By John McGrath The News Tribune
The Sacramento Kings finally won big. A franchise that hasn’t claimed an NBA championship since 1951, when it was known as the Rochester Royals, faced Seattle on a not-so-neutral court on Monday. Sacramento prevailed in a stunner.
The score was 12-0, and while the verdict of the relocation committee was merely a recommendation that will precede a vote by the league’s Board of Governors, pro basketball’s foreseeable future in Sacramento is, so to speak, a slam dunk.
For those who were eagerly anticipating an imminent re-branding of the Kings as the second coming of the SuperSonics, the news packed a combination punch: There will be no NBA team called the Sonics next season, and it’s likely there won’t be an NBA team called the Sonics for several more seasons.
Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer had done a deal to buy the Kings. A new arena plan is in place for both basketball and hockey, ready for groundbreaking south of Safeco Field. If these guys couldn’t persuade the NBA of the benefits of putting a traditionally troubled franchise in the hands of billionaires committed to excellence, who can?
But don’t forget: Hansen emerged as the driving force behind Seattle’s bid to bring back the Sonics months before the Kings loomed as primary candidates for relocation. Then the Maloof Family agreed to sell their team to Hansen and Ballmer, and what once had looked like an agonizing wait for an available franchise turned into something that, well, wasn’t so agonizing.
A hazy big picture suddenly had converted into a bright picture with surprising clarity.
Now we’re back to the big picture, and it’s more hazy than ever.
What next? Expansion is off the table. Fabulous idea, best compromise for all involved, and no chance in hell. So it’s time to stop beating that drum, Ringo.
What next after that? There are franchises with tenuous financial profiles.
The small-market Milwaukee Bucks generate the lowest arena revenue in the league. They play home games in the BMO Harris Bradley Center, a downtown venue that probably serves spectators just fine. But it opened all the way back in 1988, which in NBA arena terms translates into a few epochs before prehistoric.
Because Milwaukee’s city budget is as unfit to solve the conundrum of paying for schools, parks, libraries, street repair, police and firefighters as anywhere else, there’s modest civic momentum toward a replacing or refurbishing the Bradley Center.
Not yet, anyway. As Sacramento has shown, the threat of major pro sports team abandoning its fans is capable of producing last-minute rallies.
(The Bucks are intriguing relocation prospects for another reason: In 1970, prominent Milwaukee businessman Bud Selig led the successful effort to remove the Pilots from Seattle after one expansion season. In the dog-eat-dog culture of pro sports, Seattle’s pilfering of the Bucks could be justified as payback.)
Like the Bucks, the Charlotte Bobcats — losing some $20-million a year under the ownership of Michael Jordan — bleed green.
Unlike the Bucks, who qualified for the playoffs, the Bobcats are as much a mess on the floor as they are off of it.
But Jordan is proud, and especially proud of his Carolina roots. He does not want basketball fans in Charlotte to speak of him the way basketball fans in Seattle speak of Howard Schultz.
Milwaukee … Charlotte … and, as we’re talking about the NBA, where traveling has been disregarded since Bob Cousy ran his last fast break on parquet, who’s to say another franchise or two, or four, isn’t on the relocation radar screen?
At least Sacramento is off the relocation radar screen.
I empathize with those still grieving about the Sonics departure for Oklahoma City in 2008.
I may not feel your pain, but I get it. The lackluster response commissioner David Stern received upon showing up for some saber-rattling in front of the state legislature, along with the wan reaction Stern stirred among King County lawmakers, created the perception the public didn’t care about the Sonics.
A lot of people cared, of course, and when Hansen and Ballmer appeared to purchase majority ownership in the Kings, a sentimental attachment to the Sonics’ glory days in the NBA engendered a sort of community-chest confrontation between Seattle and Sacramento.
Which was nonsense. Sonics fans are passionate enough about basketball, and knowledgeable enough, to understand how Kings fans share a similar passion and knowledge.
Kings fans won on Monday, so now the search turns elsewhere, to struggling markets in a city where the mayor isn’t a former NBA point guard with the savvy instincts of Sacramento’s Kevin Johnson.
Again, don’t lose sight of the big picture. Chris Hansen was committed to bringing the NBA back to Seattle before the Kings fell in his lap, and he’ll be committed going forward. A star wrestler in high school, he’s adept at fighting, and fighting fair.
I just wish he liked hockey.