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Stern says he’s open to an NBA return to Seattle

By Steve Miletich, The Seattle Times –

SEATTLE — NBA Commissioner David Stern says he is open to the league returning to Seattle, revealing he has met with the San Francisco hedge-fund manager who wants to bring an NBA team back to Seattle and build a new arena south of Safeco Field.

“We had heard reports of some interest in Seattle and the name of the person who’s associated with it is not totally unknown to me,” Stern said in a wide-ranging interview Monday with The Salt Lake Tribune at the league’s headquarters in New York City.

“I think he came in and I met with him, it must be a year ago,” Stern said in response to a question referring to Christopher Hansen, the 44-year-old Seattle native who is leading the effort. “Just a general conversation; he was brought in by a mutual friend. We know nothing of the specifics.”

Stern, whose comments were posted Tuesday by The Tribune, said he had read about documents obtained by The Seattle Times under a public-disclosure request.

In a Sunday story, The Seattle Times reported that documents released by Mayor Mike McGinn’s office showed Hansen and McGinn’s aides have been working behind the scenes for eight months to build an arena and obtain an NBA team as early as next fall.

The documents revealed a far more concerted effort than previously known, including Seattle’s interest in the Sacramento Kings, whose future has been clouded by a March 1 NBA deadline to produce a viable plan for a new arena. If no deal is reached, the Kings could be relocated.

Stern told The Tribune, which covers the Utah Jazz, that Seattle would be “a great city for us, or it was.”

“It’s a great disappointment to us,” he said, an apparent reference to the Seattle Sonics’ move to Oklahoma City in 2008, when owner Clay Bennett could not secure a new arena. “There have been various plans near Safeco… .”

“And everyone says to us, ‘Well, would you consider going back?’ Of course, if they have a building. And so that’s where it’s left. We have no involvement. But we certainly are — if anyone asks us, we tell them what we know and we’re happy to talk to them,” Stern said.

Stern noted that funding is a “huge issue.”

Hansen, who has built a fortune in the private investment world, has acquired property south of Safeco Field’s parking garage, between South Massachusetts and South Holgate streets east of First Avenue South, records show.

His investment group has yet to produce a firm proposal to McGinn, who has said that the group must make a substantial financial commitment with no new taxes to fund an arena.

The documents obtained by The Times contain general information on KeyArena, where the Sonics played and which presumably could be used as a temporary home while an arena is built. No mention of that possibility is made in Stern’s comments to The Tribune.

Concerning Sacramento, Stern told The Tribune, “I simply don’t want to make any news today as I’m going to be meeting with my owners in the afternoon.” He said he planned to meet Monday afternoon with the league’s relocation committee.

Stern said there have been “very positive” developments in Sacramento’s efforts to keep its team.

“Obviously, we certainly have been supportive of Mayor Johnson’s efforts with respect to the building and we sure would like to see that happen,” Stern added, referring to Kevin Johnson, a former NBA player. “But we cannot guarantee or (assume) it and we’ll have to deal with the realities as we find them.

Stern said the 30-team league would remain at that number, making relocation the only means to acquire a club.

The National Hockey League also has expressed an interest in placing a team in Seattle, leading to widespread speculation regarding a relocation of the Phoenix Coyotes, the franchise taken over by the league amid financial struggles. But Seattle would have to build a suitable arena, the NHL has said.

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