Perhaps the conspiracy theories are true about David Stern and his distaste for Seattle, maybe they aren’t, but it was awfully convenient for Stern that buried under the NBA news cycle that focused on Jason Collins’ outing himself to the world this week was the decision that may have sealed Seattle’s fate to at least a few more years doomed without basketball.
The NBA Board of Governors went with an unlikely decision to deny a perfectly sound bid for a team to move cities, nullifying the impending agreement between a team’s owners and potential buyers in order to protect a city from losing its organization, despite that city’s bid not being complete.
David Stern has gone out of his way to save the Sacramento Kings, the complete opposite of what it did for Sonics fans when Clay Bennett lied to them about his intentions to keep the team in Seattle. Court hearings, documentaries and extensive news coverage over the years has uncovered what basically amounts to a scandal complete with corrupt politicians, owners and key decision makers from NBA headquarters to the Washington state legislature and the Seattle mayor’s office. It is now a part of Seattle basketball history, but its fans remain strong and for a brief moment it seemed they were destined to have a team again, albeit not the one that left them.
But with Monday’s announcement that the relocation committee, headed by Bennett, unanimously voted for the NBA owners to reject the possibility of the team moving from Sacramento to Seattle, it seems they will continue to go without NBA basketball at Key Arena. It’s a banner day for the upshot effort to save the Kings, one that was non-existant prior to the announcement by the Maloof’s that they agreed to sell the team to hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
In a matter of months, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson pulled together a miracle that former Seattle mayor Greg Nickels wasn’t able to perform in 2008 before accepting a little bit of money in exchange for his team. Johnson has put together a group of investors, convinced the city to help fund a new $447 million stadium and seems to have successfully convinced the NBA to give him the time to make the bid as complete as the Seattle bid.
A decision on the Kings future seemed like it was going to come earlier this month when each side had to present its bid to the Board of Governors, but no decision was made and the board was told to consider the Sacramento bid as if it were complete even though it wasn’t.
The decision is a big one, but one that has to be made fairly based on finances and which bid is complete. While Sacramento appears to have gotten all the pieces just about in place, Seattle had it from the start and made an agreement to buy the team during a period where relations between the team and its current city had broken down. Now that agreement is being squashed by the league who is stepping in like big government to trample a perfectly good deal. But why?
The perception is that Stern and the owners don’t favor the Seattle bid because it involves too much private money to build the new stadium, setting a dangerous precedent for owners going forward who favor coveting public funds to build arenas. The Seattle way of, “we’ll do it ourselves if we have to,” does not seem to be widely accepted by NBA owners who favor a plan in Sacramento that will cost California tax payers $258 million.
It’s not that Sacramento doesn’t deserve the Kings or that them moving to Seattle turns a wrong into a right. Most Seattle fans would tell you they wouldn’t wish the fate that has befallen them over the last five years on anyone, but the only way they are going to get a team again is to take someone else’s and if it isn’t the Kings, there are people in the Emerald City that will hunt other franchises that are in trouble in their attempts to bring roundball back to Puget Sound.
The NBA will use that desire and their ability to build an arena themselves to threaten Milwaukee, Phoenix, New Orleans or anyone else who can’t get the deals it wants in place with public funds.
The game has a healthy history in Seattle and the fact that there is no team after a mostly beautiful 41 year marriage with the Sonics can only be compared to the Cleveland Browns saga of the mid 1990s. But the Browns got a team again and though it wasn’t the one that left, wounds were healed by the return of football to Cleveland. After this latest verdict it seems the wounds of Seattle’s basketball faithful will have to wait a little longer to heal.
Though robbing Sacramento would have just dug another wound into an NBA community, I must admit I hoped for it, simply to see some retribution for Sonics fans and an ugly chapter in Stern’s tenure absolved somewhat. But now, having seen him take another step to rescue the Kings, it seems that his stance has become one of keeping teams where they are, something he wouldn’t do for Seattle after state lawmakers didn’t give him what he wanted. Circumstances were different this time, sure. Was he the lone figure to blame in the Sonics leaving? By no means, but could the bad memories that came with the Sonics controversy be affecting his judgment now?
An April 13 SI.com article from Ian Thomsen outlined the laundry list of problems facing the Sacramento bid when it comes to its land development plans and the odds of getting its new stadium open by 2016. While presenting Seattle as being the clearly better choice from a financial standpoint, the article also outlined their questioning Sacramento’s claims to being a one sport market dedicated solely to the Kings. Within 90 miles is the Bay Area, home of the Warriors who will open a new building in 2017, as well as the Giants, Raiders and 49ers, almost all of which draw better television ratings in Sacramento than the Kings.
Seattle has the land and the money to build a new stadium and the alienated fan base that can at least experience some catharsis from this move, yet once again the commissioner is stepping in, just as he did to save the New Orleans Hornets, although this time without spending NBA dollars to do it. Stern’s judgment on a case-by-case basis seems flawed at best and has twice now left Seattle on the short end of the stick. Had he stepped aside and let the owners decide themselves already on a matter that should have been settled months ago, perhaps this Seattle vs Sacramento saga would already be resolved.
Instead, he has done everything in his power to keep the Kings where they are and the process will be drawn out as Seattle continues to fight. What’s best for the league, what’s best for the franchise is not the first concern apparently. Instead, he is worried about alienating another fan base and further tarnishing his legacy.
What happened in Seattle is perhaps the biggest blemish on Stern’s watch next to the Tim Donaghy scandal, a wrong the commissioner can never right without expansion and he refuses to repeat it. Unfortunately for Seattle that is a grand price to pay, because apparently no matter what they do, they will not experience the long awaited return of their treasured Sonics.