NBA expansion is 'Seattle's way forward'

May 31, 2013

Investor Chris Hansen says he remains committed to bringing the Sonics back to Seattle despite having lost his bid to move the Sacramento Kings to town.

Hansen made his first public comments about the failed deal in interviews this week.  

Hansen pressing on

Hansen told KJR-AM and KING-TV he remains undaunted in terms of the arena project and eventually acquiring an NBA team. He admitted disappointment and frustration in the failed Kings deal, but said he wants to move forward.

Hansen also said he was hurt and blown away by the animosity that was generated between the two sports markets and, to some degree nationally, about the value and the worth of the two cities.

He said he was made "sick to his stomach" by the rhetoric going back and forth between fans. At one point he said, "How did I get myself in this position?"

Misled by Maloofs

According to sports commentator Art Thiel, Hansen and his partner, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, underestimated the seriousness of Sacramento's mayor, fans, and business community in their effort to keep their only professional sports team in town.

"Looking back on it, it seems that Hansen put a lot of credence in what the owners of the Kings—the Maloof family—were telling him about the situation in Sacramento, and that there wouldn't likely be any ownership to surface," Art said. "Well, that was dead wrong."

Hansen to fans: Let go of anger

Art says Hansen is advocating "group therapy" for fans, advising them to let go of their anger over the Kings deal, and at NBA Commissioner David Stern in particular.

"He wants everyone to get the bitter taste out of their mouths now and realize that nobody gets along in life with a lot of resentment," Art said. "That's all quite true."

"But there's no doubt in my mind that David Stern had no intention of letting the team be moved to Seattle because of his residual bitterness over his treatment in 2006 when he came to the state Legislature as well as in the same year the passage of Initiative 91."

Tax-weary Seattle voters passed Initiative 91 to ensure that the city makes a profit on the leasing of any sports facility.

Art pointed out that at a news conference in 2007, Stern said, "If the Sonics leave Seattle, there will never be another NBA team in that city again. I don't envision it anywhere in my plan."

"Well, he was right," Art said. "But he's retiring February 1 (2014), and it's going to be a different place."

New blood, new hope

Art says incoming commissioner Adam Silver will be key to resuming the conversation about bringing the NBA back to Seattle.

"I think what you're going to see is a more enlightened and less personally-engaged commissioner in Adam Silver," Art said. "He does seem to have wide respect within the NBA community. And he doesn't have the baggage."

By next February when Silver takes over, the environmental review process for the proposed NBA/NHL arena in Seattle will be complete. But Art says two lawsuits against the project are expected to be refiled.

Also by early next year, the NBA will be working with television networks about extending their contracts.

"The early speculation is that NBA TV revenues will double," Art said. "And that means a whole lot more money per team, per year. And that is going to embolden, I think, the owners to get where Chris Hansen probably should have been from the get-go. And that is pursuing an expansion team."

"The relocation possibilities are minimal in the NBA. Expansion is Seattle's way forward," he said.

You can read more about what Art Thiel has to say on this issue at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.