David Stern's final All-Star Game press conference as National Basketball Association Commissioner was dominated by questions related to the bid for the Kings. The league already has applications in hand from a group of Seattle investors to buy and move the team, but only the promise of a matching bid from Sacramento Mayor, Kevin Johnson.
Seattle lost the Supersonics five years ago when Clay Bennett bought the team and moved it to Oklahoma City. But, the Commissioner wanted to set the record straight on exactly how the Sonics came to be in a position to be sold. He called Seattle a great city, but, "I seem to remember, you can correct me if I'm wrong, there was a $300-million-plus subsidy for the Mariners and a $300-million-plus subsidy for the Seahawks and there was legislation that precluded that for the Sonics. And (Washington State Assembly) Speaker Chopp said we should take the money from our players. Is there anything that I'm missing there?"
The Commissioner said he thought he'd like to see Seattle have an NBA franchise again. But, for that to happen, someone, like the group of Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer, will have to buy a team and move it because expansion doesn't seem to be an option for the league. Stern says it's a matter of economics, "Given that we've just come through an intriguing collective bargaining negotiation and coupled it with significant revenue sharing of over $200 million, I think the sentiment is to let it all settle and assess how we are doing and what the projections are for how we'll do."
Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver followed Stern's comments with his own reason for not expanding the league -concern for product quality, "Are there 15 more of the world's greatest players available without diluting the league? And while the pool of players on a global basis continues to build, we think we're at the right point now in terms of number of teams and number of players. There are only so many of the world's greatest players you know that can play at the highest level."
The Commissioner said he would not presume to tell Sacramento how it should put together a bid to save the Kings, but he did say one of the things an ownership committee will consider is regional support. Mayor Johnson already has 25 local business owners pledging a million dollars each to be minority owners. The website HereWeBuy.org reports non-binding pledges of $23 million in season ticket sales from 5500 fans if the Kings remain in Sacramento under different ownership.
The Sacramento City Council has a resolution on its agenda for Tuesday that says the Council supports the City's efforts to keep the Kings and partner in the construction of a downtown sports and entertainment complex.
As for the possibility the current Kings' minority owners have the right to match the bid made by the Hansen-Ballmer group, Stern was dismissive, "If they have it, I guess they'll exercise it and deliver an offer to the owners that is good. And if they don't have it they won't exercise it and some court will say yes or no and there will be some negotiation. I just don't feel it as a defining issue here. That's all."
Attorneys for minority owner Bob Cook have raised the issue in federal bankruptcy court. The next status conference in those proceedings is February 26th. Mayor Johnson says he will have a counter offer to Seattle by March 1st. Cook's shares are scheduled to be auctioned April 9th. The Hansen-Ballmer group and the Mayor are scheduled to appear before the NBA Board of Governors April 18th and 19th, though a Sacramento group may be called to make a presentation in late March or early April according to both Stern and Johnson.