Winning ugly

A $200 million parking deal, along with a thinly-veiled threat against a hedge fund manager, lay behind a recent agreement to stop the Kings professional basketball franchise from leaving Sacramento.

The Kings, a National Basketball Association (NBA) team from Sacramento, had been pressuring the California capital for a state-of-the-art stadium to replace the aging Power Balance Pavilion, warning that, unless a financing plan for a modern arena was delivered by March 1, the team would pack its bags for a different host city capable of offering a classier domicile.

Enter Think BIG Sacramento, a think-tank put together by Kevin Johnson, himself a former NBA standout. In December, Think BIG concocted a plan to lease downtown parking to help fund an up-to-date $391 million stadium that would also serve as a cutting-edge entertainment complex.

While a potential parking concession garnered attention from The Carlyle Group and Morgan Stanley Infrastructure, a hedge fund manager named Chris Hansen remained undeterred in his dream to move the Kings to Seattle, itself still smarting from the loss of its beloved SuperSonics team. Hansen, 44, and a lifelong SuperSonics fan, touted his vision for an arena that would bring professional basketball back to the Emerald City.

But if his bid to lure the Kings rankled in Sacramento, it inspired Think BIG project manager Jeremiah Jackson to a feat of rhetorical pugilism.

“On behalf of the 99 percent of us who make up [Sacramento]…KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF OUR KINGS,” Jackson wrote in an open letter to Hansen, going as far as to challenge Hansen to “come to Sacramento and participate in a debate at high noon”.

No public forum ensued, but the Kings chose to remain in Sacramento, with Jackson hailing the parking concession as “the cornerstone” of the arrangement. Hansen, head of the $3 billion Valiant Capital, was not available for comment (“We have a very firm policy against speaking to the media. Chris will not be talking to you,” said a man answering the telephone at the Valiant home office in San Francisco).

Asked about his poison pen missive to Hansen, Jackson, a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Business School, opted to soften his attack: “I just didn’t find what he was doing helpful,” he reflects.