For the second time in five years, Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen went against the will of the NBA's majority, casting a vote in favor of basketball in Seattle as his colleagues collectively voted against it.
NBA commissioner David Stern announced Wednesday that the league's Board of Governors voted 22-8 against a Seattle-area investment group's bid to purchase and relocate the Sacramento Kings to Seattle for the 2013-14 season. Allen, according to multiple reports, was one of the eight votes in favor of the proposed relocation, which would have returned a basketball team to his hometown for the first time since 2008, when the SuperSonics relocated to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. In 2008, Allen was one of just two votes in favor of keeping the Sonics in town and maintaining the I-5 rivalry with the Blazers.
Allen's vote isn't particularly surprising, considering his commitment to professional sports in the city (he owns the NFL's Seahawks and part-owns the MLS's Sounders) and the fact that one of the Seattle group's major investors, Steve Ballmer, is the CEO of Microsft, the company Allen co-founded with Bill Gates. Still, Allen did not disclose his preference when meeting with reporters at the Rose Garden in April.
"I think it's a tough call. While I supported the Sonics staying in Seattle when they ended up leaving, I think in general there's some feeling that if there's good fan support and there's good political support sufficient to have a state of the art facility, that's more than enough reason to keep a franchise in the same place.
Then you can get into all the parameters of who has made the best offer, who hasn't made the best offer. It's a very difficult thing. Steve Ballmer is a very good friend of mine and I think he would be a great owner. I reserve my final decision."
Even with that personal tie, Allen was fairly convincing in his respect for both sides of what was a complicated, emotional and drawn-out process for the league.
Fans of basketball in Seattle have every reason to feel outraged, especially after Stern confirmed Wednesday that the Sacramento's bid for the Kings was based on a valuation of $525 million while the Seattle group announced this past week that it was willing to pay up to $625 million. In Stern's world, the extra money wasn't a factor for consideration because it wasn't part of the original sale agreement. As the process played out, Sacramento, as incumbent, just needed to rally a bid competitive with Seattle's original $525 million offer. That's a bitter pill, considering that the Seattle group surely would have been willing to pay that price back in January if they had known then what they know now. Would the extra $100 million on top of an already steep valuation have discouraged the groundswell of support in Sacramento that ultimately proved successful in keeping the franchise? Who knows, but it's a possibility, and you hate for the Seattle group to have those those types of regrets in a process with this much at stake.
Maybe the most interesting admission from Stern on Wednesday was that the Board's decision and the expected sale of the Kings to a group in Sacramento was a win for California's capital city, but not for the NBA as a whole. He couldn't be more right on that front. Let's face it: this whole thing was a major black eye and it won't be officially, officially over until the Kings sale goes through and the city's new arena is up and running. Until then, questions, second-guessing and a whole lot of bitterness will linger.
Meanwhile, the price of saving hoops in Sacramento was an endlessly awkward process of squeezing out the Maloofs and hanging a Seattle group that went way, way, way above and beyond in their bids completely out to dry. This is one of those messes where each step followed at least somewhat logically after the previous one, but when you look back at the entirety of it -- the attempted move to Anaheim, the short talks with Virginia Beach, the excitement in Seattle when the deal was first reached, all the mud slung between the competing interests in both cities, etc. -- the whole thing comes off as totally regrettable. There had to have been a better way, right?
Big picture, keeping a team in place in a home market with a passionate fanbase is a very good thing for both the market and the league. Loyalty counts. The loss for the league here is in the execution, not the result. Hopefully Stern's successor, Adam Silver, will have learned that lesson well enough to take meaningful steps to avoid letting this type of saga play out again.