Typing a Sonics-related post on the heels of "David Stern Day" in Sacramento that you know may not be as positive as you'd like it to be is equally hard and therapeutic for me as I think about where we've been as Sonics and Seattle sports fans and the road ahead towards getting our team back.
Make no mistake, the Sonics weren't my favorite team growing up. I was immersed with the Mariners in the '90s after I sat in the upper deck of the Kingdome during the 1995 ALDS, I eventually fell in love with (and became a student of) the NFL and the Seahawks and I was there when Beasley Coliseum in Pullman become the loudest arena in the Pac-10 practically overnight in 2006.
But I was only 8 when the Sonics went to the NBA Finals in '96 and my dad never really was a fan of the NBA after his beloved Celtics from the '80s with Bird, McHale, DJ, Parrish, etc. retired and the seemingly halcyon days-esque era in the NBA ended. So my "memories" of the Sonics were of George Karl getting fired and Howard Schultz letting the Sonics descend into mediocrity before selling to OKC's own Clay Bennett.
And yet, the Sonics were always MY basketball team.
I didn't ever root for the Lakers, Celtics or Bulls; I was a Sonics fan.
So like all Sonics fans, I felt the pain and confusion of 2008 when the NBA allowed our team to be taken away after it became so obvious that Clay Bennett was lying from Day 1 about his intentions to keep the team in Seattle after Howard Schultz, Frank Chopp, Greg Nickels, Nick Licata, David Stern, Christine Gregoire, et. al collectively took their balls and went home.
When the team moved on July 2, 2008, I came to the conclusion that the NBA was a business. Sure, it was a business controlled by a commissioner who can come across in public as a pompous jerk, but it was a cutthroat business (money > love and passion).
That's why, as strange as it may sound, I never lost hope the Sonics would come back.
In the back of my mind, I knew that if a plan ever came to life in Seattle where an investor (group) with deep pockets had a plan to build a new arena (preferably one that could include the NHL) that didn't burn local taxpayers, we could get our basketball team back; especially since it's happened before in places like Baltimore (NFL), Houston (NFL), St. Louis (NFL), Minnesota (NHL), Winnipeg (NHL) and Charlotte (NBA) where a new team was given to a city once left behind by the leagues that left it after circumstances involving potential arenas/stadiums and ownership groups changed for those communities.
So like all Sonics fans, I was thrilled when Chris Hansen's ownership group and arena proposal were made public in 2012 and was so relieved when City and County Councils approved an amended Memorandum of Understanding for a new NBA/NHL arena last September.
From there, it looked like our mission of bringing home the Sonics and undoing the wrong of 2008 was accomplished in January as Chris Hansen completed an agreement to buy the Sacramento Kings.
But then some unexpected things happened. David Stern felt compelled to give KJ all the help he needed to organize a "Here We Stay" counterproposal, Carmichael Dave traveled around the country in his magical mystery tour bus, the NBA fell for the idea that getting exposure in India and going international would solve their problems and the league felt compelled to give Sacramento the courtesies we never received but deserved in 2008 while trying to save our Sonics.
We got clotheslined throughout this Seattle/Sacramento "dog and pony" show and in its aftermath because we were so naive about the way the NBA works and pulls its puppet strings. And needless to say, this got me confused again about the way the NBA operates.
Sure, we know the NBA is a commissioner-centric league in the sense that whoever the commish is will always be a reflection of the individual wills of owners (although sometimes it can be vice versa). But what are you supposed to be, NBA? What's your true identity?
A cut throat monopolistic business? Or a public trust?
Because if you're truly a public trust, you would've done everything you could to save our team in 2008 after the Seattle community supported the Sonics for 40 years or you would've given us some kind of firm expansion promise as a way out of the Sacramento/Seattle debacle.
But if you were a cutthroat business, you would've prevented a team living in the #12 TV market in 2008 from moving to the #45-ish TV market. And for that matter, you would've immediately approved Chris Hansen's business proposal to buy the Sacramento Kings in 2013 and we wouldn't have wasted our time talking about corny T-shirts, tie colors, tweets, whales, stupid chants or bus tours coming out of California.
So what are you, NBA?
The answer, evidently, is both. More specifically, the league will be whatever their monopoly wants to be on any given day; and this is where the expansion question gets hard.
With Sacramento on its way to building their new arena (yes, it will get built even if it goes to a public ballot) and Milwaukee's fate virtually unknown until our MOU expires in 2017, the best and most logical way for us to accomplish the goal of getting our Sonics back is going to be through expansion.
So you just have to ask yourself, how can we make the best argument for NBA expansion other than the two most obvious solutions that exist (getting the arena shovel ready + creating NHL-first contingency for the arena MOU)?
Seattle wins when it comes to the public trust argument based on their past longstanding and stable support for the Huskies, Sonics, Seahawks, Mariners and Sounders and if we were given the realistic last chances Sacramento was given in 2013 back in 2008, we would've never lost the Sonics. Period. End of statement. We had the NBA before and supported it for 41 years, we (general public, not politicos) wanted to save our team in 2008 and we clearly want our team back in 2013.
As for the financial argument, we have a great TV market that loves basketball (and sports in general) with a young, growing and healthy economy along with a state-of-the-art arena primarily sponsored by a deep pocketed Sonics ownership group on the horizon. So what else could the NBA want out of a proposal to start a new franchise? And why is the NBA is somehow afraid to expand until the next national TV deal rolls around?
Sure, expansion would take away national revenue money from the existing 30 teams if it happened; but let's be realistic here.
The NBA isn't an infant or experimental league. It's a league that's been around since 1947 and isn't going away any time soon. Its TV footprint covers just about every major North American sports market on the map and any hypothetical rival basketball league who would dare challenge the NBA at this date would likely go out of business within 5 years. Plus, the NBA just worked out a comprehensive CBA that's at least designed to let every team be profitable and competitive if they choose to be.
Any way you shape it, expansion will not hurt, undermine or destroy the NBA as long as you're creating healthy and stable franchises.
But unfortunately, if there's a reason why the NBA isn't expanding at the moment to Seattle, it's because they MAY want to still use Seattle as a pawn to save the Milwaukee Bucks (at the very minimum) the same way Chris Hansen's mere presence has likely already compelled action towards franchise and arena solutions in New Orleans, Sacramento and Minnesota.
It could also be possible that the NBA may always want Seattle as a ghost threat (no real ownership group, no realistic arena plan) for other cities and we end up never getting a basketball team back.
Whatever the case may be right now as far as how the NBA feels about Seattle and Chris Hansen's ownership group and arena proposal, they've used Seattle the same way the NFL has used Los Angeles as a pawn since 1995.
Because the logic of monopolistic pro sports leagues suggests that leaving at least one viable alternative behind can compel many other cities to get better ownership and stadium situations; and when that happens, an entire league becomes more valuable than it once did.
Case in point, the NFL has opened 14 new stadiums, going on 16 (49ers will move to Santa Clara next year and the Vikings will open a new stadium in the next couple of years), since 1999 and one can argue the competitive nature of the NFL and pro sports in general has made other franchises such as Chicago, Green Bay and Kansas City renovate their stadiums to keep up with the rest of the league when no inherent threat to move those teams ever existed.
So with that in mind, what do we need to do to change the expansion conversation so that it goes in our favor? Is it just a matter of being patient or does something else other than the two obvious suggestions I gave in this post need to happen?
Because there's little doubt that Seattle is essentially ready to welcome the NBA back.
But unfortunately, the NBA isn't biting right now and I just wish I had the magic (unconventional but realistic) answer as to how to make that happen ASAP.