After weeks of rumors, it appears Seattle may have a new professional basketball team to replace the SuperSonics. Investor Chris Hansen said his group has entered an agreement to purchase a controlling interest in the Sacramento Kings. Seattle sports fans seemed pleased by the deal, but confessed they don’t know much yet about their new home team.
At the Ram Sports Bar in Seattle’s University Village, retiree Andy Brinkley and his wife said they’re thrilled by the news of a new team, ready to go to games again, and ready to give Chris Hansen some credit.
Hansen’s group is buying the team and would pay more than half the costs of building the new arena. Brinkley said, “His ability to come forward with the financial situation was absolutely wonderful. It really erases the bad things we had when the Sonics left.”
Brinkley still remembers the day in 1979 when the Sonics won the national championship. He said people were screaming all over Seattle with joy. At the next table, Jason VanSlyke of Shoreline said he was 12 then, and went on to be a Sonics season ticket holder and devoted fan. “It’s just one of those things where I got the bug at the right age,” he said. “ I mean, many of those guys are so phenomenally good at what they do.”
But VanSlyke was bitter when the Sonics left. He boycotted Starbucks to punish company CEO and team owner Howard Schultz and quit watching the NBA in favor of college basketball. So VanSlyke said he hasn’t kept too close of tabs on the Sacramento Kings, but his impressions aren’t good. “I think they’re bad and they’ve been bad,” he said.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said he doesn’t know much about the new team either. “I’ll be honest, I have not been watching much NBA basketball since the Sonics left town,” he said.
McGinn was at the presidential inauguration in Washington, DC, when the news of the team purchase became public. He calls it a good day for Seattle, but says there’s a lot of work ahead. The city faces a couple lawsuits, one over whether the $200 million in public funds for the arena violates Initiative 91. That measure passed in Seattle in 2006. It says the city must make a profit on any investment in an arena.
McGinn said he believes the arena plan will hold up. “Ultimately, you know, a court will have to look at that, but we did the work on our end to meet it because it wasn’t just the law,” he said, “It was also important that we do that given where we were financially as a city.”
Environmental studies are underway for the new arena site in Sodo. In the near term, the new NBA team would play at the Sonics’ old home, Key Arena.
Standing outside the arena Monday, Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess said he welcomes the news of team purchase. He said Hansen has agreed to spend up to $16 million preparing Key Arena to host an NBA team again.
"Key Arena will be improved and refurbished a bit so the Sonics can play here for two or more, likely three seasons, while the new arena is being built,” Burgess said. “And then the city will launch this spring a long-term study for Key Arena and Seattle Center and what its ultimate fate will be.”
Burgess is challenging McGinn in the race for mayor. He declined to say whether news of the Sacramento Kings purchase is a political win for anyone, other than “the city of Seattle, Sonics fans and our economic base.”
The team sale is still subject to approval by NBA officials.