SEATTLE (AP) — Nearly five years after their colors, banners and history were packed away into storage and their franchise relocated, the SuperSonics are one significant step closer to returning to Seattle.
And the Kings are on the edge of leaving Sacramento.
All that appears to stand in the way now is approval by NBA owners.
The Maloof family has agreed to sell the Kings to a Seattle group led by investor Chris Hansen, the league confirmed in a statement Monday morning. The deal is still pending a vote by the NBA Board of Governors.
A person familiar with the decision said that Hansen's group will buy 65 percent of the franchise, which is valued at $525 million, and move the team to Seattle and restore the SuperSonics name. The deal will cost the Hansen group a little more than $340 million. The Maloofs will have no stake in the team.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal was waiting approval.
The sale figure works off a total valuation of the franchise, which includes relocation fees. Hansen's group also is hoping to buy out other minority investors.
The Maloofs will get a $30 million non-refundable down payment by Feb. 1, according to the deal, the person said. They will still be allowed to receive other offers until the league approves the sale. The Kings sale price of $525 million would surpass the NBA record $450 million the Golden State Warriors sold for in 2010.
The plan by Hansen's group is to have the team play at least the next two seasons in KeyArena before moving into a new facility in downtown Seattle. The deadline for teams to apply for a move for next season is March 1. The office of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn confirmed Monday it is already working with Hansen on an agreement for using KeyArena, including scheduling and short-term upgrades to the arena.
"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."
Hansen was not available for further comment.
Momentum was building toward a sale agreement after word of talks between Hansen and the Maloofs leaked nearly two weeks ago. Sacramento will get its chance to counter with Mayor Kevin Johnson already receiving permission from NBA Commissioner David Stern to present a counteroffer to league owners from buyers who would keep the Kings in Sacramento.
Johnson, a former NBA All-Star point guard, said in a statement that the city remained undeterred.
"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.
Yet Johnson will be fighting an uphill challenge trying to pull together an ownership group in a small window of time while Seattle begins preparing for the return of the green and gold.
The SuperSonics became a historic footnote when owner Clay Bennett moved the franchise to Oklahoma City in 2008. It was the conclusion of a contentious two years of lawsuits, broken leases, negotiations and ultimately a settlement that allowed 41 years of pro basketball history in Seattle to be moved away.
While Seattle was excited about Monday's news, there was an air of caution as well, with many fans still stung about the Sonics previous departure not wanting to believe in their return until everything is signed and delivered. Others in Seattle have wanted an expansion franchise rather than taking a team from another city.
"It tore the hearts out of the city when the (team) left the first time and it's just wonderful news to get a team back," said Jerry Brown, who was at KeyArena Monday buying college basketball tickets. "I feel sorry for the people of Sacramento, they have good fans there, but we want our team back."
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