The National Basketball Association has approved the relocation of nearly two dozen franchises since 1950, including six since David Stern succeeded Larry O’Brien as commissioner in 1984. Due to retire early next year, Stern would have seven relocations on his watch if the NBA hadn’t blocked the sale of the Minnesota Timberwolves to New Orleans interests in 1994.
While the Minnesota case provides the closest parallel to Seattle’s efforts to convince the NBA to approve the sale of the Sacramento Kings to Chris Hansen, Steve Ballmer et al, the particulars of it differ significantly from the Seattle vs. Sacramento competition over the Kings and offer no clues as to whether NBA owners will vote to keep the Kings in Sacramento or move them to Seattle.
In the Minnesota situation, T-Wolves’ owners Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner were upside down — $73 million worth — on their mortgage on the Target Center, the team’s arena built as part of the franchise’s 1989 entry into the NBA. Wolfenson and Ratner sought public and private investment to purchase the mortgage, but when they failed to find takers, they announced that the team would be sold and probably moved out of Minnesota.
Stern and the league offered to mediate a resolution, but before talks between Wolfenson and Ratner and their debtors could take place, Wolfenson and Ratner revealed that they had engaged in talks to sell the T-Wolves with representatives of three cities, San Diego, Nashville and New Orleans. San Diego eventually dropped out, pitting Nashville against New Orleans.
In May 1994, New Orleans pushed Nashville aside when an ownership group called “Top Rank” announced a purchase price of $152.5 million. Fearing the loss of the franchise, the Minnesota legislature approve a bill that would have earmarked $48 million in public funds for the purchase of the Target Center. That proposed purchase, which bunched up thousands of boxer shorts in the Twin Cities, was contingent on T-Wolves ownership agreeing to a 30-year lease.
But no local ownership emerged to either match or exceed the $152.5 million Top Rank offered. Top Rank announced May 23 it had completed the purchase and would move the franchise to New Orleans. On June 6, 1994, Top Rank filed paperwork with the NBA seeking to relocate the T-Wolves for the 1994-95 season.
The Hansen-Ballmer group, as had Top Rank 19 years ago, has purchased a franchise (Sacramento), announced its relocation for the next season, and filed paperwork with the NBA. But here’s where the stories diverge in Seattle’s situation versus that of Minnesota’s.
When NBA owners got into the weeds of Top Rank’s offer, they discovered that $40 million of the $152.5 million purchase price came from unknown — or at least unidentified — investors; that more than $76 million of the purchase price would come via loans from banks that had yet to commit to those loans; and that nearly $50 million more would come from “projected revenues” from an un-built arena in New Orleans.
Based on such financial flimsiness, the NBA’s relocation committee voted unanimously June 5 to block the sale of the T-Wolves to Top Rank. On June 21, 1994, the league officially denied sale of the franchise to Top Rank. The attempted relocation eventually resulted in Minneapolis businessman and former state senator Glen Taylor purchasing the franchise and keeping it in town. Top Rank sued, but a federal judge tossed it out.
Since the Hansen-Ballmer group obviously won’t issue the kind of financial smoke screen that Top Rank did, the NBA would have to block a move of the Kings from Sacramento to Seattle on other grounds — a matching or competitive offer by Sacramento’s new owners, the NBA’s disinclination to have “Relocation No. 7” mar Stern’s farewell months, or even the league’s desire not to punish loyal Sacramento fans.
Seattle and Sacramento sides made their respective cases to the NBA’s relocation committee Wednesday and will make a recommendation prior to a vote of the Board of Governor April 19. Hold tight, Seattle fans, to your briefs.
No city played host to an NBA franchise longer than Seattle — 41 years — before losing the team to another city. Only one city, San Diego, has twice lost NBA franchises, the Rockets moving to Houston in 1971 and the Clippers leaving for Los Angeles in 1984.The following are the major NBA franchise relocations since 1950 (list does not include the temporary move of the New Orleans Hornets to Oklahoma City in 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina):
|2012||New Jersey||35||Brooklyn||Team sold to Brooklyn businessmen|
|2008||Seattle||41||Okla. City||OKC owner wanted team in his city|
|2002||Charlotte||14||N. Orleans||Fan revolt against owner George Shinn|
|2001||Vancouver||6||Memphis||Weak Canadian dollar; lockout fallout|
|1985||Kansas City||10||Sacramento||Minuscule attendance in Kansas City|
|1984||San Diego||6||Los Angeles||Poor attendance, bad arena lease|
|1979||New Orleans||5||Utah||Team couldn’t turn profit in N. Orleans|
|1978||Buffalo||8||San Diego||Team sold to California-based owner|
|1972||Cincinnati||15||Kansas City||Team sold to Kansas City businessmen|
|1971||San Diego||4||Houston||Low attendance in San Diego|
|1968||St. Louis||13||Atlanta||St. Louis refused to build new arena|
|1963||Syracuse||14||Philadelphia||Syracuse too small for NBA|
|1963||Chicago||2||Baltimore||Chicago didn’t embrace NBA until Bulls|
|1962||Philadelphia||16||San Fran||Team sold to California owner|
|1960||Minneapolis||12||Los Angeles||Lakers fizzled after George Mikan|
|1957||Rochester||9||Cincinnati||Rochester couldn’t turn profit|
|1957||Fort Wayne||9||Detroit||Fort Wayne too small for NBA|
|1955||Milwaukee||5||St. Louis||Poor attendance in Milwaukee|
|1951||Tri-Cities||2||Milwaukee||Tri-Cities (Illinois) too small for NBA|
*=Years the team played in the spurned city