SACRAMENTO (AP) — Aaron Brooks has been in an awkward spot since news surfaced that the Sacramento Kings could be sold and moved to his hometown of Seattle.
The Kings guard has no answers for family and friends who have been calling and texting for information. Even the excitement his brother, Alvertis, had when he showed up for a visit evaporated once he realized those in Sacramento might feel the same sorrow as when the SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008.
“Seattle does need a team. But you would hate to have a team leave a city you know wants a basketball team,” Brooks said. “It’s unfortunate.”
For Sacramento players, coaches and fans, this is not an easy time.
In the first game since the latest — and perhaps most serious — round of relocation talks began, the Kings lost to the Dallas Mavericks 117-112 in overtime Thursday night, with chatter around the aging arena seemingly centering on everything but basketball.
Newspaper and television reporters from Seattle showed up along with an increased local media presence. Fans contemplated whether they should keep supporting a team they love. Ushers and parking attendants who depend on the team for work approached reporters wondering if they knew what might happen.
Even players and coaches admitted all the attention made it difficult to focus on the game.
“It’s definitely going to be a distraction,” said Kings coach Keith Smart. “But we’re pros. We’ve got to figure out a way how to separate the two and then get ready to play.”
Seattle investor Chris Hansen has contacted the Maloof family about buying the Sacramento Kings, people with knowledge of the situation said Wednesday. They spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because no deal has been reached.
One person said the Kings could sell for more than $500 million, topping the NBA-record $450 million the Golden State Warriors sold for in 2010. The Kings’ future in California’s capital city has been uncertain since the Maloofs backed out of a tentative $391 million deal last year for a new downtown arena in Sacramento.
Yahoo! Sports first reported the discussions between the Kings and Hansen, saying a possible sale could land the Kings in Seattle for the 2013-14 season, where the team would play at KeyArena as a temporary home until a new arena is constructed.
Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas, who is from Tacoma, Wash., and played at the University of Washington in Seattle, said the news has been difficult to ignore.
“I’ve seen the Sonics go. I’ve seen when a team gets taken away from a city and devastates the fans. It’s not a good thing,” Thomas said. “I don’t wish moving a team on anybody.”
Perhaps the most difficult decision has been placed on fans.
The Kings, once home to one of the most fervent fan bases of any sport in the country, have not made the playoffs in seven seasons. Since the collapse of last year’s arena deal, attendance has been down, and apathy has been up. Sacramento entered the game ranking last in the NBA in average attendance at 13,177 per game.
“What (the Maloofs) are doing is like throwing their problems away,” said 26-year-old Kings fan Nicole Shearer, whose parents were season-ticket holders from the first season in 1985 until 2007. “I think they realize how this affects people, but they really don’t care. It’s been a series of continuous problems for them as owners. But if they really cared, they would try to stay and work things out.”
The Kings-Mavericks game, with an announced attendance of 14,011, had its usual scattered Sacramento crowd.
The Maloofs, who have not shown up in their usual courtside seats in recent weeks, have declined to comment on any talks about the future of the franchise. Their parking spots at the side entrance of the arena also were empty.
Only a handful of signs such as “Sactown Needs This Team,” ‘’Here We Stay” and “Our Town, Our Team” could be seen. Another read: “Accepting money for Kings relief fund.” No derogatory shouts or chants could be heard, either, as has happened in years past.
“It’s horrible that the Kings could be leaving,” said Kasim Ersoy, who has lived in Sacramento for two years. He became a Kings fan when he watched the Chris Webber-Vlade Divac combo on television growing up in Germany. “Basketball is my favorite sport in the U.S., so it will be very sad to not have an NBA team any longer in Sacramento.”
Other Sacramento fans launched a fight to keep the team — again.
The grass-roots organization Here We Stay, which has worked to keep the Kings for two years, started an online petition drive urging the NBA to allow a Sacramento buyer to match any offer from Hansen and give Seattle an expansion team instead. The petition had drawn more than 4,000 signatures within 24 hours.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has said he would do all he could to try to find a buyer with a Sacramento connection to possibly purchase the team and keep it in California’s capital city. It’s not the first time Johnson, a former NBA All-Star, has faced a difficult challenge.
In 2011, the Kings appeared determined to move to Anaheim before Johnson convinced the NBA to give the city one last chance to help finance an arena. After the Sacramento City Council approved the arena deal last March, Johnson joined hands with Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof at center court before a game.
A month later, the Maloofs said the deal didn’t make financial sense for them. Then the city and the team ceased negotiations, reigniting fears the franchise could relocate.
“Every year they’re talking about we’re going to a different city. One year it’s Seattle. Another year it’s Virginia Beach. Then Anaheim another year. Nothing really surprises me,” Kings forward Jason Thompson said. “We can only control what we can control. All we can do is put the ball in the bucket and try to win. It’s a tough situation for everybody.”