The Lakers Beat the Who?

by Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP
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Seattle sports fans recently rejoiced when the Maloof family announced that they have (finally) agreed to sell their stake in the Sacramento Kings to a Seattle-based investment group that (spoiler alert) intends to move the team back to the Emerald City.  Considering how well the former Seattle SuperSonics are doing as the new OKC Thunder, coupled with the fact that the Seahawks recently blew what could have been the most amazing comeback in recent memory, who could possibly deny Seattle’s sports fans this fantastic opportunity?

For starters, there are the Sacramento Kings’ fans, who fully appreciate the irony of Seattle trying to poach an existing team while still bemoaning the fact that their Sonics team got poached by Oklahoma City.  Rest assured that Kings fans will stop at nothing to keep the team in “Cowbell Kingdom,” if for no other reason than to continue persisting in their ridiculous fantasy that a “rivalry” exists between the Kings and the Lakers.  (Of course, what’s really going on is an all-too-obvious ploy to support the struggling cowbell industry, which the rest of America — except for maybe The Bruce Dickinson — will just never understand).  Leading the Cowbell Kingdom movement is former Phoenix Suns superstar and now-mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson, who not only has a political science degree from U.C. Berkley, but also blew my 12-year-old mind back in 1994 when he posterized Hakeem Olajuwon.

Just one day after this week’s announcement of the sale, mayor KJ warned Seattle fans:  “Don’t celebrate too early.”  Because if KJ gets his way, the Kings will be staying in Sacramento (and the cowbell industry will be saved).  Such a result would not only devastate the hopes and dreams of Seattle NBA fans, but would also totally obviate all of the hypothetical legal stuff I may or may not eventually get around to discussing later in this article.

KJ’s Plan

KJ’s “Playing to Win” plan has four steps, none of which apparently require the use of complete sentences:  (1) identify local ownership group; (2) identify major equity partner; (3) demonstrate City’s commitment to partner on new downtown arena; (4) demonstrate viability and strength of the Sacramento market.  KJ has also located a prominent Sacramento law firm that is willing to get paid entirely in cowbells work on a pro bono basis to help keep the team in town.

In order to keep the Kings in Sacramento, KJ must ultimately convince the NBA board of governors to reject the proposed sale and relocation plan.  According to the Sacramento Bee (a far more trusted news source than the Cowbell Herald), the Maloofs have a binding agreement with the Seattle-based investors, which would mean that the Maloofs would not be able to change their minds about who to sell to unless the NBA rejects the sale (or the Maloofs want to breach their contract).  According to Fox Sports, however, the “Maloofs are still allowed to receive other offers until the league approves the sale….”  Meanwhile, other observers are speculating that the Kings’ minority owners may have a right to match the Seattle group’s offer — and that, even if the current minority owners are unwilling or unable to do so, new cowbell-loving partners (including business magnate/part-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins Ron Burkle) could step in and exercise that right by taking over a 7% stake in the franchise that is currently available via bankruptcy auction.

In any event, the NBA board of governors will reportedly meet in New York in mid-April.  At that time, the board of governors will probably hear a relocation pitch from the Maloofs and the Seattle-based investors, as well as a counter-offer from KJ.  KJ’s counteroffer will likely include a summary of his four-point plan (no reports on the anticipated use of complete sentences), and hopefully some additional footage of him posterizing Hakeem Olajuwon.  Hopefully, KJ will have the good sense not to show the board of governors the Bubble Gum Bandits’ corny music video, which supports keeping the Kings in Sac-town.

Legal Challenges

Even if the Kings-to-Seattle move is approved by the NBA, and isn’t scuttled from within the Kings ownership group, two lawsuits threaten the construction of a new 700,000 square feet arena in Seattle.  According to the Seattle Times, the first lawsuit deals with a Washington State Initiative that requires the city to make a profit on any investment in a sports facility.  The second lawsuit seeks to void the contract because the investors failed to complete an environmental impact report and because nonindustrial traffic and development in the “Sodo” area would impair cargo movement.

Although we California lawyers can normally predict the outcome of lawsuits with absolute certainty* these lawsuits are different because they involve topics like the impairment of cargo movement — which, when rigorously analyzed, immediately force us to either take a nap or think of something more interesting before we can complete our analysis.

Even if these lawsuits are defeated, the new arena wouldn’t be ready for at least a few years — which would mean that the team would be back in the aging KeyArena.  Unfortunately, KeyArena is already booked with numerous exciting events such as Seattle University men’s basketball games, WNBA Storm games, Pac-12 Women’s college basketball tournament games, various musical concerts, and last but not least, “Rat City Rollergirls” games.  This means that instead of watching DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans and Jimmer Fredette, Seattle fans might just get to keep watching the “Throttle Rockets” versus “Sockit Wenches.”

Since I only go to Seattle to visit family and Pike Place Market, you might assume I have no dog in this fight.  But given that (1) as a Laker fan, I must constantly endure Kings fans bringing up the “rivalry” we all know never existed, and (2) I feel dated whenever I listen to Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day,” I would actually like to see this move happen.

But, as a German train-ticket collector once told a professor of mine when told by the professor that he was going to a certain city in Germany:  “We shall see.”

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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