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The Sonics Left Because of Frank Chopp

In the end the loss of the Sonics really comes down to the actions (or lack thereof) of one man.

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The people of Sacramento have been at this for a long time and if their franchise relocates there are multiple dates they can point to as the beginning of the end for the Kings. Many will feel that January 9, 2013, the date of Chris Hansen's purchase was announced signaled the end. Others would have the clock starting in April of 2011 when the team filed for relocation to Anaheim. At that point they could argue that if nothing changed the team wanted to and was ultimately destined to move.

As an admitted outsider I think that a poorly crafted and soundly rebuked arena proposal in 2006 was the turning point in Sacramento. Prior to 2006 the Maloofs were among the most beloved owners in the league and the fans love affair with the franchise was untarnished.

While the Maloofs six dollar burger commercials and terrible PR certainly did not help, it also seemed as if somebody on the political side put together a terribly crafted proposal, resulting in an absolute landslide public display of opposition. Whatever negotiations had occurred they were unsuccessful in putting together a sustainable and financially viable proposal, leaving a messy situation full of blame and finger pointing from which the participants never recovered.

While the date of the Sonics departure from Seattle is technically July 2, 2008 most people in the region would tell you that the team was in fact gone on July 18, 2006, the day the franchise was sold to Oklahoma City ownership. Sure they may have played some more games in KeyArena, but for all intents and purposes the countdown had begun and the team was lost the moment it was sold.

Many in the know would argue that our team's fate was set on Feb. 24, 2006 when NBA Commissioner David Stern joined team owner Howard Schultz to lobby for assistance with an arena renovation they felt were needed to guarantee the teams future in the region.

The tale of that meeting is epic and repeated often enough that it must have some basis in fact. Stern had been advised in advance of Speaker of the House Frank Chopp's scorn for the NBA. When he entered the room to meet with Chopp the senior politician wasted no time with niceties.

According to multiple people with knowledge of that meeting Chopp broke the initial silence by stating bluntly, "You know I will say no. I know I will say no. How long do we have to sit in a room together before we can pretend we tried and just say no?"

That was the moment that sealed our fate and Frank Chopp was responsible for it. He was the one who made it clear to Stern and Schultz that the effort was unnecessary and the outcome already assured. In Washington any taxation policy, even that enacted by the city or county must be approved by the state legislature. As the Speaker of the House Chopp was the gatekeeper of the money. He did not value the NBA and had disdain for the feelings of its fans. He made it clear he would not consider re-evaluating that position for the fans, Schultz or any other potential local owner.

After Q&R failed the Maloofs made a very poor business decision to hold on, retaining the franchise and trying futilely to make it work while the economy and their other business interests crumbled around them. Sam Ammick, a reporter with close ties to Sacramento reported on December 30th, 2012 that "[The Maloof's] have let it be known in all the appropriate circles that bidding for the unlikely sale of the club should begin at an astounding $500 million. Common sense would indicate that the Maloof's shopped the Hansen deal locally in efforts to find a comparable local buyer who would offer them a more graceful exit.

Schultz believed Chopp was serious and reacted accordingly. With Starbucks shares in freefall and his leadership needed to protect his shareholders he chose to not to fight the long, grueling fight. Unfortunately prospective local buyers agreed with his assessment and the Basketball Club of Seattle was left with only two options to sell the team. Larry Ellison of San Jose offered top dollar but came with a clearly stated intention to relocate the team. The BOCS elected instead to accept $50,000,000 less to sell the franchise to Clay Bennett who promised a "good faith, best effort" attempt to keep the team in Seattle and carried the threat of relocation as a tool to reach legislative compromise.

That good faith effort ended quickly in 2007 when Chopp dismissed Bennett out of hand and again refused to even consider taking action to keep the team.

In 2008 Wally Walker and others staged a valiant effort to rescue the franchise. Steve Ballmer stepped up with an offer so generous that even arena opponents Chris VanDyk and Nick Licata urged consideration. Schultz supported that effort by taking legal action in efforts to undo his regrettable sale to Bennett. The offer, requiring only the most marginal of state review was again rebuked by legitlature and their efforts proved to be too little, too late.

It has taken six years and an unprecedented financial commitment to work around Frank Chopp's stubborn refusal to even consider the issue. Chris Hansen strategized to find creative revenue streams outside of the state legislature's control. Wally Walker never gave up despite being unfairly vilified by the public and fans have been forced to organize in ways that nobody thought possible, utilizing social media to make a collective impact and demand the return of their team.

On the brink of success Chris Hansen has reportedly worked himself to exhaustion. He has devoted the first two months of his young son's life to finishing a process more difficult he could ever have imagined, forcing him to pay an incredible premium to acquire a franchise.

A lot of factors contributed to this and many mistakes were made in this process. However none of that would have been necessary where it not for the stubbornness of one man who refused to offer even basic courtesy, let alone any semblance of reasonable consideration for something that has proven to be incredibly important to a huge portion of this community.

Frank Chopp's tenure as Speaker of the House will be ending shortly but it is important that we prevent further political malpractice by people like him. Please exercise your right to VOTE in the mayoral primary on August 6th and all future elections.