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200px-Seattle_SuperSonics_logo (1)The effort to bring NBA hoops back to Seattle took a serious blow today, as the NBA relocation committee made up of 12 owners unanimously voted to block Seattle’s bid to buy the Kings and bring them to Emerald City.

League owners will make an official vote May 13, but that’s expected to be a formality.

Here’s the full statement from the league:

The NBA announced today that the league’s Relocation Committee has unanimously recommended that the NBA Board of Governors deny the application of the Sacramento Kings to relocate to Seattle. The Board will convene during the week of May 13 to vote on this matter.

An investment group led by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and hedge fund manager Chris Hansen had already reached an agreement with the Maloof family (current owners) in January to buy 65 percent of the Kings for a reported $341 million. The group even upped that bid by $25 million earlier this month — the highest bid ever for an NBA team — and planned to have the Kings play in Seattle this fall.

Steve Ballmer.

But Sacramento, led by mayor and former NBA point guard Kevin Johnson, fought back with a new arena plan and an investment group of its own, as this whole thing turned somewhat into a Seattle vs. Silicon Valley investor showdown.

And today, it appears all 12 NBA owners on the relocation committee believe the Kings should stay in Sacramento. (Editor’s note: Only seven owners actually voted today)

The Seattle group needs 23 out of the 30 NBA owners to approve the sale on May 13, but again, that’s unlikely to happen due to the committee’s recommendation.

Ballmer, who said last week that “there will never be a better opportunity” to bring the NBA back to Seattle, just spoke with Seattle radio host Mitch Levy and was clearly not happy.

This is something Ballmer deeply cares about. Reports came out in June that Ballmer was part of the investment group led by Hansen. It’s not surprising: Ballmer was a regular at Sonics games before the team departed for Oklahoma City in 2008 and also was part of another investment group that tried to keep the team here.

Here’s what Seattle mayor Mike McGinn, who has been very supportive of bringing the NBA back to his city, had to say:

And from Johnson:

Note: Those “best fans” ranked last in attendance this season — just saying.

Lots of questions still remain. The NBA’s press release does not clarify whether or not the Seattle group will retain ownership rights to the Kings and only touches on relocation. That could mean the Hansen/Ballmer group will own the Kings as they stay in Sacramento.

The Seattle group had already put down a $30 million non-refundable deposit and requested for the team to play at KeyArena for two seasons before moving into the new SoDo arena in 2015. The option for NBA expansion — adding a brand new team — has also been discussed, but that won’t happen until after this fall.

And Ballmer doesn’t think that’s a real possibility:

It’s been five years since the Sonics left Seattle and were relocated to Oklahoma City, and it looks like basketball fans in this city will be waiting a little while longer for professional hoops to return.

UPDATE, 4:50 P.M. — The NBA said that only seven owners actually voted today as part of the relocation committee, not 12. The finance part of the committee did not vote. Regardless of 7 vs. 12, it likely won’t matter.

UPDATE, 5:20 P.M. — NBA commissioner David Stern has made comments on this situation (via @BlazersEdge)

On the voting and what’s next:

“The committee has to do a report, they have to circulate it to the board and we’re planning on a board meeting on May 15. We’ll see, I can’t predict. I didn’t see a unanimous vote coming but they decided as strong as the Seattle bid was, and it was very strong, there’s some benefit that should be given to a city that has supported us for so long, and has stepped up to contribute to build a new building as well.”

On expansion:

“You know, all I can say is that discussion will have to wait for [future] commissioner [Adam] Silver to oversee. Right now, expansion is not on the agenda. I would never say never. It doesn’t make a lot of sense unless we know what the new TV deal is.”

UPDATE, 9:25 P.M.

Hansen just released a statement on the website. He writes that the Seattle investment group has no plans of giving up:

While we are disappointed with the relocation committee’s recommendation, we just wanted to let you all know that we remain fully committed to seeing this transaction through. As you are all well aware, we have a binding transaction to purchase the Kings for what would be a record price for an NBA franchise, have one of the best ownership groups ever assembled to purchase a professional sports team in the US, have clearly demonstrated that we have a much more solid Arena plan, have offered a much higher price than the yet to be finalized Sacramento Group, and have placed all of the funds to close the transaction into escrow. As such, we plan to unequivocally state our case for both relocation and our plan to move forward with the transaction to the league and owners at the upcoming Board of Governor’s Meeting in Mid-May.

When we started this process everyone thought it was impossible. While this represents yet another obstacle to achieving our goal, I just wanted to reassure all of you that we have numerous options at our disposal and have absolutely no plans to give up. Impossible is nothing but a state of mind.

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” ―Muhammad Ali


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