Commentary: Seattle deserves another NBA team, even if it hurts another city

  • Sat Feb 18th, 2012 9:39pm
  • Sports

By John Boyle Herald Writer

SEATTLE — As we sat watching two politicians outline the arena plan that could bring the NBA and NHL to Seattle, there was an unmistakably celebratory mood at Seattle City Hall.

Yet, one thought kept creeping into the back of my mind even as I dreamed of watching the Sonics play basketball once again: This is probably a lot like how people in Oklahoma City felt four years ago.

As basketball fans in Washington mourned the loss of their team in 2008, another city was throwing a party to welcome the NBA to their neck of the woods. And admit it, a little part of you hated those basketball-thieving Oklahomans for it even if the fans had no hand in the act.

Which brings us back to Thursday at City Hall.

“This proposal could be special,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said. “It represents the first real path we’ve been able to see to bring back our beloved Sonics, and to attract a whole new league, the NHL, for hockey fans in the Northwest.”

What he didn’t say, but what everyone in the room knew, was that it also represents the first real path to an NHL and NBA franchise being relocated. Yes I was excited about the proposal for a new arena that was outlined by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Constantine, and yes, I very badly want to see the NBA and NHL in Seattle. But if that happens, it’s going to mean taking existing teams from other cities. So as wonderful as it would be to have two more professional sports teams in our region, I can’t help but also feel for the people in the cities that would be losing teams.

“What does this mean for Seattle?” McGinn said Thursday. “If we succeed, this project means hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment. An investment that would help our city recover from the longest and deepest recession since the great depression.”

And he’s right. A new arena and new teams would mean jobs and a boost to local economy. But that also means lost jobs, a blow to the local economy, and devastated fans for whatever city loses a team, be it Sacramento or New Orleans or some other city that in the near future will upset NBA commissioner David Stern for its failure to build a shiny new arena.

This situation isn’t the same as the one that transpired with the Sonics move to Oklahoma City. For starters, Christopher Hansen, the man behind the arena proposal, won’t help purchase a team under the guise of keeping it in its existing city. Hansen, a native of Seattle, has made it clear that his goal is to bring the NBA and NHL to Seattle, unlike Clay Bennett who talked about keeping the Sonics in Seattle as he schemed behind the scenes to move the team as quickly as possible. But that doesn’t mean losing a team won’t hurt a city like Sacramento.

And I’m also not completely sold on the fact that it is OK to take a team from Sacramento because the Kings originally played in Rochester, then Cincinnati then Kansas City before moving to Sacramento “only” 27 years ago. No, the Kings’ history isn’t as rich as the Sonics’ was in Seattle, but is that going to make the loss of a team sting any less to a passionate 12-year-old fan who loves the Kings more than anything? Is it going to make it any less devastating to the restaurant or bar owner who will go out of business when the team leaves?

But all of that being said, here’s the thing: as bad as I would feel for another city that lost its team, I still want it to happen. Seattle should have an NBA team, and the sad reality is that getting one will mean taking from another city. Sports have become a business of greed (I’d say professional sports, but you know, college). Like it or not, franchises will continue to move around as owners and leagues try to squeeze every drop of profit out of their investments. And if Seattle doesn’t get a new arena and fill it with NBA and NHL teams, guess what? Some other city will.

Anaheim nearly landed the Kings last year, and it, along with a handful of other cities, would love to welcome a new team. So even if we might feel a little conflicted taking a team four years after having ours stolen, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t welcome it with open — albeit conflicted — arms.

Herald Writer John Boyle: