Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sonics reaction: the morning round-up

As I wrote in my Out of Left Field post on the Sonics settlement earlier this morning, there are only two scenarios by which this abrupt reversal on the city's part makes sense in my mind. The first is that they've actually obtained a more substantial guarantee of a replacement team than was indicated in the settlement deal: the second is that they were hornswoggled into accepting a bunch of cash and a number of vague promises for the future in return for their franchise.

This second, more depressing scenario, which I picked as seeming more likely at the moment, seems to be the predominant belief in Seattle for the present. As columnist Steve Kelley of The Seattle Times wrote today:

"Basketball died in Seattle Wednesday afternoon. It died because too many people who should have cared didn't. It died of neglect. It died because all of the powers-that-be stopped paying attention. ... Basketball is dead, and don't look for any miracle resurrections. Chances are good that an entire generation will grow up in this town without the NBA to watch."

Jim Moore of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, who generously took the time to speak with me earlier in the day, relates a great interview with writer Sherman Alexie in his column:

"I can't believe this is even happening."
Neither can Sherman Alexie, the author and Stranger contributor and witness who testified during the Sonics trial on the fans' behalf. The longtime season-ticket holder likened the players to Greek gods, and now they're gone.
"There's death and divorce, No. 1 and 2 in terms of stress and grief, and this is No. 3," Alexie said.
A year and a half ago in his Death Watch series of Stranger columns about the Sonics, Alexie said he cried 20 times since the sale of the team to Clay Bennett and the Oklahoma City group. Many more tears were shed Wednesday night.
"The Sonics were indigenous to the city," he said. "They were created here, their entire history existed here, and now they've died."
Alexie recognizes that the settlement made economic sense, but said: "I didn't realize that was our fight. The court case was never about that. The city decided to put a monetary figure on the love of the game and love of the Sonics. I didn't expect that to be an issue."

Moore's Post-Intelligencer colleague Art Thiel is also unhappy:

"Now we know the price of possession.
Now we learn the cost of neglect.
The 'man possessed,' Clay Bennett, showed that he will do just about anything to gratify himself and his fellow Oklahomans by offering another silly payment for NBA ball, yet one the Seattle political leadership lacked the guts to refuse.
Obliterated for cash is 41 years of sports and civic history. So much for the city's passionate courtroom argument that the pro basketball team was of irreplaceable value.
New York, if you fancy the Space Needle, bring your checkbook and a really big hacksaw. We'll deal. As with the Sonics, it's privately owned and not used by a majority of voters, and its structure is a World Fair relic that maybe could use an upgrade.
To paraphrase a famous punch line by Winston Churchill, we know what we are. We're just quibbling over price. ... As for the additional $30 million due in 2013 if Bennett hasn't helped get another franchise for Seattle -- please. Bennett being forced to help Seattle scrounge a team is like hiring Yosemite Sam to be an anger-management counselor.
Besides, as Bennett has proven throughout this sordid affair, $30 million to him and his petrol pals is like $100 to the rest of us. They'll make that in the next month's gas-price gouges, and won't have to pay it for five years. And how about that five-year wait? In today's economy, is anyone betting on anything five years out?
The notion that the NBA will create an expansion team -- probably in tandem with a second city, for a scheduling- friendly 32-team league -- is based on two wafer-thin assumptions: That the national domestic market will be flush, and that the 2009 Legislature in a declining economy will authorize tax money to trick up KeyArena on spec, as opposed to the three other times it said no when the economy was good and Seattle had a team. Good luck with that."

Seth Kolloen of Sports Northwest Magazine and Enjoy the Enjoyment, who generously took the time to do an interview with me the other day, weighs in on the NBA's illusory promises:

"This thing about how "the NBA agrees that a renovated KeyArena is an acceptable facility" is silly. It doesn't matter what the NBA says--it matters what an owner says. An NBA owner could play in the Ingraham High gym if he felt like it (ok, not really, but you get the idea)."

Constable Echelon over at Hotdog & Friends discusses both the despair in Seattle and the league-wide implications of this decision (language warning, if you care about that).

