SALT LAKE CITY — If you’re a Utah Jazz fan, maybe you should be worried.
Have you seen what’s going on with the Sacramento Kings?
Rich guys are once again looking for an NBA toy to buy, and they could soon be coming to a small-market team near you.
Hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer offered $550 million to buy the Sacramento Kings and move them to Seattle.
That would make it the largest sale in NBA history.
But it was rejected by the NBA’s Board of Governors relocation committee, which consists of seven owners, including Utah’s Greg Miller.
Know what the rich guys did next? They offered $625 million.
That’s SIX HUNDRED TWENTY-FIVE MIIIILLLLIIIION DOLLARS.
That’s $625M to buy a team that has ranked last or next to last in attendance in four of the last five seasons and averaged 25 wins — so they can move it to a city that lost its own NBA franchise five years ago (the Sonics) to Oklahoma City.
The second offer was rejected again by the committee of NBA owners. The matter will be brought to a vote in a meeting of all NBA owners Wednesday in Dallas.
The sale/move of the Kings has been an ongoing saga for more than two years, and it couldn’t be more complicated, with an earlier bid to move the team to Anaheim and efforts to keep it locally and a backup plan by the Seattle group to buy a limited ownership stake if their offer is finally killed, and, oh, yes, Hansen’s hedge fund just posted losses for the second consecutive quarter and the Sacramento mayor is former NBA guard Kevin Johnson, who is fighting to keep the team.
But who cares? The point is, the value of NBA teams is skyrocketing suddenly and what better time to sell a team, even YOUR team.
If Hansen and Ballmer — or any other rich guy who wants to buy an NBA team for a hobby — can double the value of the Kings to $625 million, why couldn’t he do that for some other small-market team — say, the Toronto Raptors? Or the Milwaukee Bucks? Or Memphis Grizzlies?
Or the Utah Jazz?
If you’re a Jazz fan, you should be hoping the Millers are out of town — way out of town, in, say, Madagascar.
Somebody should steal the newspaper off their front porch every morning.
And sabotage their cable TV connection.
Or send them on a vacation to, say, China.
Just keep them away from the news until the Sacramento situation is resolved. This could give them ideas.
Sure, Larry Miller, the late owner of the Jazz whose single-mindedness is the only reason the Jazz remain in Salt Lake City, said he would never sell the team. Miller passed up many opportunities to turn the Jazz into a huge profit. Fourteen months after buying half the team, he not only refused an offer that would have allowed him to turn an $8 million debt into a $6 million profit, but he added $14 million more to his debt to buy the other half of the team. Months before he died, he said he received offers for the team annually, some for as much as $400 million for both the franchise and the arena. He never seriously considered it. He said it would be like selling Canyonlands. He called the Jazz his gift to the community.
The Miller family will certainly feel a responsibility to continue that legacy, but for how long can they continue to say no when the value of an NBA franchise has skyrocketed? Don’t they have to look at these offers? NBA franchises are a hot commodity. Who wouldn’t be tempted? Just two years ago, Forbes Magazine reported that the average value of an NBA franchise was $369 million. This year they reported the average value is $510 million — a 30 percent jump from last year.
In the last years of his life, Larry Miller established the Larry H. and Gail Miller Family Foundation, which will fund charities and various causes. Eventually, the entire Miller fortune will be placed in the foundation, including the Jazz. But the sale of the team would provide a lot of money for the foundation.
How can they ignore these offers when there are men like Hansen and Ballmer who have lost all rationality when it comes to wanting a franchise?
The Millers aren't likely to cave in to absurdly rich offers, but it must be tempting, no matter who you are.
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. EMAIL: [email protected].