The day that Clay Bennett moved the Seattle Supersonics to Oklahoma City, a hole was left in the heart of Seattle sports fans that they have been waiting to see filled since.
This month, the NBA Board of Governors will hear a case for Seattle to get a new team, a movement that faces stiff opposition from the city of Sacramento, its politicians, fans and a host of out of town millionaires willing to dump money into keeping the Kings where they are.
First, let’s get something straight. There is not going to be anything pleasant to take away from this for the losing side or any form of compromise here. The league will not promise either city a team in the future like the NFL did for Cleveland in the 1990s after the Browns became the Baltimore Ravens. The NBA has little interest in expanding. The league will decide whether the team moves or not and one of these cities will come out the loser.
To my own disbelief, it’s not the fact that I grew up playing NBA Jam on Super Nintendo and absolutely loved the Sonics for the Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton duo that makes me hope Seattle wins this tug of war. It’s not because Seattle was always my guilty pleasure team growing up on the east coast, the squad I snuck out of bed and into the living room to watch on mute as my parents slept. The reason I hope Chris Hansen’s bid to move the Kings to Seattle is successful comes down to what is best for the league and returning basketball to one of America’s truly great basketball cities.
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Sonics basketball was a staple in Seattle for 40 years before the team moved. The area has produced solid players over the years, from Jamal Crawford to Jason Terry to Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson. Those are just the active ones.
The sport is a major part of the culture in the Emerald City. During a trip to the Pacific Northwest last summer, I couldn’t help but notice the number of Seattleites wearing Sonics gear four years after the team played its last game in Key Arena. Seemingly everywhere I went, everyone was talking about the possibility that the rumors were true; could the Sonics really be coming back?
With the arena deal in place, a lucrative television market with a deal on hold and a solid infrastructure of basketball fans to draw from, the Seattle bid is incredibly strong and alluring to the NBA. Detractors argue that the market is too saturated with other sports teams, but given the scheduling of those sports and how they would actually effect the Sonics, that argument has as many holes in it as thinking that the Kings biggest problem is Arco Arena.
I understand that there is a sentimental attachment for some when it comes to the Kings, who moved to Sacramento from Kansas City in 1985, but the team has seen a decline in attendance in recent years and dragged its feet in getting a new stadium built. Aside from allowing the relationship between Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and the owners of the Kings, the Maloof family, to erode, Sacramento sinned by being blindsided by the Maloof’s willingness to sell to Hansen. Their naïve assumption that the owners wouldn’t sell now has them scrambling to catch up to the Seattle bid which was more persistent in pursuing the Maloof’s according to NBA.com’s Scott Howard Cooper.
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Since 2008, the Kings have been at the bottom of the league’s attendance or close to it every season despite drafting one of the best centers in the league in Demarcus Cousins and having Tyreke Evans take Rookie of the Year honors in 2010. They’ve shuffled coaches, wasted players and blown resources. The team enjoyed great success during the early part of the last decade as Chris Webber, Mike Bibby and Vlade Divac battled the Lakers for the Western Conference title, but since that team fell apart, they’ve seen a steady decline in attendance and interest.
Watch a Kings home game these days and empty seats are more commonplace than highlight plays. The team is in a bad way, needing new management from top to bottom, something a fresh start in Seattle could provide. I have nothing against the city of Sacramento itself, but knowing what’s on tap for the league if the Seattle deal is completed, I can’t help but openly hope that the Sonics return.
With all due respect to the Kings and the city of Sacramento, the NBA needs the Sonics back. It needs to be in one of the best sport markets in the country and it has no legal precedent to reject the sale. In my opinion, this deal is going to happen for a few reasons, none more than it makes the most sense.
But consider that on top of that, the Board of Governors is made up of other NBA owners, none of which would like the idea of being told who they can and can’t sell their own teams to. Odds are they aren’t going to want to open that can of worms by informing the Maloof’s they can’t sell to Hansen as it could effect their own decisions in the future.
The Seattle deal comes as a complete package with a $494 million dollar arena set to be in the works if the sale goes through as well as $20 million worth of renovations to Key Arena so the team can play there until the new stadium is done and enough money backing it between Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to casually pay an inflated price for the Kings and drive up the price of every team in the league down the road.
The inflated fee comes with a relocation fee that the other teams would split around the league and essentially sets the bar high from a money standpoint if you want to buy an NBA franchise. The incentive for the owners to keep the team in Sacramento is primarily sentimental as it would be taking a team away from a city and fan base that most people can agree has been pretty loyal. For Seattle, there is plenty of sentiment to have a team again coupled with an incredible bid that includes local support, a better market and a ton of money that benefits other owners and the league. At the end of the day, this is a business and from that perspective it’s close to a no-brainer.
Maybe I’m just optimistic about Seattle panning out for the NBA because I was a closet Sonics fan as a kid. Even these days, I named my fantasy team Shawn Kemp’s Kids. Why do I still remember the 1995 Seattle starting lineup? I don’t know. I just know that like a lot of folks in the Pacific Northwest, I want Seattle back in the NBA. I want it, if for no other reason than I never snuck out of my room on a school night to watch Sacramento play.