Basketball franchises torn between financial interests and regional ties

For some teams, it is extremely hard to be a successful, stable, and attractive franchise in the National Basketball Association. Sure, teams like the Lakers, Celtics, and Knicks have clearly defined and reliable fan bases no matter their record, but what about some of the smaller market teams? Unfortunately these teams who do not have the benefit of private ownership are generally forced to relocate every few years or so. The movement of teams and franchises from one city to another in the NBA has become somewhat commonplace over the past few decades.

Take the city of Charlotte, North Carolina for example. Once home to the Charlotte Hornets, it was decided that the franchise would move down to New Orleans following the 2001-2002 season. They kept the name “Hornets” despite New Orleans not being particularly well known for their large wasps. The team is now planning on changing its name to the Pelicans to fit the surrounding area better, but that’s a whole different can of worms. Charlotte, however, quickly regained a new franchise a few years later and is still struggling to get on its feet.

Whenever an NBA franchise relocates, it is a sad moment for the sports world. One of the more recent relocations, the movement of the Seattle Supersonics to Oklahoma City, sparked anger and sadness from Seattle area fans, yet recent developments have elicited a new hope for the city. The only question is: at what cost?

The Sacramento Kings are also a franchise that can trace their roots to various areas of the country. They began back in 1920 as the Rochester Royals. They moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1957 and then to Kansas City, Missouri in 1972. After failing to find a steady, reliable fan base and market, the Kings finally moved to their present day home in Sacramento in 1985. Sacramento has always been known for its boisterous home atmosphere and loyal fans no matter what their team’s record. The Kings enjoyed great success in the early 2000’s, coming one blown call short of the NBA finals during the 2001-2002 season, yet have fallen off of the map during recent years due to a poor record. Regradless, their fan base, is still strong.

During the 2011 season, however, it was revealed that David Stern, the NBA Commissioner was planning to move the team to Anaheim. The city of Sacramento fought back. Billionaire Ron Burkle planned to buy the team and Sacramento’s mayor, Kevin Johnson, stated that over 10 million dollars had been raised by small businesses to keep the team in Sacramento. Thus, Stern backed down and the city rejoiced. This happiness, however, was short lived. It has been proclaimed that the Kings will not be playing in Sacramento during the 2013-2014 season unless plans are made for a new arena. There was again turmoil, yet the city of Sacramento appeared to again come through as they, the owners of the Kings, and the NBA agreed to a 387 million dollar deal to finance a new arena. The Maloof family, who oens the Kings, also agreed to pay 75 million dollars up front. This deal was approved by the city council on March 7th 2012, yet on April 13, 2012 the Maloofs dropped out. Things immediately began to fall apart with this deal and now the Kings are left stranded.

Viewing this situation from the complete opposite end of the spectrum is the city of Seattle.

Once home to a franchise with a rich history and colorful players like Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, the Sonics were moved to Oklahoma City for the same reason the Kings are in trouble today, lack of funding for a new stadium. It seems, however, that Seattle is now preying on the very team with which they can most identify. On January 9, 2013, it was discovered that the Kings were speaking with a Seattle-based ownership group. It was later revealed that the Maloof family had agreed to sell the Kings to Seattle. On January 21, a deal with Seattle hedge fund manager Chris Hansen was finalized barring NBA approval. Despite pleas from Sacramento and their Mayor, Kevin Johnson, it seems as if it is all but inevitable that the team will eventually relocate. Think about the amount of joy this will give Supersonics fans. Imagine, your lifelong franchise is ripped away from you. It is now hours away and one of the best teams in the NBA. You drafted and lost Kevin Durant and get to see a new city and new fans reap all of the benefits. If and when the Kings relocate, they will again be named the Supersonics. While the players will be Kings, the team itself will slowly morph into the Sonics.

Fans will rejoice and the city will have regained an indispensible part of its culture.

What about Sacramento? With the way things have gone these past decades and the tremendous support from both the city and the fans, it is extremely likely that Sacramento will either be rewarded with an expansion team or absorb a team from another small or insignificant market. What is disheartening is the mark it leaves on the cities and fans throughout the nation as well as the growing trend in the NBA.

Most franchises today are simple commodities that can be moved at will. They are not institutions and cultural markers like the Lakers, Celtics, and Knicks, but instead businesses that care nothing for the city they represent. While it says something good about wealthy men like Chris Hansen who can win back an entire franchise for their city, private ownership is too dangerous to the sanctity of the league. If an entire city and its mayor can back a beloved franchise that does not even enjoy constant success and lose out to one wealthy family despite years of fighting, there is definitely a problem.

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