Fantasy basketball: Seattle's road to a Chris Hansen NBA team

Why Hansen will still buy the Sacramento Kings, even though the NBA says he can't move them to Seattle.
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Seattle City Council members Mike O'Brien (left), Sally Clark, and Tim Burgess discuss a letter to Chris Hansen.

Why Hansen will still buy the Sacramento Kings, even though the NBA says he can't move them to Seattle.

I'm going to take Chris Hansen at his word that, even with the denied relocation of the Sacramento Kings, he still plans to buy the Sacramento Kings, and that he will do all he can. And he has the paperwork.

For purposes of this little exercise, I'll also accept that the NBA has the right to determine where its franchises are located.

Therefore, it is plausible to assume that Hansen would be willing to operate the team in Sacramento for a length of time to be negotiated. Again, for exercise purposes, let's say one year.

In that year, the three parties – Hansen, Sacramento investors, the NBA – get what none of them have and all want: time.

Time for Hansen, governments and taxpayers to review the mandatory environmental impact statements for the proposed arena in SoDo and work toward the resolution of any litigation they may prompt.

Time for Sacramento investors to organize themselves, move their downtown arena plans from cocktail napkins to blueprints and work toward the resolution of any litigation that follows.

Time for the NBA to move to a new commissioner, relatively free of the baggage the incumbent has accumulated, and to begin negotiations with TV networks well ahead of their expiration dates. With that information, Commissioner Adam Silver can make a more considered decision on expansion.

Around the end of the 12 months, everyone will know much more than they do now about arena projects in both cities.

If Sacramento is well on its way, Hansen would agree to sell the team to the Sacramento group, led by Vivek Ranadive, for what Hansen paid. Hansen would be able to make a stronger argument for expansion to a more informed NBA (more on this below). If Sacramento fails, the NBA will grant permission to Hansen for a franchise move to Seattle, with no expansion necessary.

There's a technical term for this. It's called win-win-win – not to mention the fact that the Maloofs get their money and the hell out of the NBA.

There's also a technical term for the alternative: lose-lose-lose. Under this scenario, the lawyers – like the Maloofs – will get their money. Only the lawyers won't go away for a long time.

In the wake of the Monday decision that rocked Seattle's sports world and jacked Sacramento's, Hansen's feisty, Ali-quoting retort that "impossible is nothing," that he will fight for the team if he is denied the sale, has led to speculation that he is bound for the courtroom. That would be a shame for everyone in the process – especially the fans, whose money is the entire driver in this deal.

That isn't to say Hansen wouldn’t have a case. I have heard from uninvolved attorneys willing to speculate without attribution. Remember, this is an exercise, not a trial.

Hansen's bid has been identified as "very strong" by the outgoing commissioner, David Stern. So, presuming there are no fatal flaws with the Hansen-Maloof transaction, business law says there is no reason not to complete it. At least, so long as Hansen agrees to the ownership by-laws – which include no relocation, as well as no suing other owners or the league.

If the NBA denies the sale, they risk Hansen suing Sacramento investors for tortious interference. Hansen can claim investors used a procedural maneuver by a third party (the NBA) to thwart the sale.

The NBA, whose acronym among the jaded media pack that covers them has come to stand for "Nothing But Attorneys,” is hip to the claim. That's part of why the vote to deny relocation Monday was 7-0 and not 12-0: The five owners on the finance committee could be cited for conflict if they participated in the relocation vote.

Further, in denying the sale, the NBA risks being drawn into an antitrust argument against, irony of ironies, the city that whipped the NBA on antitrust once before. In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled that the NBA’s denial of employment to Sonics star Spencer Haywood was a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

The NBA had a rule that prevented signing any player until four years after his high school class graduated. The legal victory, in which the court said the NBA operated as a discriminatory "group boycott," opened the door for players such as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to play right out of high school.

An attorney experienced in antitrust wrote me that there is no difference between the actions taken in 1971 by the NBA against the Sonics and Haywood and the possible denial of the Kings sale to Hansen.

"Basically, the NBA owners [would be] engaging in a group boycott disallowing the Maloofs from executing their contract with the Hansen group, in the same way it attempted to prevent the Sonics from executing their contract with Haywood,” he wrote.

"In both cases the league as a group [would be] engaging in anti-competitive practices preventing free trade – here the sale of the basketball team to the highest bidder."

I imagine the NBA has a different view, just as it did in 1971. And I'm not endorsing the view of the attorney quoted above. What I will say is that Hansen at least has a good argument, backed by case law, IF he is denied the purchase of the Kings. I also imagine each party has a vested interest in not testing federal antitrust law again, when a negotiation can bring a much more salutary and immediate result.

Which brings us back to the prospect of a one-year temporary ownership. The risk in Hansen's temporary stewardship in Sacramento is minimal. Unlike Clay Bennett's ruthless butchery of the final two Sonics seasons in Seattle, Hansen has nothing to gain by diminishing the Kings franchise. He will have a chance to own them long-term.

As far as expansion, the NBA is only beginning to see the results of the new collective bargaining agreement, achieved after a lockout. Eventually, the revenue-sharing agreement will move all teams close to break-even in their markets. For now though, with no substantive study yet done, taking on a 31st partner for 2013-14 is premature.

Considering one for the 2014-15 season, on the other hand, gives owners enough time to see what future revenues may look like. And to set the one-time expansion fee payment that compensates the 30 owners.

So there you have it. Not buying this exercise?

Fine. Suggest a better solution, short of litigation. Just remember two things. 1. The bidding war for the Kings is unprecedented in the history of modern American pro sports, so it requires an unprecedented solution. 2. The outcome has to be win-win-win.


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