Who's to blame for losing the Sonics to Oklahoma City? That's the question being kicked around town. But I wonder why it is that "world class" Seattle keeps getting its collective ass kicked by the Okies.
It's hilarious to think of it, but the loss of the Sonics is not the first civic or even sports fiasco rooted in Oklahoma. Dial back to the 1980s for a sour taste of the Brian Bosworth debacle.
In the 1987 supplemental draft, the Seahawks picked a troubled, steroidal, mohawked, Oklahoma City-born one-man media blitz to play linebacker. There was much debate about whether a character like Bosworth suited the conservative Seahawks of coach Chuck Knox and the button-down tastes of Scandinavian Seattle, but the two-time Butkus Award winner and University of Oklahoma star was considered a slam-dunk to make an impact on a team that needed him.
Oops. The Boz turned out to be a complete bust, a distraction off the field (no Seattle football player has ever been so relentlessly self-promotional) and an embarrassment on: He was weaker than advertised, often injured, his talents clearly overblown and exposed as such on national TV. How big a fiasco was the Boz? ESPN's experts picked Bosworth as No. 6 on the list of all-time biggest sports flops; the fans picked him at No. 3.
Funnily enough, the first local team to draft Bosworth was the Tacoma Stars of the Indoor Soccer League. They did it as a joke. When Bosworth left Seattle (he now sells real estate in Malibu, Calif.), no one was laughing.
But the Boz wasn't the first bad deal from Oklahoma to leave an unpleasant aroma in Seattle nostrils. The bigger train wreck was the near collapse of Seattle First National Bank — the city's flagship bank — due to a financial crisis triggered by investments in an Oklahoma City bank called Penn Square. Here's a rundown from a 2007 Seattle Post-Intelligencer obituary of former Seafirst chair Bill Jenkins, himself a civic icon who was brought down by one of the city's "largest banking crises since the Depression." Penn Square was the Enron of oil:
... Jenkins' tenure was marred by the bank's near-collapse on his watch in the early 1980s, caused by its buying loans from the failed Penn Square Bank of Oklahoma City.
In that collapse — one of the largest banking crises since the Depression — Seafirst was left holding millions of dollars in bad loans when the oil producers holding those loans suddenly quit paying on them. A glut in the oil market, mainly from Mideast oil, drove down prices, and buyers for the Penn Square borrowers' products vanished.
Seafirst's stock plunged in 1981 and 1982, leading to a lawsuit by shareholders who lost money. The suit claimed the bank had failed to give investors material facts about its energy lending division, which lost hundreds of millions of dollars. In 1986, they won a $13.6 million settlement from the bank and its accounting firm.
Some bankers called Jenkins' loan-making policies aggressive, even reckless. Jenkins acknowledged that Seafirst hadn't sufficiently scrutinized loan recipients' collateral and business practices.
Much as it might surprise people to remember that there was once an oil "glut," it might also surprise folks to know that Seattle's bankers were doing business with a loan officer at Penn Square who was famous for drinking beer and champagne out of cowboy boots.
Stupid? Maybe. But it sounds better right now than drinking lukewarm lattes out of old Sonics mugs.
So there's the old saying, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. But what do you say when they fool you three times? Maybe you just drool like an idiot.