Sunday Musings: Chris Hansen breaks bad

A fan holds up anti-Seattle/Maloofs signs at the Kings/Mavs game. (Photo: Steven Chea)

Senator Darrell Steinberg sent a one-word quote worthy of a press release on Friday afternoon after learning that Seattle native Chris Hansen was the primary donor to the anti-arena sentiment in Sacramento.

“Unbelievable.”

This latest turn in the Sacramento Kings’ arena/relocation saga is surprising, but is it really “unbelievable”?

Not to those who have really been paying attention. Remember back on May 5 when we called Hansen’s plan to purchase the team and keep it in Sacramento “intellectually dishonest”?  Or how about a few days earlier when the NBA relocation committee voted unanimously to keep the Kings in Sacramento and we asked what exactly was he still fighting for?

Nothing is “unbelievable” in this story. We will say it again – this story is stranger than fiction. But then again, it’s not.

What we have seen is the metamorphosis of a character come to a conclusion. Hansen has officially become the bad guy.

If you look at where he started and trace it to where he is today, the transformation is both shocking and expected. Through this entire process, Hansen has pushed the envelope and in the end, he couldn’t stop himself.

In the beginning, Hansen’s motives appeared pure. His ambition was to provide for others. To leave a legacy behind that would last long after he was gone. Returning the Sonics to Seattle would be an incredible accomplishment for anyone.

But now we have arrived at the big reveal. The moment is here where the story gets turned on its head.  It is the moment where we learn that there is nothing Hansen won’t do to accomplish his goal.

A moment of clarity like this is overwhelming. It forces you to go back to the beginning and playback the story in slow motion. Where did it all go wrong and was this even the slightest bit avoidable?

What seemed so honest on it’s face now feels more nefarious. By changing some words around, we can darken the plot. Let’s say that a plan was hatched long ago to steal the Kings from the city of Sacramento and Hansen was the mastermind.

It no longer sounds innocent and maybe it’s because we are just now understanding how far he was willing to go. Maybe he is just now realizing how far he was willing to go as well.

It wasn’t hard to see Hansen as a hero for Sonics fans. He started out with the look of a philanthropist trying to right a cosmic wrong for the people of Seattle. While the people of Sacramento didn’t like what he was doing, if they were honest with themselves, they could see why he was doing it.

All he wanted to do was deliver the Sonics back to the city that he loves. It was clear early on he was willing play dirty to make that happen. But along the way, Hansen lost sight of the line between right and wrong.

The first questions should have surfaced when Hansen began buying up land at inflated prices in the SODO district of Seattle. It was an obvious land-grab and as he swallowed up one property after another, someone should have asked a question or two.

As the prices went through the roof, Hansen continued to purchase land without any promise that an arena could ever be built in the area of the city. A man is welcome to buy property where ever he likes, but there is a vetting process in King County for a proposed arena site. In fact, three sites needed to be considered, including three separate environmental reviews.

But that was not the Hansen way.

He wasn’t using eminent domain or sending organized crime into folk’s businesses to clear people out. But he was creating momentum for his project, even before a final decision could be made on whether his site was viable.

The San Francisco hedge fund manager attempted to force his arena plan through the political process, using about every trick in the book along the way. It was either SODO or he was taking his ball and going home.

Seattle Mayor Michael McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine jumped on board as allies in the process, so the project moved forward, regardless of the opposition or the local laws they were violating.

The two politicians applauded the product Hansen was peddling, giving credibility to a virtual unknown every step of the way.

The next step came with a $30-million, non-refundable deposit to the Maloofs. What initially looked like a dare to the NBA, turned out to be more of a threat to the city of Sacramento. Reports of a possible tortious interference suit were floated out from Seattle sources, which turned out to just be more bully tactics.  Not only was Hansen attempting to move on the Kings, but if Sacramento wanted to stop him, the threat of a massive lawsuit was in the air.

The playing field was no longer level. He had his land, a signed contract with the Maloofs and appeared to be closing in on the Kings. But as the stakes grew, he began to make mistakes that money couldn’t fix.

When Hansen walked in front of the NBA Board of Governors to pitch Seattle’s case for the Kings during the first week of April, his presentation didn’t focus on Seattle or their arena deal. Instead, it was a hatchet job on the city of Sacramento.

When the Sacramento contingent walked into the room, sources have told Cowbell Kingdom that the Seattle group had made life easy on them. Instead of selling owners on the Sacramento plan, the focus of their presentation became an easy dispelling of factual inaccuracies from the Seattle presentation.

When the tide turned and it appeared that Sacramento might have the upper hand, Hansen circumvented the NBA process by raising his bid not once, but twice. The move backfired, wreaked of desperation and further stretched the boundaries of just how blind Hansen had become to the reality of the situation.

Money can buy you a lot of things, but Hansen learned the hard way that it cannot buy you an NBA team.  At least not the Sacramento Kings if you plan on moving them to another city.

Once a white knight for Seattle, Hansen now comes across as vindictive, smug and bitter. He is still holding tightly to a “binding agreement” that was never really binding.  By taking the next step and attempting to spoil Sacramento’s arena deal, he comes across as petty and small.

“In Chris We Trust” is now the tagline of lemmings running for a jagged cliff. Lemmings that may have just seen their hopes for a return of the NBA to the city of Seattle dashed forever.

There were other ways to go about getting an NBA team.  Honest ways.  They would have taken patience and a lot of work, but after losing an incredible fight with the city of Sacramento, Hansen chose a dark path. And that path has exposed him and his true colors. He is no longer valiant and he is certainly not a hero.

Where Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and his team relied on the NBA for guidance, Hansen chose to go at this alone and his inexperience has burned him every step of the way.

To say that Hansen has received bad legal advice through this process is an understatement. Even Saul Goodman would have known that you have to file paperwork when making a $100,000 donation to a political campaign.  And let’s follow the logic of making such a large financial contribution to the anti-arena sentiment in Sacramento.

If we assume that Hansen believed that the donation would remain anonymous, why not go through his own attorneys in the Bay Area?  Why choose longtime Maloof representation in Loeb and Loeb?

That’s an easy one.  If the money was ever tracked back to the Orange County based firm, the Maloofs, not Hansen, would instantly become the lead suspect in the plot to block the Sacramento arena – which they became last week when the news of Loeb and Loeb’s involvement first broke.

Hansen had to believe that he was covered by attorney/client privilege or why else run the risk? But when Loeb and Loeb became the focus of a lawsuit, it was only a matter of time before they would be forced to give up their client or face fines and sanctions from the FPPC. This is one of the many reasons you don’t go to an entertainment attorney to make a political donation.

Secondly, Hansen’s pitch wasn’t just a spiteful attack on Johnson and Kings fans. It was a strategic strike to kill the Sacramento’s financing mechanism. Clearly the hope was that if he could push this thing to a vote, the quarter of a billion dollar investment from the city would dry up, forcing Vivek Ranadivé to sell the team where Hansen would be waiting with open arms.

It was a bold move that backfired and instead of waiting for the next available team, Hansen will now likely end up with nothing.

What started out as an altruistic quest to help his home city has turned into an embarrassing quagmire of lies, bully tactics and poor decisions. Chris Hansen has quietly morphed into a villain and it is highly unlikely that we will ever know the depths of his deceit.

An apology may not be enough now and it is unfortunately time for Seattle SuperSonics fans to distance themselves from Hansen or risk losing any chance of becoming an NBA city again.

“Unbelievable”? Not in this story.

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About: James Ham

James Ham is co-owner and senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary film "Small Market, Big Heart".