WASHINGTON: Chennai Super Kings, meet Sacramento Kings. A tech-titan of Indian origin has brought American basketball closer to India after a group led by him bought a majority stake in the NBA franchise valued at a record $535 million.
Mumbai-born Vivek Ranadive, a Silicon Valley tycoon who founded the $4 billion Tibco software company, paid $347 million for a 65 percent stake in the Sacramento Kings in a royal battle that pitted him against Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer and company. Ranadive’s group includes former Facebook Inc. executive Chris Kelly and 24-Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov.
The deal will keep the Kings in Sacramento when it was widely expected that Ballmer and Co, which lost its team the Sonics to Oklahoma some years back, would lure it to Seattle.
“This is something that will define Sacramento,” the city’s mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA All-Star who put together Ranadive’s group, said at a news conference on Friday where the Stevie Wonder song “Signed, Sealed and Delivered” blasted over the speakers. “It is transformative. This community that we know and love will never be the same because of what has transpired.”
The event was telecast live over league network, but Ranadive himself was absent, putting finishing touches to the deal that will make him the first Indian majority owner of an NBA franchise. He already owns a minority stake in Golden State Warriors, another California team, which he is expected to sell to devote his time fully to the Kings, a team which had fallen on parlous times before this deal.
The local media said Ranadive has the sort of competitiveness and deep pockets that could lead one of the league’s most poorly run franchises back to respectability. “I’m going to do what I do in my business, which is surround myself with people who are way smarter than me,” he was quoted as saying. “But I am a huge fan. I’m going to be there at all the games, be there to support the team in every way.”
The five-month battle over Kings pitted Ranadive and his California group against Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer and Valiant Capital Founder Chris Hansen.
But a 12-member panel of NBA team owners reportedly recommended that NBA turn down the Seattle offer, even though California has two other teams (Warriors and LA Lakers) and Seattle is desperately trying to get a team after its own Sonics moved to Oklahoma some years back.
The Sacramento Kings franchise began in 1948 in Rochester ( New York) as the Royals; moved to Cincinnati in 1958; became the Kansas City-Omaha Kings from 1972 to 1975, and was the Kansas City Kings from 1976 to 1985 before moving to Sacramento. The team’s only NBA title was in 1951.
The Indian-led ownership of a major NBA franchise is also expected to expand the basketball footprint in India, something NBA Commissioner David Stern canvassed about during his maiden trip to India this April.
NBA, which has an office in Mumbai, currently sponsors the Mahindra NBA Challenge, a grassroots clinic that started in 2011. A four-city tournament, which will include more than 100 teams in Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and Mumbai, is on the cards.