Saying he “won’t be a predator again,” Chris Hansen was “sick to my stomach” from the fight between Seattle and Sacramento markets over the Kings, but remains committed to returning the NBA to his hometown. In his first interview since the NBA denied his relocation request two weeks ago, Hansen told KJR-AM radio Tuesday afternoon that he underestimated the intensity of the effort by California business people and politicians to keep the Kings.“If we had known there would have been such support, we would have approached it differently, if at all,” Hansen said. “We thought the Kings were leaving Sacramento. I don’t want to put words into anyone’s mouth, but to some extent, the NBA thought that too. It was just a matter of where.
“Maybe we were our own worst enemy. It wasn’t as easy as maybe some thought it would be. Keeping a team in its market is easier.”
Admitting to disappointment and frustration, Hansen, the Seattle native and San Francisco hedge fund manager, along with primary partner Steve Ballmer, discovered that a record $625 million purchase offer wasn’t enough, yet is resolute about his arena project in SoDo and plans to fill it with NBA and NHL teams.
He recommended that fans get over their anger and resentment toward the NBA and its outgoing commissioner, David Stern.
“I think people need to get the bad taste out of their mouths and move on,” he said. “Being resentful doesn’t get you anywhere in life. If (the opportunity to buy the Kings) never came up, the mentality would be a little better now.
“If you want the Sonics back, it’s a good time to get over the anger and frustration and show what a great city we are . . . If there’s constant anti-NBA, anti-commissioner (talk), it will hurt us. The NBA is smart — they know we wouldn’t take this well. They know Sacramento wouldn’t have taken it well if they lost. Grieving, anger and frustration is to be expected.”
Hansen sounded as if he worked through his emotions. Asked by host Dave Mahler if he could say he was still 100 percent committed to the project, Hansen said, “Absolutely.”
If another owner makes it known his club is for sale, Hansen said he would approach the potential purchase more cautiously.
“Before we sign another (purchase and sale agreement), we want to be sure the team is ‘pre-approved’ to move, and that we not go through a battle with the local fan base,” he said. “It’s not the way we want to portray ourselves – people fearing us (in other markets) because we want to move their team.”
Hansen was clearly bothered by the popular backlash from Sacramento fans.
“I’m not going to wrestle (another) team away . . . be a predator,” he said. “The Seattle-Sacramento fight made us all uncomfortable. It made me sick to my stomach . . . ‘How did I get myself in this position?’”
Since nearly all NBA teams are locked into long-term leases difficult to break, the chance for a return of the Sonics would seem to rest with expansion. Hansen was vague as to whether any informal commitments have been made. He said expansion never came up in his presence during owners’ meetings because the NBA’s emphasis on procedure meant the only question under consideration was relocation.
“I don’t think (the May 15 meeting in Dallas) was the time to get into (expansion). They weren’t there to decide on another franchise or some other hypothetical. Walking out with anything definitive was not in the cards.
“But I think we made a good impression with the league and a majority of the owners about how strong the market is and how great it would be for basketball.”
Hansen addressed several loose ends that came from various reports and rumors in the run-up and aftermath of the owners’ 22-8 vote to deny relocation.
- He doesn’t believe Stern bears a grudge toward the city: “One thing I want to clear up is I don’t think he has it out for Seattle. It was more about keeping the team in Sacramento rather than sticking it to Seattle. People might not want to hear that. But the owners had to choose at the end of the day. It’s a pain to move a team. So he gave the benefit of the doubt to the hometown market. I don’t think he was advocating (for Sacramento at the time of the sale agreement) because there was nothing to advocate for.”
- The Seattle group never seriously considered litigation against the NBA: “I’ve never sued anybody in my life. Why would I start with the NBA? We’re interested in doing it the right way, and we don’t think a protracted legal battle is the right way.”
- The Seattle group did not decline to take back its $30 million “nonrefundable” deposit: “That’s not true. We’d be very happy to get our $30 million back. It hasn’t been decided. We don’t know where, when and how it will come. (We have to decide) how hard are you going to press without suing. I just hope there’s a beneficial solution for everybody.”
- The seven percent minority ownership of the Kings he purchased out of bankruptcy court “is still there, waiting for us. We are talking about how the NBA can get that to Sacramento. Our preferred route is to do what’s right by the NBA and Sacramento and get a team back in Seattle.”
- Ballmer, who was reportedly furious over the outcome, will remain with the group: “I think so. You’ll have to ask Steve. I don’t like to speak for others. That’s my take. Everyone is in it for right reason – to do something great for the city. It was frustrating – everyone’s emotions are different, even in our group.”
- Phil Jackson, 11-time NBA champion coach, was ready to accept a job if Seattle landed the Kings: “We had some interesting talks with Phil, more about how you set up a winning culture from the top down. Phil has accomplished everything possible in coaching. I think he was very interested. I think it was the right position for him at this point in his life and career.”
- Hansen acknowledged talking to people in the NHL about a hockey team in Seattle: “The NBA in our case is first for us, because we put the equity into the arena and would like to purchase an NBA team. We don’t have mental free time to own a hockey team. If there was an owner of a team who wanted to relocate and move (before an NBA team), I’m sure it could be done. We’d have to know how they would invest in the arena project. The city/county (memorandum of understanding) probably could be reconstructed, but that’s not my decision. I think there’s big interest from a lot of people in hockey. A lot of owners view Seattle as a great market. We’d had some discussions, and have to see how we would get along and be partners.”