NBA Commissioner David Stern said Wednesday night that the Seattle group led by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer, which recently reached an agreement to purchase the Kings, has formally filed for relocation with the league.
Stern spoke in Minneapolis before the Timberwolves hosted San Antonio. He called the Seattle group "very strong," and said the appropriate committees have been convened to look over the proposed sale of the Kings and the prospective move.
Stern said the relocation proposal calls for the team to play in KeyArena for "two years, possibly three," while a new arena in Seattle is being built.
"We have had submitted a signed agreement to have the team sold to a very strong group from Seattle," Stern said. "We have received an application to have the team moved from Sacramento to Seattle."
The deadline for teams to file for relocation is March 1. It's been expected that the Hansen/Ballmer group would file to move the team, but Stern's comments were the first time that decision had been verified. The filing for relocation is just another step, but big in the efforts to bring professional basketball back to Seattle for the 2013-14 season.
Hansen's group reached an agreement with the Maloof family last month to buy 65 percent of the franchise, which is valued at $525 million, and move the team to Seattle and restore the SuperSonics name. The deal will cost the Hansen group a little more than $340 million.
The Kings' sale price of $525 million would surpass the NBA-record $450 million the Golden State Warriors sold for in 2010.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has been trying to find investors with the financial means to match the sale price, keep the Kings in Sacramento and help on the construction of a new arena in California's capital city.
In a series of Wednesday night Tweets, Johnson reiterated his position that the Kings should stay put.
"As we've said from the start, Sacramento is playing to win. For 28 years, we've proven time and again to be a top NBA market. Our fans have set league records for consecutive sellouts. Our corporate community has stepped up in ways never seen before. We are a top 20 media market where the NBA enjoys 100 percent market share and no competition from pro football, baseball or soccer," he said.
Johnson said Tuesday he planned to attend the NBA All-Star game in Houston and lobby anyone he could on the merits of keeping the Kings in Sacramento, but he has yet to reveal any of the large equity investors he's attempting to pull together. Johnson said he hoped to be able to announce them next week.
"My guess is it's likely that the mayor of Sacramento will appear before the board with an alternate plan," Stern said. "And that's why we have a board of governors, to make difficult decisions like this one."
Stern said he didn't feel the situation between Seattle and Sacramento would turn into a battle to see who can make the most lucrative bid.
"I don't think it's a bidding war," Stern continued. "There's a series of issues that are defined by our constitution that have to be considered. One of the things that our board is mandated to consider is the support for the team in the prior city. So there are real issues for the board to consider, about the buildings, about the likelihood they will be built, about the support from the cities."
Two committees would typically vet both the proposed sale and the move of the franchise to Seattle, but Stern said he has combined the committees into one. The committee will report to the Board of Governors, which is expected to vote on both the sale and the proposed move at its meeting in mid-April.
Stern said the relocation of the franchise requires a majority approval of the Board of Governors and the sale of the franchise would require a three-fourths majority.
"So I did the sensible thing, I combined the committees and said, 'You guys figure it out.' We'll see how that works," Stern said.
On Wednesday, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said he would prefer Seattle be given an expansion team, but that the decision was not his to make.
"If it was up to mayors, the NBA would be expanding," he said. "But it's up to the NBA Board of Governors about how they choose to proceed and they have to deal with the proposals in front of them."