As I noted in last week’s coverage of the sale of the Milwaukee Bucks to new owners, there’s been a weird disconnect in the team’s demands for a new arena, which is that both the new and old owners have been trying to spin their promises to pay for less than half the cost of an arena into a commitment to keep the team in town — even while threatening that without a new arena, they’ll leave. It’s a not uncommon dance in these matters, but it’s a far easier one to navigate if you have someone else (a mayor, say) who can be waving the move-threat saber in your stead.
Fortunately for the Bucks owners, somebody has emerged to play the role of Bad Cop, and it’s our old friends, the NBA:
The NBA has the right to buy back the Milwaukee Bucks from incoming owners Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry if a deal to a bring a new arena to the city is not in place by November 2017, according to sources briefed on the situation.
Sources told ESPN.com that the sale agreement announced last week to transfer the Bucks from longtime owner Herb Kohl to Edens and Lasry for a purchase price of $550 million includes a provision that allows the league to buy back the team for $575 million if construction on a new building in Milwaukee is not underway by the deadline.
Although one source said Monday that the league would likely only take that step if it didn’t see “significant progress” toward a new arena in Milwaukee by then, this provision ensures that the NBA would control the fate of the franchise from that point as opposed to Edens and Lasry.
This is, frankly, totally brilliant, in an evil genius sort of way. The NBA would never forcibly seize a franchise without its owners’ consent, so rest assured that this whole buyback clause was arrived at with the full cooperation (if not at the behest of) Edens, Lasry, and Kohl. Now, though, Edens and Lasry are in a perfect position to play Good Cop: We want to stay in Milwaukee, but that mean old NBA will take our team and move it somewhere else if we don’t get a new arena, so you’d better make that happen or else Adam Silver will nail your head to the floor.
This isn’t a totally new gambit — the Toledo Mud Hens, as just one example, used the threat of the league forcing a move as a way to win a public vote for subsidies for a new stadium even though the team was owned by a local non-profit corporation — but it’s an especially well-played one. The trick will be to see whether Edens and Lasry can keep up their plausible deniability long enough to pull this off, or if local reporters look into whether they were co-conspirators with the NBA on this plan — though given the state of local reporting, they probably don’t have much to worry about.