If Sonics return, they should be homegrown
As much as I loved the Seattle SuperSonics and wish professional basketball would return to the region, part of me hopes the bid to bring the Sacramento Kings north doesn’t succeed.
The NBA’s Relocation Committee on Monday shot down the proposed sale of the Kings to a Seattle group led by San Francisco hedge fund manager and Seattle native Chris Hansen. More precisely, the committee decided to not recommend the move to the league’s Board of Governors.
Hansen’s group reached an agreement with current Kings’ owners the Maloof family to buy a 65 percent share of the franchise, $357 million, and then file for relocation with the hopes of playing in KeyArena beginning in the 2013-2014 season. Hansen has also been in discussion with Seattle officials about an estimated $400 million new arena that could be home to an NHL franchise as well.
Sacramento made a counter offer to keep the Kings, with NBA commissioner David Stern assisting Mayor Kevin Johnson in putting together an ownership group, although the Maloofs have, again, agreed to sell to Hansen. Johnson has said a key point of Sacramento’s bid is local government’s willingness to step up to help fund a new arena, with the current $447 million proposal including $258 million in public money.
Perhaps that’s where the Hansen group’s offer fell short of a committee recommendation. In 2006 Seattle voters passed an initiative mandating the city make a profit off any arena built with public funds. Voters subsequently turned down an initiative in 2008 to fund a new facility for the homegrown Sonics, leading Oklahoma-based owner Clay Bennett to move the team to his home stomping grounds in Oklahoma City.
Hansen has told Seattle officials in emails any effort to build an arena should be done “without a large public outlay,” according to a Feb. 15, 2012 Seattle Times story, but did mention “direct and indirect contributions” the city could make.
For NBA owners – and many owners in professional sports – lack of a specific, well-defined public contribution amount is a deal killer. In order for owners to stave off starvation and bankruptcy, the rest of us need to dig deep in our shallow pockets and pony up some charity, I mean public, money to help them out. To grasp the problem, read Dave Zirin’s book “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love.”
Hansen vows to fight on and the retention of the Kings by Sacramento isn’t a done deal. If Hansen succeeds, great, but part of me wishes he doesn’t or decides to pursue a nobler path.
Relocation is how Seattle lost the Sonics in the first place, although anyone with half a brain could have seen that Bennett wasn’t sincere in his pledge to keep the team in town. In selling, Seattle’s ownership failed to realize, or believe, that out of town potential owners don’t want to commute any further than a short helicopter ride from their luxury mansion or condo in order to watch their possession perform.
Relocation happens too often in professional sports. Whether or not the move actually takes place, threatening to sell or move a franchise unless the public helps out is a form of extortion. I’d just as soon not have the new Sonics emerge carrying the moniker “formerly called the…” and know we contributed to other fans’ misery.
Having said that, part of me also wants to see the Board of Governors go against the committee’s recommendation and approve the sale to Hansen. The reason is Stern’s involvement in helping Sacramento out, something he didn’t even pretend to do when Bennett was threatening to move. Stern was in Bennett’s camp all the way.
But if there is to be a new SuperSonics, it should be something uniquely and originally Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. That’s the path I’d like to see Hansen’s group take, and while I know Stern has said NBA expansion isn’t likely to happen, it likely isn’t definite.
With a little persuasion and maybe some pressure, “isn’t likely” can be relocated to “yes it can.”
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.