Hansen scores on arena, gets assist from Sonics fans

  • By John Boyle Herald Columnist
  • Tuesday, September 11, 2012 9:03pm
  • SportsSports

SEATTLE — As if funding an arena and bending over backwards to bring the NBA back to Seattle weren’t enough, Chris Hansen would like to buy you, Sonics fan, a beer.

No really, this Thursday, Hansen is buying.

On Tuesday, Seattle City Council members Sally Clark, Tim Burgess and Mike O’Brien announced they have reached an agreement with Hansen on a modified memorandum of understanding — a huge step toward bringing the NBA and maybe the NHL to Seattle. Hansen then ended a letter to arena supporters on sonicsarena.com by saying:

“I would personally like to buy you all a beer at FX McRory’s this Thursday from 5-7. First beer for everyone is on me.”

And you know what? You deserve that beer, sports fans. Yes, this deal never would have happened without Hansen. His vision, his passion for the Sonics, his patience, and yes, his money, have all been vital in getting this deal done, but just as important as Hansen’s millions is your voice; your refusal to sit quietly and accept that the NBA left four years ago.

This agreement, which, in the words of Clark gives Hansen, “the commitment from the city that he needs to go shopping (for an NBA team),” is as much a testament to the power of the average fan as it is the political process that got us here, or the deep pockets of a man hell-bent on reviving the franchise he cheered for as a child.

“This agreement could fundamentally change the model of how public-private partnerships involving sports franchises are financed,” Burgess said.

While it is true that this deal wouldn’t have gotten done if it hadn’t offered unprecedented protections to the public, it is just as true that it wouldn’t have happened if Sonics fans had listened to the people who told them to get over it in the years that followed the team’s move to Oklahoma City.

It wouldn’t have happened if fans hadn’t made their voices heard, whether they were voters writing to their city and county council members, or simply fans from all over the state attending rallies, filling the internet with their passion, or finding some other way to make it clear that the sports fans in this region would not rest until the NBA returned.

“To be frank, the city council isn’t stacked with big NBA fans,” O’Brien said. “What we heard, at least for me, was a surprising amount of real excitement for getting a professional basketball team — and there are a number of hockey fans in this town, too.

“That passion helped me put some time into this. This wasn’t something that any of us budgeted into our work plans. We had a lot of other important issues with this city, but it became really obvious early on that there are a lot of people in this city that really cared about getting the NBA back.

“They drove the process. They’re the ones who kept the fire going and wouldn’t have allowed us to stop if we wanted to.”

And even Hansen, the man leading the charge, is ultimately another sports fan doing his part — albeit a much bigger part — to bring the NBA back. If this were a business decision, and not one being made by an emotional fan, Hansen likely would have invested his $290 million elsewhere, and he certainly wouldn’t have had the patience to deal with this drawn out process when the city council asked him to do even more.

And when it comes to dealing with Seattle’s government, you’d better believe patience is very necessary. This is, remember, the city that, nearly a decade after an earthquake damaged the Alaskan Way Viaduct, was still figuring out how to fix it. It wasn’t that it took a decade to fix the problem; it took a decade of arguing, then voting, then arguing some more, then voting some more, before we even began the actual physical process of fixing the problem.

Hansen not only had the patience to not say, “To heck with this, I’m taking my money and going back to San Francisco,” he agreed to the changes the city was asking for to make an already good deal even better. So good is this deal, in fact, that when the council members were asked what they didn’t get in this deal, Burgess replied, “Nothing,” and Clark quickly added, “We got it all.”

A successful business man focused only on the bottom line doesn’t do what Hansen did. He doesn’t agree to let auditors sniff around his personal finances annually to make sure he has enough money to cover any revenue shortfalls, which Hansen has agreed to do. A passionate sports fan does that.

The money and patience of one sports fan, the passion of so many thousands of others, and yes, a city council looking out for the interests of the entire city, not just fans, made Tuesday’s announcement possible. This isn’t a done deal yet — there are still hurdles to clear — but it’s a huge step in the process, one that makes the eventual return of the NBA almost an inevitability at this point.

“It’s a huge day,” said Brian Robinson, the president of arenasolutions.org, a group that has played a big role in making fans’ voices heard. “There’s obviously a lot of work still to go, but sometimes you’ve got to sit back and enjoy it. And for all the people who worked so hard, this is one of those days, everybody needs to enjoy it. … I’m really proud to be a part of this.

“Fans did a huge job here.”

So on Thursday, a man who probably should never have to pay for a drink in this town again is once again going above and beyond. Chris Hansen wants to buy you a beer. So drink up Sonics fans, and raise a glass to a job well done.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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