Hedge fund manager Christopher Hansen has struck a deal to buy a basketball team and will seek to move it to his hometown, Seattle.
Hansen, who runs Valiant Capital Management in San Francisco, and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, have agreed to buy a majority stake in the Sacramento Kings. The deal, which will give Hansen and Ballmer a 65% stake in the team, values the Kings at $525 million.
The deal still requires the approval of the National Basketball Association's Board of Governors and could fall through. But if it is approved—and it is likely to be—Hansen and Ballmer hope to apply for permission to move the team to Seattle for next season.
"While we are not at liberty to discuss the terms of the transaction or our plans for the franchise given the confidential nature of the agreement and NBA regulations regarding public comments during a pending transaction, we would just like to extend our sincerest compliments and gratitude toward the Maloof family," Hansen said in a statement. "Our negotiations with the family were handled with the utmost honor and professionalism and we hope to continue their legacy and be great stewards of this NBA franchise in the coming years and decades."
Seattle has been without a top-flight professional basketball team since 2008, when the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City to play as the Thunder. It is expected that the Kings will be renamed the SuperSonics if the deal and move go through.
That is no certainty: Early last year, it appeared that Sacramento had struck a deal to save the Kings, only to see plans for a new arena fizzle. And the NBA has promised Sacramento Mayor Dennis Johnson, a former NBA All-Star, a chance to present a counteroffer from buyers who would keep the Kings—who moved themselves from Kansas City in 1985—in California's capital.
If the deal is approved, Hansen can break ground on a planned new home for the would-be SuperSonics near the homes of baseball's Seattle Mariners and football's Seattle Seahawks. The reborn Sonics would play at the former team's old home, the KeyArena, until the new building was ready, probably in two years.
Hansen would only be the latest NBA owner with an alternative investments background, joining private equity billionaire Tom Gores, who bought the Detroit Pistons in 2011, and Apollo Management's Joshua Harris, Blackstone Group's David Blitzer and Sun Capital Partners' Marc Leder, who bought the Philadelphia 76ers later that year. In addition, former star Tudor Investment Corp. trader and Raptor Capital Management founder James Pallotta is a minority owner of the Boston Celtics.
Pallotta is also the owner of the AS Roma Italian soccer team. Junction Investors' Thomas DiBenedetto also has a minority interest in a Beantown team, through his stake in Fenway Sports Group, which owns baseball's Boston Red Sox and England's Liverpool Football Club. Vinik Asset Management's Jeffrey Vinik is also a minority owner of FSG and recently bought hockey's Tampa Bay Lightning and arena football's Tampa Bay Storm. And last year's record-setting purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers was made by a group led by Guggenheim Partners.