A group led by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen are finalizing a deal to purchase the NBA's Sacramento Kings and move the team to Seattle, according to NBA sources speaking to Yahoo Sports. The deal would bring professional basketball back to Seattle beginning in the 2013-2014 season. The Seattle Supersonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008 and were renamed the Thunder, a controversy that rankles basketball-loving Seattle to this day.
Ballmer would join a growing cohort of current and former tech moguls become NBA owners, including Portland Trailblazers owner Paul Allen (who also owns the NFL's Seattle Seahawks), Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Memphis Grizzlies owner Robert Pera (former Apple engineer and founder and CEO of Ubiquiti Networks, Inc.), and Golden State Warriors owner and former Kleiner Perkins venture capitalist Joe Lacob. Baseball's Seattle Mariners are owned by Nintendo of America, giving the technology world a clean sweep of major professional sports in the US's Pacific Northwest.
Tech moguls and workers both love basketball
According to Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski, the team will be sold for approximately $500 million, and would play for two seasons in the Supersonics' old home at Key Arena before moving to a new venue in 2015. The NBA would have to approve the relocation request, but league commissioner David Stern has been a vocal proponent of the Hansen-Ballmer group's efforts to bring a franchise to Seattle. The deal is widely regarded as virtually done, although if a Sacramento-based bidder trumps Seattle's offer, it could reopen the bidding. Basketball fans in Seattle are jubilant at the prospect of a move, but in Sacramento, which has had a tortured history with its current owners the Maloof family, fans are understandably shaken.
Update: Our friends at SB Nation have a timeline of events leading to the proposed sale of the Kings to the Hansen/Ballmer-led Seattle group. Mostly, it reinforces one big theme: the Maloofs simply cannot be predicted. In the last two years, the Kings owners have been credibly reported to be moving the team to another market, selling it to new owners in Anaheim, and as having agreed to a deal to stay in Sacramento permanently, which they later withdrew from under controversial circumstances. Even though the deal appears to be on track for completion by the end of the month, there's no sure thing here.