The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Art Thiel has long been my favorite local columnist. What makes him a good columnist is also what makes us lucky he's not a gun-toting spree killer who's climbed a clock tower to teach us all a lesson. Thiel's latest column on the Sonics reminds me of the last scene in the movie Bataan where the movie fades out as doomed G-I Robert Taylor defiantly sprays machine gun fire as he's about to be over-run by the enemy. Thiel stands his ground like he's defending the Alamo, and he's generous in spreading blame and naming names when it comes to answering the question: Who lost our storied NBA franchise?
Let's tally up the casualties of Thiel's rat-a-tat-tat:
Howard Schultz and Clay Bennett are duplicitous phonies.
NBA commissioner David Stern is a scheming, "slippery" manipulator.
Mayor Greg Nickels and House Speaker Frank Chopp are do-nothing witnesses to a crime.
The voters of Seattle are muddle-headed for passing a "foolish" initiative restricting sports subsidies.
Former Sonic player and team president Wally Walker: incompetent.
Gov. Christine Gregoire and the entire state Legislature: guilty of "political cowardice."
Angry Art throws everyone against the wall except J.P. Patches.
Thiel's indictment complains of civic incompetence that rivals Nero's. He is not without hope, however thin. He pins it on a bevy of local bigwigs who could play savior in bringing a team back to Seattle. They include Steve Ballmer, John Stanton, Matt Griffin, David Sabey and Dave Bean. All could be heros. All could show they have vision and guts by building a new arena and enticing the NBA back someday.
But all have reason to be cautious. Sabey I'm sure remembers the painful lesson of trying to save the old Frederick & Nelson department store. We cheered him on, but he nearly lost his shirt trying to please the hometown crowd by shoveling his fortune into a financial black hole. The fact is, as Thiel notes, the economics of NBA basketball are insane these days. Pro sports have become civic vampires, putting on great shows but demanding the blood of public funds to keep them going. It's no longer sustainable. And as tragic as it is to lose the Sonics--as a preservationist I would love to see them stay--they're not worth the price of blood and treasure that's demanded these days to prop up a game played by millionaires playing for billionaires. If Ballmer & Co. want to support that, fine, write a check for the whole amount and consider it a charitable donation.
The silver lining to what we lose of Sonics history, culture and fun: we have one less "world class" amenity and that might, just might, make the city a little less appealing to the global vagabonds of the creative class who want their urban experience here to be a seamless smorgasbord of expensive treats served up like tapas in the city of the moment.
Seattle could stand to regain some of its second-rate status. That said, I don't want Art Thiel to get any ideas about moving his franchise anywhere else.