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.”
Ironically enough, it will be Bennett that has a say in whether Seattle returns to the NBA portfolio as the head of the league’s relocation committee.
Caught in an awkward spot is the Kings‘ basketball team itself, some of whom have Seattle ties. Guard Isaiah Thomas grew up in Tacoma, Wash., and before the Kings played in New Orleans on Monday was already feeling the discomfort of being wedged between two cities.
“It’s just a little weird (but) at the same time I love Sacramento, I love everything about it. Love the fans, the organization just brought me in with open arms. That’s all I really know in this league is Sacramento,” Thomas said. “But then I am from that area back home, it’s just kind of a different situation. Whatever I say about Seattle, Sacramento fans might be mad at me and whatever I say about Sacramento, Seattle fans might be mad at me. I just love both cities.
“It’s out of my control.”
The saga of the Kings‘ future in California’s Capitol city has dragged on for nearly three years and now faces its most daunting challenge.
Hansen, a Seattle native and San Francisco-based investor, reached agreement with local governments in Seattle last October on plans to build a $490 million NBA/NHL arena near the city’s other stadiums, CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field. No construction will begin until all environmental reviews are completed and a team has been secured. The arena also faces a pair of lawsuits, including one from a longshore workers union because the arena is being built close to port and industrial operations.
Hansen’s group is expected to pitch in $290 million in private investment toward the arena, along with helping to pay for transportation improvements in the area around the stadiums. The remaining $200 million in public financing would be paid back with rent money and admissions taxes from the arena, and if that money falls short, Hansen would be responsible for making up the rest.
Other investors in the proposed arena include Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer and two members of the Nordstrom department store family.
“While there is more work ahead, this is a major step toward bringing the Sonics home,” McGinn said.
Sacramento fans hope this is not the final chapter in their quest to save the Kings. Johnson has once already saved the Kings from relocation when he made a pitch to the Board of Governors and bought the city time to broker a deal that appeared to solve the team’s arena woes. But the Maloofs backed out of that tentative $391 million deal for a new downtown venue with Sacramento last year.
Johnson said recently he’s heard from various parties interested in trying to put together an ownership group that would keep the team in Sacramento, but only with a new arena.