By Sharon Bernstein and Eric M. Johnson
LOS ANGELES/SEATTLE May 10 A Seattle investor
group vying to purchase the Sacramento Kings NBA team has vastly
increased its offer to buy the basketball franchise, hoping to
wrest momentum away from a Sacramento group that wants to keep
the team in California's capital.
Hedge fund manager Chris Hansen, who is fighting to bring
the team to Seattle to replace the city's beloved SuperSonics,
posted on his website on Friday that his group's new offer would
value the team at $625 million, up $75 million from a prior
Hansen, who leads a group of investors that includes
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, had announced a deal in January to
buy a controlling interest in the team from the wealthy Maloof
family - at the time valuing the franchise at $525 million.
But in an increasingly public tug-of-war, Sacramento began
to fight back - hard. The mayor of the California capital,
himself a former NBA point guard, quickly put together his own
team of technology titans, who vowed to match Hansen's bid.
Led by Mayor Kevin Johnson, the California group persuaded
the Sacramento City Council to back a proposal for a new, $450
million arena for the Kings. Last month, a committee of NBA
owners voted that the team should stay in Sacramento.
But Hansen, whose city lost the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City
in 2008, vowed to fight on. Under the new bid, his Seattle
investor group would shell out about $406 million for a
controlling 65 percent interest in the team.
"While we appreciate that this is a very difficult decision
for the league and owners, we hope it is understood that we
really believe the time is now to bring the NBA back to
Seattle," Hansen said.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, commenting on the raised offer on
Twitter, said: "Chris is playing to win."
By contrast, in Sacramento Johnson said Hansen's latest move
should not change things and insisted the Kings "belong in
"I believe the NBA owners realize that there is far more to
think about than just an increased bid."
Other California politicians jumped in as well.
"This is not about how much money wealthy investors can
throw into the pot in desperation to overcome our good faith
efforts," said Darrell Steinberg, who represents Sacramento in
the state senate and is the president pro tem of that body.
"This is about our community. This is about what we've done
to step forward to build a new arena, and this is about our long
history of strong support for the Kings franchise."
Hansen's dramatic new offer may be in keeping with a
strategy outlined to Reuters last month by a source close to the
bid, in which the Seattle group would try hard to buy the team
even if the NBA rules that it must stay in Sacramento.
The idea, the source said, would be to move the Kings after
a few years if Sacramento does not follow through on promises to
build a new arena or fails to sell enough tickets to keep the
Michael McCann, a sports law expert at the University of New
Hampshire school of Law, said it was highly unusual for a
bidding war to take place after a deal has already been struck
with a team's owner - as Hansen's was - and presented to the
The new bid could be attractive to team owners, who might
see it as an indication of higher value for their own
"It is absolutely hard to ignore this offer," McCann said,
but it would also be unusual for the league to decide the team
should stay in Sacramento and then sell it to an owner who wants
to move it to another city.
Owners of the NBA's 30 teams are scheduled to meet on
Tuesday in Dallas and will vote the following day on which city
should host the team.
Representatives from the Maloof family could not immediately
be reached for comment on the Hansen group's new offer. An NBA
spokesman declined to comment on the bid.