Puget Sound-area sports fans spent the weekend worrying that Chris Hansen might have dashed their hopes of regaining a National Basketball Association team. They should relax.
Hansen, the San Francisco-based rich guy with Seattle roots, appears to have stepped in it by secretly bankrolling a “grass-roots” referendum campaign in Sacramento. If successful in forcing a vote on a taxpayer-subsidized arena, and if voters there reject the deal, the Sacramento Kings could once again be in play.
But exposure of the scheme by a state of California watchdog agency led to widespread hand-wringing that Hansen may have fouled his reputation, not just with public officials in Seattle and King County but with a much more important group — the NBA owners. They might not appreciate Hansen meddling in one owner’s gun-to-the-head extortion of a batch of taxpayers.
Again, not to worry. Based on this top-secret, leaked-from-the-highest-levels memo to outgoing NBA Commissioner David Stern by an unnamed owner, Hansen just might have enhanced his reputation with the other robber barons of the league.
“It appears I misjudged our Mr. Hansen. When he and that Ballmer chap offered to purchase the Kings and move the team to Seattle, I was opposed. Sure, he was paying tens of millions of dollars more than the local group. But that well-publicized purchase price made all of our teams worth more, so what’s not to like?
“The little bidding war between Seattle and Sacramento not only made us even richer, it was fun to watch. I remind my mayor about it whenever he makes outrageous demands like that we pay rent. God, I love capitalism, especially when it is supported by artificial shortages of supply and taxpayer largesse.
“But Hansen and Ballmer were threatening to muck up our advantage. When we say we can’t compete in the league unless our arenas are paid for by government (even though most of us still don’t compete), we can’t have some guy offer up private money for the lion’s share of a new arena. As you reminded us at the owners meeting, if it gets around the nation that there’s enough money in the NBA to both pay silly salaries and purchase our own arenas — well, then every city would want a better deal.
“I concluded that we needed to keep Hansen’s brand of Seattle Nice out of the NBA. But then I read the news over the weekend that Hansen isn’t all that different from the rest of us. He used his vast wealth to try to get his way. He figured the rules didn’t apply to him and that laws such as public disclosure of campaign donations are for poor people, not him.
“I hear up in Seattle they call him Saint Chris. Now it appears they should call him Prince Machiavelli. Frankly, I like the cut of his jib. He is exactly the kind of guy we need among the owners, especially as some of us are getting older, and our days of shamelessly manipulating cities and states are growing short.
“Sure, he was messing around with the new owners we found to overpay for the Kings — not overpay as much as Hansen offered but quite a bit more than the team was worth just a few months before the bidding war. Some think we should rally around our fellow owners and tell Hansen that he has ‘meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU WILL ATONE.’
“I like talking like that as much as the next rich owner. But I now fear it would be shortsighted. If we don’t grab Hansen, some other league will. Talent like this comes around rarely, and we haven’t seen his type of creative double-dealing since Clay Bennett dropped in our laps. This secret donation shows that he wouldn’t be above messing with the folks in Seattle to get more of what we all crave: tax dollars.
“Please, do whatever he wants, but get us Hansen. Expand the league. Move the Lakers. I don’t care. Just get it done.”peter.callaghan@ thenewstribune.com @CallaghanPeter