An Open Letter to the NBA Board of Governors (and various associated committees of owners).
Dear Board of Governors of the National Basketball Association:
Do not punish Chris Hansen and his partners in the endeavor to bring the Sacramento Kings to Seattle for past transgressions of city, county, and state leaders, as well as a subsidy-weary populace. It is a humble request, but I believe an important one.
What has been presented before you for consideration is a purchase & sales agreement built on one of the most favorable offers for a franchise in league history. Not only does it offer a hearty and real increase in the value of every team league-wide, but it is funded and passionately driven by a consistently solid ownership group that guarantees stability of the franchise in a market that will be a contributor to the revenue pot rather than a taker. While I state this, it is very clear that you already recognize this.
In fact, why this is a hard decision to make is the simple truth that, while it is not favored to relocate a team from a loyal environment that you will have to determine can or will remain feasibly supportive or not, the strength and possibility of this ownership group and what it can add to the league in sustainability and growth for the future cannot be ignored. While we aren't privy to all of the specific details you are combing through, the power and viability of this group is without question. That brings concerns, then, squarely to the proposed arena and construction timeline.
Following an enthusiastically received $96.5 million renovation of KeyArena -- $74.5 million of which was funded by the city of Seattle -- and two subsequent mammoth $300 million contributions to a baseball stadium and a football/soccer stadium, a punch-drunk citizenry was flabbergasted to find itself being leveraged for a new, significant renovation (or replacement) of KeyArena less than a decade later. More importantly, political leadership felt they were being raked over the coals with the looming threat of losing the team. In a decision that could be viewed as admirable, that leadership stood up and said resolutely that they weren't going to play that game and were not going to offer the league and the team any assistance toward a facility in any capacity.
We don't have to go too far down the rabbit hole as all are familiar with the events that led to the sale and eventual relocation of the SuperSonics franchise. The community and fandom felt bullied, betrayed, and powerless. The league felt unappreciated and decidedly singled-out. And key politicos -- not all, as there were a number of level-headed leaders looking for solutions -- wanted to exert their power toward the belief that the public shouldn't be forced to pay for private enterprise. The problem in the exercise of that belief was that it was so vehemently strong that it blinded them to any compromise that could've benefited all parties. Such compromises availed themselves in the end, but events were already in motion and that political leadership was unwavering.
This missive is not to drudge up past unpleasantries and arguments; it's all well-covered ground. This is a request to not let this history influence your perception of the arena portion of the sales agreement between the Hansen-Ballmer-Nordstrom group and the Maloofs.
This is not a presumption to know your thoughts or decision process in weighing the value and validity of the arena proposal and anticipated construction timeline, especially in comparing with the effort on the Sacramento side of things. This is to recognize that there has been a sea change in Seattle, a willingness and cohesiveness of our civic leaders to work hand-in-hand with this private group to provide the economic and cultural benefit of the NBA back to the citizens, back to the fans.
This is to acknowledge the unique, market-specific financing package that was carefully labored over for months to ensure that it was beneficial and protective of the city as well as the private investment. How that package not only makes an arena possible in Seattle but has reignited a flame amongst one of the league's oldest and greatest fandoms that was crushed, all but snuffed out, and buried deep away this long five years since the Sonics left. That feat alone is significantly worth noting at how receptive the city and its leaders are to welcoming the league back and working together in fruitful partnership.
That said, this is no whitewash. There are still citizens of our great city who feel that no money should be given in a public-private cooperation for a sports facility, just as there are in many cities around the country. They will, indeed, exercise their rights to voice their opinion in opposition, and legislation is still active that prevents the city from offering public funds for sports facilities without a positive return on investment. The local politicians and Mr. Hansen not only took this into meticulous consideration while undergoing negotiations, but upheld their civic responsibility to do so, ensuring a financing package that meets and exceeds the requirements the citizens voted into law. Their concern to get this right explicitly demonstrates the change in environment over the past five years.
And so, I ask that the effort by Hansen and his ArenaCo group, fully engaged and supported by both the Seattle City Council and the King County Council, as well as a number of civic groups and the significant Seattle corporate landscape, not be viewed through the lens of the history of five years ago. These efforts should not be punished for a time gone by when uncompromising was thought to be a virtue but was instead misguided. The assumption that Seattle is not a place where an arena can be built is an easy one to fall under, but it's an outmoded idea based on a different time and different participants. By all rights, Mr. Hansen should not be held accountable, even inadvertently, to that past.
As citizens, we were welcomed into the decision process leading to the Memorandum of Understanding between the two councils and ArenaCo. While we patiently await the results of the lengthy and extensive environmental review process to be able to properly move forward with this project, as required by law, we are confident that Mr. Hansen and our leadership have put together the best package to make this arena a reality. Given Mr. Hansen's record of due diligence and careful, considerate planning, his optimistic projections for getting this project done can be treated reliably conservative, qualified, and appropriately measured. In essence, this is a man who has earned our trust, through action and follow-through, through compromise and respect for both the process and for us.
Of even greater value, he has earned the trust of the city and county leadership, and all are working together to bring the green and gold back to vibrant life in the Emerald City. His entire ownership group is local and/or has local ties that make them personally invested as Seattleites. This is beyond a love of sports and desire to be part of a worthwhile business venture. (Though, let's not discount the fact that the focus of this group, first and foremost, is to be in the business of the NBA and the sport of professional basketball.) This is about civic pride that is blood, bone, soul deep.
Putting this all together, you have a much different Seattle than when last the league dealt with the city. Your trust and faith would be well placed in the planning, the process, the timeline, and the players on every side of this arena proposal. They have met and will continue to meet every challenge, demonstrated a clear path to victory and success. They have done so with experienced acumen, tireless passion, methodical progress, and admirable humility. To the benefit of the world-class, state-of-the-art arena that this fine group will add to the NBA, it can and must be evaluated on its own merits, of its own time, and not subject to any possible preconceptions of an unfriendly, uncooperative past long since gone.
In short, please do not punish Chris Hansen for the transgressions of others in the past.
Your time and careful consideration are welcomed and appreciated.
A proud citizen of Seattle and lifelong fan of the NBA and the Seattle SuperSonics