"I’m currently studying a little revolutionary era France. I’ll admit it’s always been a little hard to wrap my head around the idea of a society so unjust that the only recourse for the common man was to take to the streets, round up those responsible, and cut off their heads. I imagine that insatiable bloodlust started with those people feeling like I feel right now.
Obviously I’m being dramatic. It’s just a basketball team. In theory I’ll get over this.
I know that professional sports owners don’t care about me. I’m poor. I have maybe a couple hundred bucks a year to give them. My chief benefit is the ambience I help provide for the people in the suites. They only care about me when I’m the only exploitable revenue stream, and if a team is counting on regular fans to keep it profitable they are fucked.
The current NBA business model requires a massive amount of public money to keep teams profitable. Someone has to pay for Kenny Thomas’s contract, after all. Now Seattle has provided a delightful example for the league to scare the shit out of other markets with. We’re a nicely above average region replete with affluent demographics that’s out of the way enough that people don’t get too outraged at how we’ve been treated. If the league doesn’t care about our 41 years of rock solid fan support and consistently winning basketball teams, what hope does anyone have?"

Mr. Baker at SonicsCentral blames the political leadership for selling out.

"No team for the fans, cash for the city, an IOU from Clay Bennett if we cash the IOU from the State of Washington, nothing for the fans.
We were screwed. That offer was not going to get worse with time, and with a court win, they took money from somebody that has money, but the mayor, Mayor Nickels, said it wasn’t about the money in his testimony; it was about enforcing the lease, and retaining NBA basketball in Seattle; neither happened.
Thanks for almost rising to the challenge Mayor Nickels.
I hate Clay Bennett, I watched him lie, and now I watched Mayor Nickels let him get away with it."

And now, some reaction from the rest of the league:

Henry Abbott of TrueHoop talks about how this case affects the fans.

"It was never, in my mind, an Oklahoma City vs. Seattle thing.
It's an owner vs. fans thing.
Sports operate in a bizarre realm. The fans, who are the paying customers, provide the revenue, passion, and love that make any league worthwhile. But those same fans who are such an essential part of the franchise have no legal standing at all. They have no signed agreements. The team has no obligation to them at all.
So fans are, legally, vulnerable. And although everyone acknowledges they are central to the enterprise, they can be trampled by owners, who pay for the right to do what they would like with a team.
I'm from the school of thought that says just because you have the tiger by the tail doesn't mean you must yank. I'm for respecting the people involved, even if you can get away with hurting them. That's character.
Instead we have something that's something like the worst marriage ever, back in the days before women had rights at all. Both partners play key roles, but one can lie, cheat, hit, and all the rest of it, while the other can only be stoic."

John DeShazier of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, who understands how close his own city came to losing their team to Oklahoma, despises the way Seattle fans were treated.

"It's business, so it doesn't have to be nice, neat and topped by a ribbon.
It's business, so it can be packed full of half-truths and outright lies, with passions strewn throughout a city and region and fans left to feel used and ignored.
It's business. But that doesn't mean it's not heartless, disingenuous and undeserving what Clay Bennett and his Oklahoma City ownership group did to Seattle. It doesn't mean we should turn a blind eye and thank the heavens it wasn't New Orleans that was preyed upon by a group of men who attempted to deceive so often and so poorly, they comfortably would have fit on the witness stand for the BALCO grand jury. ... But in the history of moves -- from the Colts sneaking out of Baltimore in the dead of night, to Art Modell dragging his Cleveland Browns franchise to Baltimore, to the Grizzlies moving from Vancover to Memphis and the Hornets from Charlotte to New Orleans -- few have been more littered by deception from an ownership group.
It's business, so at the end there's no guarantee everyone will be holding hands and singing.
But that doesn't mean anyone should feel comfortable with how this deal came about, doesn't mean anyone deserves what Seattle got, the way Seattle got it."

By contrast, Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman (a paper owned by Clay Bennett's inlaws), is gloating and encouraging Oklahomans to feel no shame.

"When the Sonics come to Oklahoma City, most everyone west of Spokane and lots of folks east of there will look at OKC and quote Gomer Pyle.
Shame, shame, shame!
Shame on Oklahoma City for swiping the Sonics from the loving arms of Seattle. Shame on Oklahoma City for not waiting on an expansion team.
Don't buy it. Don't listen to it. Don't let anyone spoil your celebration. Don't let anyone make you feel guilty.
Because here's what major-league ballteams do.
They move. Always have, always will. ...
If the NFL can leave Greater Los Angeles, where's the calamity in the NBA leaving Seattle?
The Seattle crowd likes to warn Oklahoma City that if Clay Bennett can put the screws to Seattle, he will do the same thing to his hometown.
Maybe. Maybe not. Frankly, I'm not all that interested in a history lesson from a city that built a new palace for the Seahawks and a new palace for the Mariners and then wants to start lecturing other cities, warning them about the dangers of giving into disgruntled franchise owners."

