phoenix Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers and made three NBA All Star teams, fought back, putting together a group of California tech titans to counter Hansen's bid.
Monday's vote came as a surprise to many, because the Sacramento bid to keep the Kings was considered a long shot.
A spokesman for Hansen did not have an immediate comment on Monday.
But even as fans in Sacramento rejoiced, basketball lovers in Seattle - still mourning the loss of the SuperSonics five years ago - felt let down.
Pam Beltz, who just hours before the decision said she was "twitching to buy a Sonics jersey," expressed disappointment in the recommendation.
"I want basketball back in Seattle," said Beltz, 49. "(NBA commissioner) David Stern just dropped even further off my Christmas card list."
(Reporting By Sharon Bernstein; Editing by David Gregorio)