I don’t generally make a habit of passing on third-hand accounts from unnamed sources, but this source is so credible, the account so believable and the timing so impeccable that I just can’t resist.
My source, who travels in high circles within the sports/entertainment industry, was talking to an executive with an NBA team, when the subject of the Sonics came up. My source expressed the opinion that he couldn’t believe the owners would let the Sonics move from a market like Seattle to Oklahoma City, and the executive replied that the decision had already been made. (My source emailed me the news half a day before NBA commissioner David Stern made his recent public comments, so you understand why the timing strikes me as so impeccable.)
The executive went on to say that his own boss wasn’t too thrilled about the prospect of the Sonics moving to such a smaller market, but that Stern had insisted that Seattle “must be made an example of.” Essentially Stern had determined from the moment Clay Bennett bought the team that there wasn’t much chance of keeping the Sonics in Seattle, so he decided to use it as an opportunity to teach other cities a lesson that if they don’t play ball with NBA owners, the owners will take their ball and, um… go to a different home.
Yeah sure, it’s a little bit of whisper down the lane — Stern to an NBA owner to the executive to my source to me — but it sure does explain one of the most confusing aspects of this whole sorry affair: Stern’s absolute failure to intervene constructively in an effort to keep the Sonics in Seattle. From day one Stern’s manner has wavered between standoffish and heavy-handed, ignoring Seattle fans and their plight when he wasn’t issuing an ultimatum or a threat. Seattle’s business and media establishment been waiting patiently for Stern to put aside the tough guy act and finally broker a deal, but it’s never happened; indeed, the commissioner has seemed determined to scuttle the few hopeful developments that have occasionally popped up.
So Stern wants to “make an example” of Seattle, as a warning to uppity taxpayers in other cities. He tells us that if we let the Sonics go (as if it was ever up to us), we’ll never get another NBA team. Well I think it is time for the citizens of Seattle to tell Commissioner Stern that his product sucks, his business model is broken and quite frankly, he needs our market more than we need him. The NBA’s loss will be the Huskies and the Cougars and the Storm’s gain, not to mention the hundreds of other businesses that are happy to vie for our entertainment dollars. I think it is time to tell Stern that if he takes the Sonics away, we’ll never take the NBA back… at least not while he is still commissioner.
If Stern wants to make an example of Seattle, I say we happily oblige. Let’s make Key Arena the heart of a revitalized Seattle Center, and work to fill those 40-some dates of sorry-ass playground hoops with other events. Let’s show other cities that there is life after the NBA, and that our culture can flourish and our economy prosper without paying half a billion dollars of taxpayer money into the league’s arena ponzi scheme. Let’s shrug our shoulders and say goodbye, and wait for the league to come crawling back to what is, after all, one of the most dynamic, prosperous and trend-setting regions in the nation. It may take a decade or two before we see Seattle atop the NBA standings again (…hell, it may have taken that long regardless), but if Los Angeles could survive just fine without an NFL franchise, we can surely thrive without the Sonics.