Since the drama surrounding the proposed sale of the Sacramento Kings to Seattle hoops fan Chris Hansen has taken on a marine biology flourish with talk there of "whales" entering the bidding, the latest report from California Thursday afternoon metaphorically claims entry into the Sacramento River delta by the largest animal on earth, the blue whale.
That would be Larry Ellison, the Oracle software chieftain and noted yacht racer who is said to be worth $41 billion. So if the fortune of Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO and Hansen's power forward, is worth $15 billion, that would make him . . . what? A beluga? Narwahl? Manatee?
Whatever the mammal, suddenly the water is crowded and frothy.
The Sacramento Bee reported Thursday that a member of the Kings minority owners, Bob Cook, said he was attempting to broker a meeting between Ellison and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson in hopes of helping Johnson's effort to find ultra-wealthy buyers — "whales," in the lexicon of the investment world — willing to keep the Kings in town.
Cook, part of the group of Sacramento businessmen who took the Kings out of Kansas City in 1985, told the paper he asked a Bay Area sports attorney Monday to help set up the meeting that he speculated could happen by the end of this week. No comment came from Ellison, and Johnson, at a press conference, dodged the question.
"I don't want to get into who all we've spoken to, or whose bids we're entertaining at this point," Johnson said. "I feel like it's my responsibility to protect their interests."
Besides the facts that Forbes lists Ellison No. 3 among America's richest and that he recently bought the 141-square mile Hawaiian island of Lanai in June for $500 million, here's the twist that Forbes doesn't know — he tried to buy the Sonics in 2006 before then-owner Howard Schultz sold the team to Clay Bennett for $350 million.
According to the story told by insiders in the aftermath of Bennett's absconding to Oklahoma with the Sonics in July 2008, Ellison offered $250 million for the Sonics with the expressed purpose of moving the club to San Jose, the hometown of his Oracle empire and the 10th largest city in the country.
Schultz balked at the relocation. Ellison was said to have dropped from the bidding. But Schultz never told Bennett, who claimed that his intent was to keep the Sonics in Seattle by leveraging his out-of-town status into public tax concessions that would fund a new arena. Schultz publicly claimed to believe him, but privately goosed Bennett to bid against himself until the price reached $350 million.
Then Schultz posed himself as shocked when Bennett exposed himself as a carpetbagger who had every intention of moving the team to his Oklahoma City home.
Rebuffed in Seattle, Ellison has been linked to potential NBA franchise purchases in Memphis and New Orleans, and wanted to buy the Golden State Warriors in 2010 when they were sold for $450 million to Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber. Ellison was reported to have the higher bid, but missed a deadline. In all cases, Ellison's intent was to move the team to 20-year-old HP Pavilion in San Jose, home to the NHL San Jose Sharks that seats 18,500 for basketball.
A tweet from ComcastSportsNet.com Thursday said the Maloof family, owners of the Kings who entered into a binding agreement to sell the Kings to Hansen for an unknown period, had earlier offered the $525 million price to Ellison, who rejected it as too high.
There was no indication in the Bee reporting that Ellison would move the Kings 80 miles west, but he does have connections in the Sacramento area. He underwent surgery at UC Davis Medical Center in 1992 after being badly injured in a bicycle accident, and wound up donating $6 million to the school. The school's ambulatory care center is named after him.
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