Potential NBA franchise buyers may want to pay attention to the use of extremely aggressive rhetoric directed at both Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently.
Media outlets known to receive steady information (if not directive) from Sacramento sources have created a combined narrative that paints Hansen and Ballmer as rogue businessmen, bucking the system with the belief that their deep pockets make them exempt from the rules. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has referred to them as "poachers," while Ken Berger of CBS Sportsline portrays Ballmer as a greedy thug engaged in a hostile takeover of the franchise with callous disregard for the region's residents.
Those are big allegations to level against the CEO of one of the world's largest companies, especially considering they simply are not true.
"There have been multiple conversations with Stern over many months, not this story of acting independently of the league," a source close to the transaction tells SonicsRising. "Chris has informed the NBA every step of the way of his plans. Chris checked with the league before making the investment in the arena soft costs and the deposit to the Maloofs."
Hansen and Ballmer would not be in this position if it were not for the implied consent and steady support of the league and it's commissioner. Over the span of two years Hansen worked with league owners and staff, developing a plan to replace the franchise that was torn from Seattle in 2008. From Hansen's perspective the Kings franchise was available by virtue of its lease having expired years ago. His team worked in good faith to secure the rights to the only franchise in the league without contractual commitment to its host city and even paid a "free agent premium" that increased the value of other franchises around the league.
Hansen and Ballmer must have been shocked to see Stern change direction once the contract was in place. Using the threat of relocation to Seattle for leverage, the league solicited an obscene public subsidy from Kevin Johnson, a mayor whose entire political existence has revolved around this single issue. With the public cash register opened, the league and Mayor Johnson worked actively to connect with buyers who were eager to become instantly infuential power players in the California capital but would have been less inclined to participate if not for the mixed sense of desperation and opportunity created by Hansen and Ballmer's presence.
Efforts to lay the blame on Ballmer are heavy handed and disrespectful of both his title and accomplishments. Whether the league is participating in this narrative or not, the fact that they have allowed such aggressive attacks risks sending a concerning message to potential franchise investors. Not only is the NBA willing to leverage any offer made into something better but if successful they may go a step further, shifting the blame in order to salvage their own reputations even if that means adding unwarranted public humiliation to the the projects already substantial sunk costs.
If opponents had hoped for the two men to lay down in the face of this criticism they will be disappointed. Ballmer and Hansen have responded by publicly declaring their resolve. In addition to increasing their total financial commitment by more than $100,000,000 they issued a strong statement via their twitter account, @SonicsArena:
To everyone helping us bring the #NBA back to Seattle, we can't thank you enough. We're committed. All in on making it happen.— Sonics Arena (@sonicsarena) May 15, 2013
These guys would not issue such a strongly worded statement if they did not mean it. It does not appear that they are going to back down.