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Washington's NBA chances: Silver's the key

David Stern had it out for Seattle from the beginning. Why Chris Hansen's better off waiting for his successor to take the NBA reins.
A break during a 2008 game at KeyArena.

A break during a 2008 game at KeyArena. Colin Whittaker/Flickr

Asked what he knew of NBA commissioner-elect Adam Silver, Chris Hansen said, "He's a rational, sensible guy." If true, whew. That puts him well ahead of his predecessor, David "I have a game to get to in Oklahoma City" Stern, for whom vindictiveness is a life force.

Yes, I know: Hansen encouraged his Seattle audience on KJR radio Tuesday to get over the anger they felt toward Stern and the NBA for rejecting his bid to buy the Sacramento Kings and make them the Sonics. That's fine. Good of Hansen to help with the group therapy, and better that Hansen himself take the high road. He has no choice, really.

But the issue is not anger. The issue is fair dealing. Seattle was never going to get a fair deal from Stern. He said so Nov. 8 2007, in Phoenix when he said, of the Clay Bennett-owned Sonics, “If the team moves, there’s not going to be another team there, not in any conceivable future plan that I could envision. There’s no way the league would ever return to the city.”

Well, the Sonics left, and so far Stern has been right. But his tyranny ends next Feb. 1, when Silver takes over. Only then will there be a chance to see if Silver is, as Hansen believes, rational and sensible, ushering in a different kind of leadership.

By then, other things will have changed regarding Seattle's chances for another pro basketball team.

The proposed arena's environmental impact statement will have been released, and opponents of the SoDo location will likely be months into their lawsuits. The NBA will also be several months into a negotiation with its network partners, close to a new deal well before the current contracts' 2015-2016 expiration. And most of the NBA's money-losing teams will be a year closer to breaking-even as the effects of the 2012 collective bargaining agreement take hold.

The upshot is that, while the chances of relocating a team will be reduced to near zero, the chances for an expansion team -- should Hansen prevail with the EIS -- will have increased.

For Seattle, expansion will be much better than had Hansen and partner Steve Ballmer succeeded in poaching the Kings. Yes, gratification for Sonics fans will have been delayed, but the ugliness recently visited upon the two sports markets and the NBA will not have to be revisited, and Seattle will engage with a fresh team without blood on its hands.

Hansen's interview with KJR revealed that he really didn't have the ruthlessness to be predatory (his word) in extracting the Kings. Ballmer probably didn't blink, but Hansen confessed that the conflict between the cities "made me sick to my stomach," causing him to ask himself, "How did I get myself in this position?"

In hindsight, an unpleasant fight was a guaranteed minimum, and a bad outcome was forecast six years in advance by Stern. Hansen and Ballmer didn't see it coming.

From the moment the Sonics left in July 2008, the central question was whether Seattle had the chops to poach a team in the fashion of Oklahoma City's Clay Bennett. Remember, the NBA at the time was financially faltering and would have been wiser to contract than expand.

Disregarding Bennett's two dissembling years as owner in Seattle, he and Hansen had the same ultimate agenda: To take a team from another market. The hard-core Sonics fans didn't mind Hansen’s intentions, but if one can judge civic attitude from a public vote, hard-core fans are in the minority. The I-91 vote in November 2006, which required a pro sports team leasing KeyArena to return a small profit, won by a citywide plurality of 74-26.

That vote offers a clue that there's a big majority of people in town who either didn't care about, or actively opposed, the Sonics and/or pro sports. That's certainly how Stern took it. It's how Hansen took it too, because he created an arena deal that put the risk heavily on the private side instead of the public side. Hansen knew he had to win over the don't-cares and their electeds with a good deal for taxpayers.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, May 30, 1:14 p.m. Inappropriate

An expansion team would be terrible on the court for years.

Lincoln

Posted Thu, May 30, 7:17 p.m. Inappropriate

They would fit right into the Seattle Sports scene then.

Most people seem to forget that the majority of Seattleites do not want to subsidize the new team to the tune of $200M. Perhaps David Stern just has the best interests of the Seattle tax payers in mind.

WSDW

Posted Mon, Jun 3, 12:19 p.m. Inappropriate

The majority of Seattleites would not want to subsidize most anything, although I do give credit for recognizing the need to keep downtown off the bottom of Puget Sound with an upgraded seawall. But the relocation would help cut congestion by limiting traffic.

A little more seriously, the public money in question is a lease purchase, in order to borrow construction funds at the municipal interest rate rather than a private rate. It is public support, but not a tax subsidy.

Art Thiel

Posted Thu, May 30, 8:12 p.m. Inappropriate

If Hansen and Ballmer have enough money to pay five to six hundred million dollars for the Kings, a 115 million dollar relocation fee, the 77 million dollars they would have had to pay Sacramento; then, Hansen and Ballmer have the 145 million dollars they demand from Seattle to pay for their own arena. The MOU needs to be dumped by the Seattle City Council now.

jhande

Posted Mon, Jun 3, 12:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Again, the purpose of the loan is to borrow at municipal rates, a saving of millions. It is the opposite of Sacramento's deal, which proposes to forgo $258 million in parking revs.

If Hansen/Ballmer can't borrow at muni rates over 30 years, the deal doesn't pencil. Opponents of the arena's location have a stiffer argument than opponents of the financing, which has been described by impartial economists familiar with sports stadium transactions as one of the best deals offered any U.S. municipality, because the risk is borne almost exclusively by the private sector.

Art Thiel

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