SACRAMENTO, CA - Months of speculation about the Sacramento Kings leaving town may come to fruition on Wednesday.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, "The deal will sell the Kings for approximately $500 million to a group led by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft chairman Steve Ballmer. The group is seeking to relocate the franchise to Seattle's Key Arena for the 2013-14 season."
Wojnarowski quoted sources as saying the initial plan is for the Kings to play two seasons at Seattle's Key Arena before eventually moving into a new complex.
The deal is reportedly worth $500 million according to Wojnarowski, with the Maloofs expected to retain a small percentage of ownership, but no substantial say regarding the franchise.
RELATED STORY: Maloofs nearing deal to sell Kings to group that plans to relocate franchise to Seattle
Wojnarowski said no deal has been signed yet but, "one source with knowledge of the talks described the deal as "first and goal at the 1."
In a USA Today Sports story, Sam Amick said the Maloofs had gone missing from their own arena recently, no longer attending games and leaving their own employees to speculate that a sale or a move was on its way. A person with knowledge of the Kings situation told USA TODAY Sports that the minority owners of the team haven't been informed of the sale as of early Wednesday afternoon. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. The person said terms of the ownership agreement dictate minority owners must be told before a sale is complete.
The Maloofs released a statement via family spokesman Eric Rose: "As we have said for nearly a year, we have been contacted by several cities and parties interested in the Sacramento Kings organization. The announcement yesterday from Virginia Beach does not change our long-held position that we will not comment on rumors or speculation about the franchise."
What's more, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, the league issued a memo to owners on Wednesday warning them not to comment on the Sacramento situation. The memo did not include any detail about the state of the any negotiations.
RELATED STORY: Seattle group negotiating to buy Sacramento Kings
The Kings, who came to Sacramento in 1985 from Kansas City, nearly moved to Anaheim in March of 2011 before the deal fell apart at the 11th hour. It happened again nearly a year ago, when the Maloofs had an agreement in principle on an arena deal in Sacramento and even cried tears of joy when it seemed the deal was done. Weeks later, however, the Maloofs backed out of the deal after deciding it wasn't financially feasible for their family.
OPTIONS ON KEEPING KINGS IN SACRAMENTO
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson hasn't given up on the city keeping the team. Wednesday afternoon, he tweeted: Bottom line Sacramento: it's not over... #keepthefaith #playingtowin".
In a news conference at Sacramento City Hall, Johnson said this is good news for Sacramento because it means the Kings' owners, the Maloofs, are willing to sell the team. He said the goal now is to find an ownership group willing to keep the team here in Sacramento.
"I'm going to make every effort to find a potential buyer to make sure the Kings remain in Sacramento," Johnson said.
Johnson said the goal now is to find an ownership group willing to keep the team here in Sacramento.
After a deal for a new sports and entertainment complex in Sacramento died last spring, Johnson said there were some promising offers.
"I heard from a number of people who said if the team is ever for sale, let us know. And we'd make a commitment to keep a team in Sacramento."
Johnson said he and supermarket tycoon Ronald Burkle have stayed in constant contact. Johnson also said he's been talking to a number of potential groups. Although he can't identify them, he said there's been more than one.
Regardless, Johnson said Sacramento is not letting the Kings get away without putting up a serious fight.
"We're going to do everything possible to do that. We're not going to be caught flat-footed," Johnson said. "We know we have a proven market. I believe very strongly that this community deserves an NBA team."
Johnson offered these criteria for any group interested in buying and owning the Kings:
They need to have some local ownership
They have to keep the team in Sacramento
A new sports and entertainment complex has to be part of the conversation
Johnson said the key now is to find and ownership group and to work backwards from the March 1 NBA deadline for relocation requests.
If the Sacramento Kings move, 600 to 1,000 full-time and part-time jobs will be affected, according to Johnson.
SACRAMENTO KINGS FANS
For many fans, word of a possible move to Seattle felt like the last straw.
"It would be fine to let them go," Sacramento resident Clarissa Hinman said.
"Just move on. Start off fresh with another team and go from there. Rebuild," long-time Kings fan Mike Doak said.
Some waxed nostalgic, even as they seemed to bow to the inevitable.
"You know, I'm sad. I like to go to Kings games," Sacramento resident Amy Filitowski said. "I used to go to Kings games with my dad when I was younger."
Carmichael Dave, a long-time super-fan of the Kings and radio broadcaster urged fans not to give up the fight and said he had faith that the Kings could be kept in Sacramento.
"I think Sacramento and the mayor, especially, have assembled ownership groups that want to buy and keep this team here," he said.
Kings fan Mike Tavares, with Crown Downtown booster club, agreed that it was too soon to throw in the towel. Tavares said he had faith that Johnson could somehow save the day as he did two years ago when Johnson found a way to keep the Kings from moving to Anaheim.
"He found a way to keep the team from leaving Anaheim. I still believe he's gonna keep the team here. Some way, somehow. I don't know how, but he's gonna do it," Tavares said.
Others remain skeptical.
"Be nice to keep that potential and grow on that potential (of the Kings), but it just seems like it's been a stalemate for too long," fan Denise Duncan said.
Seattle has been without an NBA franchise since the SuperSonics left following the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder in Oklahoma City. In October, Seattle and King County government officials approved a deal to build a $490 million arena in Seattle with $200 million coming from taxpayers. According to the deal, the public funds will be paid back through rent and admission taxes from the arena. If tax revenues fall below projections, "teams using the arena will make up the shortfall by paying additional rent," according to an arena FAQ at www.seattle.gov.
Hansen's group wants to build the arena in the stadium district near where the Seahawks and Mariners play. There is opposition to the arena deal, especially from a local longshore workers union, which filed a lawsuit in October arguing another arena south of downtown - an area called SoDo and just blocks from Puget Sound - will impact "great working class jobs."
It's no secret the NBA would love to have a team back in Seattle. The loss of Seattle franchise to Oklahoma City gave the league a black eye. Stern, who will retire in the middle of the 2013-14 season, would leave his job happier with an NBA team in Seattle.
"To be very serious, we think it's a great development in Seattle, and we are excited about it," Stern said at the NBA's Board of Governors meeting in October, also adding, "but there is no current team in play, and that's going to be an issue for the owners to have to consider."
The Kings have been a part of the league since the beginning. In 1949 the franchise, which was located in Rochester, New York, was one of 17 charter members of the new league that was created by the merger of the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League.
The Royals, as they were called, eventually became the Cincinnati Royals, the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, and the Kansas City Kings.
Contributing to this report:
USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports
News10/KXTV and USA Today