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Investor Chris Hansen says Steve Ballmer leaving won't derail Seattle's NBA hopes

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SEATTLE - Steve Ballmer's departure from the group looking to bring the NBA back to Seattle isn't derailing lead investor Chris Hansen's hopes of getting a team back in the region.

Hansen told The Associated Press on Monday that he is confident he'll be able to find investors to take Ballmer's place in his group that is trying to build a new arena and last year nearly bought and moved the Sacramento Kings to Seattle. Hansen is the majority investor in the project, but said it would likely take more than one person to replace Ballmer's investment.

Other than Hansen, the only other known partners in the investment group are members of the Nordstrom department store family.

Hansen said he won't put a limit on the number of investors at this time.

"I think we want to have a reasonable group of partners," Hansen said. "That will be the thing that is probably most missed from Steve's involvement. One, he's a great guy and very successful in his career and would have added a lot of insights and value in operating the team. That's probably the first thing that will be missed from having him as a partner and the second thing, given his net worth, (he) had the ability to be really the only other partner that we needed. In all likelihood there are not a lot of Steve Ballmers in the world with his financial well-being, so in all likelihood I think it's reasonable to assume we have a few more partners rather than just one."

Seattle's hopes seemed to take a blow last week when Ballmer agreed to buy the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion. Among other things, it raised questions about whether Ballmer's decision should be taken as a sign that Seattle's hopes of getting a franchise are dwindling.

Hansen tried to calm those concerns, noting the environmental reviews on the proposed arena site are ongoing and that he remains committed to continuing the process both with the arena and a team. Hansen's memorandum of understanding with the city of Seattle and King County on the arena goes through November 2017.

"Everybody is very interested in what that means for right now. In six to nine months this will pass and we'll still be here trying to get our arena built and still be here trying to pursue a franchise and I think that is what is most important," Hansen said. "There is nothing we have to do. We own the land outright. There is no immediate time pressure that we have to do something and that's been very well received by the NBA as well — the fact we're willing to be patient and endure through this."

Because of a lack of buzz about the NBA prior to Ballmer agreeing to purchase the Clippers, questions about whether the NHL could be first to land in Seattle have increased. It peaked recently when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman flew to Seattle during the NHL playoffs to meet with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County executive Dow Constantine.

Hansen reiterated he does not have an interest in being the majority owner of an NHL franchise. But he's willing to partner with another investor who has that passion for the NHL. That would require a restructuring of the memorandum of understanding and Hansen said any re-writing of the deal would have to be initiated by the city and county.

"We would like to be accommodative to get the NHL here. There should be no question about that. We're building this arena as a two-sport building. It has the larger footprint for hockey. We've worked hard to do that. We would like to do everything in our power to allow hockey to come here in a way that makes sense for the NHL and for a prospective partner," Hansen said.

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