Chris Hansen vows to fight on, but is that the right decision?

Chris Hansen following April 3 meetings in New York City. (Photo: Morgan Ragan)

Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.  Impossible is not a fact.  It’s an opinion.  Impossible is not a declaration.  It’s a dare.  Impossible is potential.  Impossible is temporary.  Impossible is nothing.

―Muhammad Ali

I like this quote.  While I am not a Muhammad Ali fan, I find it courageous and inspiring.

But I also find it completely misplaced in the statement Chris Hansen posted Monday night on his Sonics Arena website.

It appears Hansen is not ready to waive the white flag, despite the 7-0 vote by the NBA’s relocation committee recommending against his attempt to move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle.  And as his closing statement, he chose to use this Ali quote to capture his fighting spirit going forward.

But after three years working on a plan to return the Sonics to Seattle and spending tens of millions in the process, Hansen seems to have misread the situation.

He is not David; he is Goliath in this story.

Impossible is what Sacramento was faced with when a food blogger broke the news that a group led by Hansen and Steve Ballmer – one of the richest men in the world – were finalizing an agreement to purchase the Maloof family’s majority stake in the Kings.

Impossible is what Sacramento was faced with when that same group of billionaires announced that they had an arena deal in place and a memorandum of understanding with the city of Seattle and King County.

Impossible is what Sacramento was faced with when almost every national writer not named Aaron Bruski declared the Kings were moving to Seattle.

Sacramento is the underdog.  Sacramento has moved mountains.  It is Sacramento who has defied the impossible again and again.

For years, Sacramento has been working to appease the Maloof family.  They have jumped through every imaginable hoop, only to have the owners accept an outside bid without even offering the team to the city that has supported the NBA for 28 years.

An ownership group can sell to whomever they want, but the league has fought tooth and nail to retain the right to say where a franchise will play.  That is not for the Maloofs or Hansen and Ballmer to decide.

Five years ago, the league decided that Seattle was no longer a viable option.  The political climate was beyond toxic.  KeyArena was in need of a replacement and there was no public bailout coming.  They decided Seattle was no longer a place they could do business and they allowed the Sonics to leave.

Is there more to the story?  Sure, but sometimes there is a basic truth that cuts a complex issue to its basic core.  Either you play the NBA game or you don’t.

When the NBA allowed the Sonics to move to Oklahoma City and become the Thunder, the league was vilified.  David Stern was vilified.  And Clay Bennett was flat out crucified.

And now that Seattle wants the NBA back, they expect the league to just open their arms up and embrace an ultra-wealthy group that has seemingly forced their hand every step of the way with “legally binding contracts” and “non-refundable deposits.”

“While we are disappointed with the relocation committee’s recommendation, we just wanted to let you all know that we remain fully committed to seeing this transaction through,” Hansen said.  “As you are all well aware, we have a binding transaction to purchase the Kings for what would be a record price for an NBA franchise, have one of the best ownership groups ever assembled to purchase a professional sports team in the US, have clearly demonstrated that we have a much more solid Arena plan, have offered a much higher price than the yet to be finalized Sacramento Group, and have placed all of the funds to close the transaction into escrow.”

Sacramento would expect nothing less than for Hansen and his group to see this transaction to the end.

But let me clarify a few more things.  The “binding transaction” that the Seattle group has in place is contingent upon NBA approval. The Maloofs may own controlling interest in the Kings, but the NBA decides where their teams play.

While the Seattle deal is a record price for an NBA franchise, the Sacramento group is matching the net dollar amount that will line the Maloofs pockets just the same.

While Seattle has one of the best ownership groups ever assembled, so does Sacramento and they bring a larger global appeal than that of their competitors to the north.

And lastly, while Hansen has screamed it from the mountaintops that he has a superior arena plan in place, Sacramento is offering more than $250 million in public subsidies versus just $200 million from Seattle, something the NBA finds extremely attractive.

Does Sacramento have all of its money in an escrow account?  No.  But by Friday, they have pledged to have 50 percent, which is 30 percent more than what the NBA has requested.  The Maloofs will get their money, be it through a money transfer, a suitcase filled with non-sequential bills or on a Happy Gilmore-sized golf check.

Hansen is disappointed and rightly so.  He had crafted a perfect narrative.  He did everything that he needed to do in order to get basketball back to the Emerald City.  He was going to be a hero.   He was going to go down as the man who brought back the Sonics, except he left out one thing.

This story isn’t just about him.  It is also about Sacramento, Kevin Johnson and a fanbase that has earned the right to remain an NBA city.

The relocation committee has spoken loud and clear.  Sacramento chose a different path than what the folks in Seattle did in 2008. They played the game and because of that, they are being rewarded.

“I didn’t see a unanimous vote coming,” David Stern told reporter Dei Lynam on Monday night from his playoff seat in Atlanta. “But they decided as strong as the Seattle bid was – and it was very strong – there’s some benefit that should be given to a city that has supported us for so long and has stepped up to contribute to building a new building as well.”

Hansen is vowing to fight, but that fight may very well end any hope that Seattle has of ever becoming an NBA city again.

I never thought of losing, but now that it’s happened, the only thing is to do it right.   That’s my obligation to all the people who believe in me.  We all have to take defeats in life.

-Muhammad Ali

Even the great Ali knew how to lose with grace.


James Ham

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