Journalism won’t die if you donate. Support Voice of San Diego today!
I hereby set aside any pretense of journalistic objectivity in writing this piece. On the potential relocation of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings to Seattle, I am deeply biased.
My earliest sports memory is of going to a Sonics game with my dad and seeing Slick Watts bringing the ball upcourt in his trademark headband. I went to basketball camps run by Lenny Wilkens and Sonics players. My grandmother took me to their championship parade in 1979. The gym my family belonged to — the Supersonics Racquet and Health Club — doubled as the team’s practice facility.
I cheered on my hometown squad at the Seattle Center Coliseum, the Kingdome, Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Key Arena, The Pond at Anaheim, The Forum and the San Diego Sports Arena. In 2002 I wrote this about Gary Payton in the Seattle Times. Et cetera, ad nauseum.
Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs, son of Irwin, is a basketball fan too. Back when our old Sports Arena housed actual big-time sports, and during San Diego’s second truncated run as an NBA city, Jacobs shared Clippers season tickets with his brothers.
Jacobs also went to the University of California, Berkeley, where according to U-T San Diego‘s Kevin Acee, he and his brother Jeff used to play a little pickup ball with future NBA point guard and now-Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.
Johnson surely leaned on those collegial memories in persuading Jacobs, with brothers Jeff, Hal and Gary, to join his effort to keep the Sacramento Kings in the state capital. The Jacobs brothers join tech giant Vivek Ranadivé as late additions to the cobbled-together group of rich guys angling to buy the Kings. Ranadivé, the founder and CEO of TIBCO, a Silicon Valley software company, had his own hooks into the Jacobs clan. His first job out of college was at Linkabit, Irwin Jacobs’ precursor to Qualcomm.
The Maloof family, current majority owners of the Kings, announced in January that they had a signed agreement to sell their shares in the franchise to a Seattle investor group led by Chris Hansen. No, not that Chris Hansen. This Chris Hansen is a San Francisco hedge fund manager, Seattle native and San Diego State grad. Hansen leads a group of investors that includes Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Peter and Erik Nordstrom of Nordstrom department stores. The sale and relocation to Seattle is scheduled to be voted on at a meeting of NBA owners on April 18-19.
The sale price between Hansen and the Maloof family is reported to be for a $525 million valuation, a significant premium for a team previously estimated to be worth $300 million in their current arena.
While far from certain, it seems likely that the sale will be approved and the Kings will move to Seattle (Sacramento fans should read whatever level of personal bias they may choose into that statement). The team’s arena lease in Sacramento has run out and there is nothing legally holding them there. Not that an unexpired lease has always kept teams from moving anyway (see Supersonics, Seattle). The team would be renamed the Supersonics and play in Key Arena next season while a new arena is being built in Seattle’s SoDo district.
The Sonics joined the NBA as an expansion team in 1967 and won Seattle’s only major modern championship in 1979. In 2008, they were moved to Oklahoma City and renamed the Thunder. Just now, I threw up in my mouth, just a little.
If the sale to the Seattle group is voted down, the ownership of the Kings would revert to the Maloof family. Johnson’s group would then expect to buy the team and build its own new arena, but both of those outcomes face a great deal of uncertainty. The NBA can block a sale but cannot force one.
The Jacobs brothers did not accompany the rest of the Sacramento gaggle to New York City last week, where they and the Seattle group presented their cases to a committee of NBA owners.
While it is not known what stake the Jacobs brothers would take in a new Kings ownership group, the Sacramento Bee’s Ryan Lillis reported on Twitter Monday that “the Jacobs family is now playing a significant role in the #NBAKings and arena bid.” This latest wrinkle emerged when news broke that billionaire Ron Burkle was forced to withdraw from the potential Sacramento ownership group and arena bid.
Despite their reported interest in bringing the NBA back to the 619, the Jacobs brothers say they have no intention of bringing the Kings here.
The broader lesson of all this rich-guy musical chairs is one that has played out repeatedly throughout the history of pro sports. Cities and their fan bases are, have been and will be held ransom to sports franchises and the very wealthy people who own them.
San Diego’s football team was relocated from Los Angeles after one poorly attended season in L.A.’s Memorial Coliseum. The NBA abandoned San Diego — twice. Fans of the long-departed Brooklyn Dodgers still want to take their team back from Los Angeles and repatriate their beloved Bums to the borough.
If there’s a silver lining in this wretched process for San Diego sports fans, it’s that a gilded ray of hope has shone on our weary city. We have mega-rich sports fans who used to play basketball! The younger Jacobs clan has been revealed as potential white knights, ones that could augment our chances of keeping the teams we have and someday attracting new ones.
Does anyone know if the Jacobs guys like soccer?
Beau Lynott is a contributor to Voice of San Diego. Follow him on Twitter @lemonverbena_ or email email@example.com.