There are still a few voices with a bit of optimism, suggesting they believe in the first scenario or at least think settlement was a better option than continuing to fight it out. Among them is Kelley's Times colleague Jerry Brewer, even though he still casts severe doubts on the success of this strategy in today's column:

From M-V-P chants to M-O-U rants. Oh, how the Sonics have fallen. The city, after exhibiting a chest-poking resolve to keep the Raiders in their KeyArena lease, folded. Once intent on letting the Sonics go only with a guarantee that NBA basketball would return to Seattle, Mayor Greg Nickels settled for a tub of cash and a promise from the NBA to be nice. David Stern won't shoot spitballs at Nickels anymore. Stern will keep the mayor updated on relocation or expansion opportunities ("Um, sorry, mayor, nothing yet. Call back next century, OK?"), and he won't curse after hanging up the phone. ... Perhaps if all parties had negotiated with sincerity and purpose from the beginning, this predicament could've been avoided. In the end, the city stopped playing hardball because it couldn't win with that approach. Not with Czar Stern leading the NBA. So will diplomacy yield better results? Who knows? Right now, it's just awkward seeing the combatants refraining from sticking their tongues out at each other.

By contrast, John McGrath of the Tacoma News-Tribune appears to be a confirmed believer in the first scenario, and he's sure the city will get another team in the near future:

"But once you have concluded the grieving process, understand this: The NBA is coming back to Seattle, coming back to KeyArena, coming back in green and, yes, in gold.
A franchise owned by Oklahomans who envision the dour, robotically efficient San Antonio Spurs as the model of pro-basketball success is leaving, to be replaced by a franchise owned by Seattle businessmen who’ve got this intriguing notion that the winning and consistently entertaining Sonics teams of the George Karl era might be a more pertinent blueprint.
The Sonics will return because the city of Seattle backed out of a fight that would’ve rendered the “winners” as bloodied and battered as the 1950s middleweight boxer who prevailed over Jake LaMotta in a split decision.
Beyond draining tens of millions of dollars – pocket change – from the bottomless bank account of Bennett and his buddies, forcing the Oklahoma owners to fulfill the final two years of their team’s KeyArena lease accomplishes precisely what?
It sours fans, further poisoning pro basketball’s already toxic climate in Seattle. Two seasons of Spurs Lite was tough enough. Can you imagine two more seasons?
More important, two years of attempting to humiliate Bennett – a man I sense is constitutionally incapable of saying “pardon me” after spilling his coffee on a fellow first-class airline passenger, much less humiliation – forever dooms Seattle’s chances of reconciling with the NBA.
Sure, the league is run by a commissioner, David Stern, whose every breath contributes to a smug alert. When he spoke on behalf of Bennett’s half-baked campaign for a thoroughly modern, $500 million arena in King County, Stern championed the proposal less as an opportunity than a threat.
If the Sonics leave, he said in so many words, Seattle can kiss the NBA goodbye.
The posture was firm, the rhetoric inflexible. More recently, behind the scenes, Stern was quite more amenable to a truce with Seattle: Let this team go, we’ll have your back the next time there’s a franchise-relocation opportunity.
As city of Seattle attorney Tom Carr, speaking to KJR a few minutes after the settlement-disclosure press conference, put it: “Having the NBA pleased with you is a lot better than having the NBA mad at you.”
In other words, suck it up, and try to consider David Stern less as the czar of an evil empire than a friend of the disenfranchised.
Just a hunch, but I’m predicting an NBA team calling itself the Sonics tipping off at KeyArena for the 2011-12 season."

Let's hope he's right.

1 comment:

  1. Andrew, great collection of opinions on the Sonics, ending with a glimmer of hope...the city of Seattle probably won't realize what they had until it's gone.
    If I were an OK City fan I would have a somewhat empty feeling about taking another city's team in such a devious and disingenuous manner.
    Your use of the word "hornswoggled" is amazing.