The Relocation Two-Step: Timberwolves at Kings Preview

David Stern and Glen Taylor saved professional basketball in Minnesota. Now, the Kings are hoping for a similar miracle in Sacramento.

Where: Sleep Train Arena; Sacramento, CA

When: 9pm CST (Wait– I can watch? Hell yeah!)

See It: LOL NO

Hear It: WCCO AM 830

In 1994, our very own Minnesota Timberwolves were in trouble. The city of Minneapolis had just built the Target Center four years prior, but the current ownership of Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner wanted out from under the $73 million mortgage, because, as it turns out, new arenas are expensive. This was suddenly a tense time for the Minnesota sporting amalgamate as they had just lost the NHL North Stars to Dallas a few years before, and losing the Timberwolves after just five years would’ve made them look like the guy who can’t hold down a girlfriend from one reason or the other.

At any rate, Harv and Marv wanted out from the remaining balance on the mortgage, and with cities like New Orleans and Nashville pining for a team, they were likely to be relocated if the team were sold to a new ownership group.

In not an unsurprising manner, when they state stepped in to bailout Harv and Marv, the fans stood against the measures with 60% of the public that were polled did not want the state to use public funds to pay off the debt on the Target Center. Which was fantastic because the New Orleans ownership group Top Rank had submitted a letter of intent to purchase the team and move them down to the bayou.

However, the support slowly began to get behind the state’s intervention, and Nashville’s Gaylord Entertainment group made essentially a $100 million dollar offer with 20% of that going to pay down the debt on the arena. With the condition that the group keep the team in the state for thirty years, this became the favorite offer. This was around the same time the city of Nashville was also trying to woo the New Jersey Devils to the city in an attempt to desperately secure a professional sports team in the state, too (It wouldn’t be long before the Oilers would relocate to Tennessee either.) Shortly after the Minnesota legislature approved a $48 million dollar bill that purchased the arena, so long as they could find a local ownership group to match Top Rank’s $152 million dollar offer.

But they couldn’t, and later that May the sale was approved and professional basketball’s days in Minnesota were seemingly numbered.

However, just three weeks later after questions about their financing and where they would play home games, the league blocked the sale. Turns out the league was wary of a group attempting to purchase of team where a third of their offer comes from “undisclosed sources”. Say what you will about David Stern, but he did act as mediator and in acting the best interest of the league he did stop the team from heading to New Orleans. Shortly after this the league filed an injunction against the transfer of the team from Minnesota. Naturally, this pissed off Top Rank and they filed a counter-suit in Louisiana court, but a Federal court wound up ruling in favor of Minnesota, saving the team for at least the ’94-’95 season.

Local bidders came and went, but Glen Taylor stepped in and in October of ’94 the league approved Taylor’s purchase of the team. In related news, Top Rank would go bankrupt in ’95, which isn’t shocking considering they were attempting to use not only “undisclosed sources” to purchase the team, but up to a reported $75 million in loans from banks that just did not want to lend them the money just yet. So, good call be the league to block that purchase and save themselves from another potential hassle.

Why do I bring this up? Well, tonight the Kings, whom are fighting the same tortuous relocation battle the Timberwolves once did, play host to the Timberwolves.

By now, we all know the story of Joe and Gavin Maloof losing money through other bad investments (It take serious skill to go bankrupt running a hotel in Las Vegas) and trying to strong arm the city of Sacramento into a new arena while running their team just above the salary floor. Like Harv and Marv, they realized that their little basketball hobby was quite the expensive one and are looking for a way out when the price tag got too real. Of course, this means that resolution to the situation comes at the expense of Kings fans’ wallets or hearts.

Just how broke are the Maloofs? When the Seattle based group fronted by Chris Hansen reportedly purchased the team for $500 million dollars, Joe and Gavin would have still been several million in debt if they had put all of that to paying off their debtors. All of this raises the question if the Maloofs should even be rewarded with a new arena since history shows that even with a new arena, like the one Harv and Marv had, you still have to have the capital to keep the lights on and be able to pay the players. Unfortunately, the Maloofs don’t appear to have the money to fund an arena on their own meaning that if Kings fans want to pay for it they’re going to have to foot the bill.

In the early 00’s the Kings had one of the most exciting teams in basketball and the most rabid fans in the league. If you’re on Twitter, you’ve seen the grassroots Here We Stay movement, and if you frequent SB Nation blogs you’ve undoubtedly come across Tom Ziller’s excellent work to drive fan interest up to league’s New York meetings to discuss relocation. Kings fans are still there, passionate, and care about their team, make no mistake.

Tonight, this is the game around the game. If you’ve seen Sonicsgate or followed the Kings’ relocation saga, you know these things don’t end well. If you have done this and are a Timberwolves fan you should know how lucky we are to still have a team when the Grizzlies have left Vancouver and the Hornets have left Charlotte over arena issues. Just as the Timberwolves have been a major part of many of our lives through the good and bad, the same goes for Kings fans. I’m not against basketball going back to Seattle, but would hate to see it as a result of the poor decisions of their owners.

Projected Starting Fives: 

Ricky Rubio — PG — Isaiah Thomas

Luke Ridnour — SG — Tyreke Evans

Derrick Williams — SF — John Salmons

Andrei Kirilenko — PF — Jason Thompson

Nikola Pekovic — C — DeMarcus Cousins



About Derek James

In addition to writing for Howlin' T-Wolf, Derek James writes about basketball Hardwood Paroxysm in the ESPN TrueHoop Network and covers the Charlotte Bobcats for SB Nation’s Rufus on Fire. Andray Blatche and Isaiah Rider follow him on Twitter.