Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Seattle haunted by screw-up

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

When hedge fund billionaire Chris Hansen on Friday raised his group's now- obscene offer to buy the Kings, lifting the franchise's value to $625 million, two thoughts came to mind:

One could imagine the Maloofs, the current Kings owners, dancing gleefully while screaming "Goody! Goody! Goody!," given their emotional immaturity and years-long thirst to profit on the franchise they trashed.

Hansen's outsized play also brought to mind a scene from "Shrek." The pint-sized villain desperate to be king had built himself an enormously tall castle, prompting Shrek to ask, "Do you think maybe he's compensating for something?"

Yes. Even in an ego-driven business like the NBA, the posture of Hansen – and Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft – is preposterous.

These two are going to war with the NBA – with the Maloofs as co-conspirators. The Bee confirmed Saturday that the Maloofs say they won't sell the Kings to a Sacramento-based ownership group.

The Seattle contingent's actions reflect a pathological quest – cheered on by politicians and fans – to compensate for their original blunder: Their failure to act until it was too late to stop Seattle's old NBA team, the SuperSonics, from leaving in 2008.

Seattle drew a line in the sand back then with its refusal to grant public subsidies for a new Sonics arena. The city's politicians antagonized NBA Commissioner David Stern in the process. Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, sold the Sonics to Clay Bennett of Oklahoma City. Then other Seattle titans, like Ballmer, didn't materialize until it was too late to prevent the Sonics from relocating to Oklahoma.

Whose fault is that?

Known as the Emerald City, Seattle in this little drama has a new identity: the Bipolar City of Limited Introspection.

As shortsighted as Seattle was when the future of the Sonics was in jeopardy, that's how manic Seattle is now to rip the Kings jerseys off our players' backs and fit them with Sonics green and gold. Where will it end? Will Ballmer fund the Maloofs if they sue the NBA to force a sale to Seattle while sticking it to Sacramento one last time?

Where were Hansen's and Ballmer's millions when Schultz threw in the towel after failing to get an arena and looked to cash out on the Sonics? Where was the public subsidy for a Seattle arena back then as there is now to the tune of up to $200 million?

Now we've arrived at decision time. The NBA owners meet Wednesday to potentially decide this once and for all: Are the Kings staying in Sacramento or moving to Seattle?

There was rampant speculation that Hansen's newest offer would put pressure on the NBA to pick the city with the highest bidder, despite numerous proclamations that it wouldn't. Hansen's offer values the Kings at $100 million more than a bid by the ownership group assembled by Mayor Kevin Johnson.

It is what the Maloofs have always wanted – an exorbitant price for the team.

But Sacramento's position remains the same: There has never been anything wrong with the Sacramento market – except for the Maloofs. The only reason the Kings are for sale to interests outside Sacramento is because the Maloofs have been trying to move the team for years.

In 2006, while Seattle was rejecting a public subsidy for the Sonics, Sacramento politicians were massing behind the politically risky idea of a sales tax increase to fund an arena for the Maloofs.

Yet the Maloofs walked away from that deal – the kind of deal that would have secured the future of the Sonics in Seattle – while sputtering nonsense about not getting enough help from the city.

Mind you, that arena would have been free for the Maloofs. F-R-E-E.

They've killed every other Kings arena plan in Sacramento since, while looking at Anaheim, Virginia Beach and who knows where else before finally finding the offer they craved in Seattle.

Sacramento has a solid offer for the Kings, an ownership group ready to go and not just 28 years of support for the team, but years of trying to work with the NBA to find a political solution to secure the long-term future of the Kings in Sacramento.

That history stands in stark contrast to Seattle's. Some would argue that Seattle's offer is too big for the NBA to pass up. Maybe, but one also could argue that the NBA could win even bigger with a revitalized team in Sacramento, and Hansen still out there driving up the price of other teams and eventually overpaying to get one to Seattle.

As for the Maloofs, they want their obscene price for the team, along with the satisfaction of preventing new owners from proving the Kings can flourish in Sacramento once the franchise is out of their hands.

Woe to the NBA if the league bows to such tactics.

By now, Seattle should know that no amount of money or posturing can shift the blame for its self- inflicted wounds with the NBA. That can be found only by looking in the mirror – a beautiful city projecting an ugly picture.

Call The Bee's Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096. Back columns, Follow him on Twitter @marcosbreton.