NEW YORK – Weighing competing offers for the Sacramento Kings, the Maloofs said Thursday they want to press ahead with the deal they've made with investors from Seattle.
The statement, from a source close to the family, is the strongest indication yet that the Maloofs favor the Seattle deal over a backup offer from investors trying to keep the team in Sacramento.
This source spoke with The Bee shortly after the Maloofs emerged from a lengthy closed-door meeting of the NBA board of governors, which will ultimately decide whether the Kings leave. The board, consisting of all 30 team owners, finishes its meeting today but isn't expected to vote on the Kings' fate for at least two more weeks.
"The Maloofs have a binding agreement with the Seattle group and would prefer that that agreement be approved by the league," the source said.
The Maloofs have agreed to sell their controlling interest for $357 million to a group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen.
It remained unclear whether the Maloofs would sell to Sacramento's bidders if the Seattle deal is vetoed by the board of governors. Disagreements have developed between the Maloofs and the Sacramento group, led by Silicon Valley software executive Vivek Ranadive, over some of the terms of Ranadive's backup offer.
For instance, Maloof family spokesman Harvey Englander said the Maloofs want the board of governors to vote on the Seattle offer as soon as possible.
Yet a source close to the situation told The Bee on Wednesday that Sacramento's counteroffer calls on the Maloofs to scrap the Hansen deal before it comes to a vote.
Another possible sticking point is that Sacramento's bid isn't a binding offer, according to this source.
A legal expert, Michael McCann of NBA TV, said it would be difficult for the Sacramento group to submit a binding offer as long as the Maloofs have a contract with Seattle's investors.
"Legally, you can't have two contracts at one time when they have contradictory outcomes," McCann said.
A spokesman for the Sacramento bidders declined comment. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has said he believed the bid submitted late Tuesday by Ranadive was a binding commitment.
A source familiar with the Ranadive bid said it matched Hansen's original bid of $341 million for the Maloofs' share of the team. Johnson indicated Tuesday that Ranadive wouldn't match Hansen's newer, higher offer of $357 million.
McCann said the disparity between the Sacramento and Seattle's bids could influence the NBA's decision – and the Maloofs as well.
"That to me is the more significant issue," he said. "The Maloofs could say, 'We want more money.' "
On a drizzly day in Manhattan, team owners filed into the luxurious St. Regis hotel for their semiannual meeting, most of them ignoring the media throng gathered out front.
It was the third straight year that the board of governors' agenda was dominated by the Kings' hazy future.
One of the few owners to speak to reporters was Golden State Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob – whose partners in the Warriors include Ranadive.
Lacob said he encouraged Ranadive to pursue the Kings. "I wish him the best," he said.
If he succeeds in buying the Kings, Ranadive would have to sell his share of the Warriors.
Asked if it would help the Warriors financially to have the Kings leave Northern California, Lacob said: "I don't think we look at it that way. I don't think that's an issue."
Tom Benson, owner of the just-renamed New Orleans Pelicans, told reporters that the owners are only now "getting into the meat and coconuts" of the Kings issue.
NBA legend Michael Jordan, owner of the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, said as he left the St. Regis that he's more worried about his own team than the Kings.
A committee of owners scrutinizing the two offers for the Kings met Wednesday. The full board of governors met Thursday for about six hours, and the fate of the Kings was one of the topics of discussion.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, NBA Commissioner David Stern said the league might ask delegations from Sacramento and Seattle to return to New York to answer more questions about their bids.
The two cities made dueling presentations to the owners' committee in New York on April 3.
Stern said the owners still have questions about plans to build new arenas in each city – particularly the possibility of litigation interfering with construction timetables.
Johnson arrived in New York on Thursday although it wasn't clear if he would address the owners.