By John Boyle Herald Columnist
Before announcing the news that would break the hearts of basketball fans across the Puget Sound region, NBA commissioner David Stern got in one more dig at the Sonics faithful who already see him as public enemy No. 1 (or maybe No. 2. That Howard Schultz guy isn’t too popular around these parts either).
“This is going to be short for me,” Stern said in a press conference in Dallas. “I have a game to get to in Oklahoma City.”
Way to keep it classy, David.
Stern was about to announce that the league’s Board of Governors had voted 22-8 against relocating the Sacramento Kings to Seattle, but first he had to remind everyone that he was going to watch the former Seattle Sonics play a postseason game in their new city. Seriously, man?
Before Stern prefaced Wednesday’s news with that smug comment, I really wanted to believe that a man as powerful as Stern, a man in charge of a multi-billion dollar business, would be above holding a grudge against the city that said no to him and his league when they asked for a publicly funded arena. Despite his oh so condescending answers to all questions Seattle related, I thought there was no way such an important decision could be influenced by a petty vendetta. Then Stern decided to troll Sonics fans before delivering the death knell. Now, I’m starting to come around to the idea that Stern really does have it in for Seattle.
Once Stern was done taunting us, he delivered the worst possible news. Not only did owners vote, as expected, to deny relocation, Stern also made it clear that expansion wasn’t going to be the solution to gives both cities a happy ending. Not yet anyway.
“We look forward to continuing a dialogue of some type with the potential owners in Seattle, but we don’t have anything concrete to support with respect to an NBA franchise in Seattle as this time,” Stern said. “… I think there was a generalized talk that it would be good in the future just to consider (expansion), but awaiting the next television renegotiation, which is virtually upon us.”
So maybe the NBA will come back if the league fails to extort another city as successfully as it did Sacramento. Or maybe when the new TV deal brings the necessary windfall to make expansion viable.
But a lot can change between now and then.
As dedicated as they are, Chris Hansen and his ownership group could grow tired of fighting a league that is constantly changing the rules as it goes along. A new Seattle mayor could be less of an advocate than is current mayor Mike McGinn — who on Twitter pointed out that the city’s memorandum of understanding with Hansen is good for five years and said “we are in this for the long haul” — but who himself may not be in it for the long haul seeing as he is up for re-election in November.
Hansen made it clear in a message posted on Sonicsarena.com that he’s not done fighting for basketball fans in the area, saying. “While we are obviously extremely disappointed with today’s relocation vote and truly believe we put forth both a significantly better offer and Arena plan, we do thank the league and the owners for their time and consideration and look forward to hearing back on our agreement to join the Maloofs as Limited Partners in the Kings.”
But just as Stern has bullied so many others, he’ll find a way to bully the Maloofs into selling the team to the Vivek Ranadive-led group that wants to keep the team in Sacramento.
“We will talk to the Maloofs and see if in the next 24 to 48 hours whether we can help facilitate an agreement to be signed between the Ranadive group and the Maloofs for the sale of the franchise in Sacramento,” Stern said while holding a baseball bat.
OK, so he wasn’t actually holding a baseball bat. … yet.
Wednesday’s news reminded us that the NBA successfully used Seattle as leverage to get an arena deal pushed through in Sacramento — you could have timed the awkward pause with a sundial when Stern was asked if Seattle was a pawn in this situation — and it makes you wonder if the league now sees Seattle as more valuable as a threat to other cities than as a viable market for its product. One could argue that has become the fate of Los Angeles in its quest to get an NFL team (thanks for that new stadium you’re building, Minnesota!), and now that has to be a fear in the Northwest after the NBA dealt this blow.
Yet if any good came out of Wednesday’s vote and ensuing press conference; if there was even the slightest reason for optimism on such a down day, it was this: Stern, mercifully, is on his way out. And the man who will replace him, current NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver, sounds like he just might be willing to play fair with Seattle.
While Stern is taking jabs at Seattle by bringing up the Thunder, intentionally or otherwise — and who are we kidding, Stern is too calculated for that to have been an honest, insensitive mistake — Silver was saying things like, “We’ve never wavered in our desire to return to the Seattle market at some point.”
While Stern was making Sonics fans roll their eyes when he said Seattle would get, “Our promise of fair dealing and ultimate consideration down the road,” Silver actually sounded sincere when praising the Seattle group’s efforts to land a team.
“As Chris Hansen made clear in his presentation to the Board of Governors today, the league continues to enjoy strong support in the Seattle market,” Silver said. “We have strong support for our national telecasts in Seattle, and expansion was discussed at least as a possibility down the road. We want to wait and see what happens in our next national television negotiations, but we’re very appreciative of the fans in Seattle. We regretted having to leave the market the last time and we fully expect we’ll return there one day.”
We don’t know when “one day” will be, though we do now know it isn’t next season. But at the very least, basketball fans in the area can take comfort knowing that, as of February, that fight to bring the team back won’t involve the smuggest executive in sports, a man who can’t seem get over being told no five years ago.
So enjoy Oklahoma City, Mr. Commissioner. And feel free to stay there. We’ll take our chances with the next guy.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.