Say Goodbye, Seattle

Chris McGann, Angela Galloway and Craig Harris report in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

The Legislature said no, so the Sonics say they'll have to go.

For the third consecutive year, the Seattle Sonics failed to convince the Legislature that taxpayers should help finance a new arena for the NBA franchise.

"This is a staggering and quite likely a debilitating blow to our efforts to develop a world-class arena facility. Clearly at this time the Sonics and Storm have little hope of remaining in the Puget Sound region," owner Clay Bennett said in a statement.

After a meeting between the governor and House and Senate leaders Monday evening, it was apparent that the Sonics' proposal did not have enough support to pass.

"We are not going to vote on anything this session," said House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam.

What does David Stern have to say about all this? Isn't he a warrior for keeping teams where they are? Well, he hasn't said anything I have seen about this particular bit of news, but he was the guy at half-court in Oklahoma City a few nights ago saying he can't wait until the NBA is back. Even though he made clear he had no particular team in mind, that has to be a little bit of a thumb in the eye of grieving Sonic fans.

Nevertheless, Brian Robinson and Steven Pyeatt of Save Our Sonics and Storm are not giving up:

Mr. Bennett and the Professional Basketball Club have had a very short time to overcome substantial adversity. During this period they have established an impressive coalition of community and business leaders. They assembled a first class design and development team and put together a very viable funding package which came closer to passing than most people probably realize. Additionally the city of Renton has proven to be a remarkable advocate for the Sonics and Storm in this region. It is our sincere hope that all of these parties will continue to move forward until the King County Events Center becomes a reality.

At this point we as a community need to be proactive if we want to retain our NBA and WNBA franchises and their 40 years of history. In his most recent statement Mr. Bennett makes it clear that this important part of our cultural heritage is at risk because of the faillure local legislature to provide even minimal attention to this issue. Their refusal to consider the tremendous value of the teams and the new facility to King County and Renton is extremely troubling.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times makes the case for the arena. And you know what's weird? I have close friends who were born and raised in Seattle and love those SuperSonics. I get a little misty at the thought of an NBA-free Emerald City. And I'm a big fan of Steve Kelley's writing. Yet I can't honestly say I found his argument for the Sonics all that convincing. In a place that has just spent a boatload on sports stadiums, has had some ups and downs economically, and has real pressing cash needs for bridges, schools and the like, I can't really say this expensive stadium should be a high budgetary priority either.

People smarter than me probably have great ideas about better models for financing stadiums. We do need them, I'm convinced of that. I don't know what the solution is exactly (is there some way taxpayers can share in the wicked appreciation in team value that such stadiums enable?) but we need some new ideas.

I have the feeling that if every city saw it the same way, if the Oklahoma Cities of the world weren't so eager to make a deal that the Seattles of the world don't like, the NBA wouldn't disappear. The NBA owners would reinvent the model, quite probably with a long-term reinvention of the collective bargaining agreement, lower salaries, and some relief from the bad contracts that eat up a huge percentage of NBA payrolls. You could build a lot of stadiums with 25% lower salaries around the whole league and I'll take my chances on whether or not that would impact the quality of the game. (Does anybody really play harder for $10 million than they would for $7.5 million?)

UPDATE: If there's hope, it's with the governor, as described by Mike Seely on Buzzer Beater:

Could it be that County Executive Ron Sims (on the record as firmly supporting the Events Center) and Cantwell, who employs Gregoire's daughter as her legislative director, are providing the Governor with a bit of political cover to call a special session specifically to force a full vote on the Sonics arena? Let's hope so.

Makes some sense. And there's the hard bargaining angle: tell the fans that their team is really leaving as the ultimate ploy to see what kind of rise you can get out of them. If the response is overwhelming, then maybe votes materialize to get this done. If the response is tepid, then there's always Oklahoma City.