As I assess the deal that the city accepted, one thing really sticks out: The city placed a very high price on being in the NBA's good graces.
Basically, winning the case and forcing the Sonics to stick around -- with its rebuilding roster and cranky local basketball environment -- was to go against the will of not just the owners, but also the dollars involved. The ready tax money, the stadium, and the enthusiastic fan base, at least for the next two years, are in Oklahoma City. Keeping this team from those dollars was going to be a poke in the League's eye.
And if it didn't work, if that tactic didn't convince Clay Bennett and company to sell, then the Sonics were going to have a departing team, and vindictive NBA. That's how you really kill basketball in Seattle.
As it is, you have Steve Ballmer and David Stern working together with a little cash to get things started too.
It's no NBA team. It hasn't satisfied a single Sonic fan that I have talked to. But it is conceivable that might have been the best way to have NBA basketball in Seattle for the long haul.
Thoughts from all over:
Steve Kelley of The Seattle Times: "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."
Writer Sherman Alexie, by e-mail: "I can live with the Sonics leaving town; I can live with never having pro basketball in my city again. Heck, I've only enjoyed positive experiences in my visits to Oklahoma City. But I cannot live with the thought that the Oklahoma City guys can hang retired Sonics jerseys in their rafters if they so choose. I would only hope that Bennett and the gang are not cruel enough to do that; and if they are, I can only that the players with those retired jerseys publicly protest it."
Brian Robinson of Save Our Sonics, on SonicsCentral: "The decision was communicated to me by a fairly forlorn group of city officials, all of whom clearly wished this had worked out differently. They emphasized throughout the process that they truly felt that they were going to win the case but that as negotiations developed the hostility was growing and they truly did believe there was a real chance that the team would be two years and gone. ... This settlement is largely based on the involvement of Ballmer. He is committed to the course and the NBA is committed to him. The feeling was that the terms of this deal maximize our chances of getting the building done and the building is the key to the NBA in Seattle. If you have the building and you have Ballmer then you have the NBA, maybe not this year but you will have it. ... I find myself in a position that I have been in a lot over the last two years. I hate where we are at. I wish our position was better, but I find myself having to say 'We are where we are and there is nothing I can do about it. What can I do now, given the current situation?' The city has asked Sonics fans to be involved in efforts to get the arena funded this session. They specifically want Save Our Sonics to lead the charge. There is a real dilema here as I struggle to think about what my role is. Do I let my feelings of anger towards the city dominate the day and give up hope for a Sonics team in the upcoming years? Do I try to transition my goals long term and rationalize that this is 'just another battle' and I can still win the war by getting an NBA team. If I did those things would I simply be buying into an excuse that Greg Nickels sold me? Would I be letting everybody pull a fast one and tell me 'you can't be mad at me for selling out because I didn't sell out. I took the best deal.' I know that SOS involvement would help tremendously to pass this legislation and get an arena done. I also feel strongly that we could watchdog the city to ensure that they don't sit on this financial settlement and lose site of the NBA. I wonder if I even care enough about the NBA to do any of that? If I don't do it I don't think it will get done and I wonder if I can live with that."
TrueHoop reader Eric, by e-mail: "So this is how it ends? My parents going on a date to see the championship parade in 1979, the endless hours on the court as a kid pretending I was leading the Sonics to a championship, the hoarse voices after games at the Key, the TPing of a family friend's house because they were rooting for the Suns when we beat them in the playoffs, the Shawn Kemp birthday cake, the Sonics posters on the walls, the thought that a Sonics championship would be the happiest day of my life. ... This is how it ends? It ends by the city I call home, and boast about to the world, caving in?"
TrueHoop reader Larry e-mails: "This move affirmed the rights of owners to move their franchise for any reason, whenever and where ever they please. It can't be financially better to move a franchise from the nation's 12th best TV market to the 42 largest. From a fast growing metro area to one whose growth is rather stagnant. From a metro area of 3.5 million to one of 1.3 million and finally from one who has a per capita income of 25% more than the one they are moving to. Those are the financial facts. ... Fans should think twice about paying hundreds of dollars to owners to sit in good seats when in the near future your team's owner could move his team whether he wants to live somewhere else or he met a super model in Europe and wants to be nearer to her. Who knows what reason he will have to move. This vote has cleared the way for these kind of things to occur in the future."
TrueHoop reader Dan e-mails: "Today's settlement feels like knowing someone with a terminal illness and after a slow death has finally died. Except that is not correct, it is more like the love of your life leaving you. I don't know what to do. Basketball is my favorite sport, I follow it 365 days a year. I can name the starting lineup of virtually every team. I go to games. I buy merchandise. But in the end none of that matter to the powers that be (especially David Stern). Since the team was sold to the PBC my mind has told me the team was leaving but my heart disagreed. It's due to the optimism of any real sports fan. The one that tells you that your team, no matter how bad, has a chance to win next year. We all argue that with the right quarterback, center, or pitcher our team could win it all. Sports are full of hope, but as the Sonics have shown me, they can crush you."
TrueHoop reader Tom e-mails: "I would like all NBA fans, no matter who their team is, to let the owners know that this was a bad decision. Yes, Stern is very much to blame, and Bennett's actions are beyond reprehensible. But the owners all voted for this as well, except Paul Allen and Mark Cuban. I find this unbelievable. The entire league should be held accountable for this. So here is how you do it. Don't go see the Oklahoma City whatevers when they come to your home town. Don't watch their games on TV. Simple as that. I'm sure they will do well in OKC, at least short term. But they should not even exist anywhere else. No all star votes. No TV ratings. No visiting gate reciepts. No jersey sales outside of OK. Im serious, just boycott them, at least until Seattle has a team again. This would make the owners seriously think twice about approving the unjust move next time. Look, I agree this is not a city vs city thing. The reason it comes off that way though is that everyone seems to think this is a bad business decision. I know the people of OKC don't want to hear it but Seattle is simply a bigger market, with a much bigger pull, including a huge chunk of the Northest U.S., Canada and some of Asia. That being the case, it seems very unlikely that a team from Oklahoma makes a ton of outside revenue. An
d yet, the owners approved it anyway? Why? The best explanations seem to be that the owners did it to preserve their own freedom to move when they want. Again, I understand this. After all, why wouldn't they all return the favor? What are the repurcussions for them? The only way there could be consequences is if fans of other teams hold their own owners accountable. And although I am a Blazers fan, and I know Paul voted no, this counts for my team as well. Ignore them. Completely."
TrueHoop reader Alex: "I'm really disappointed that things have happened this way. But I also realize that this is probably the only way for Seattle to keep their team. The terms of this settlement have laid out a framework for getting the Sonics back, and from here on out it's up to the Seattle and Washington governments to make the right moves. These next steps will determine whether or not the fight to keep the Sonics was genuine or merely a PR move. I'd like to say first off that Clay Bennett and PBC did a really terrible thing to Seattle's fans. He doesn't deserve to be cheered for bringing a team to OKC. But he will be. It sucks, but there was never really anything that could be done about it. And let's also not forget that when the Hornets took refuge there for a season after Katrina, the fans totally stepped up. They DO deserve an NBA team (it's just too bad it has to be Clay's). The city of Seattle, though, REALLY blew it with their whole "lawyering up" and "poisoning the well" strategy. The ONLY way that they could have pulled this off was by totally taking the high road, which they didn't. They also ended up looking pretty incompetent after getting SHREDDED by Bennett's lawyers in the court case. The whole plan to keep the team was a hail mary and it didn't work out at all. From the fans' perspective, I think they're lucky to have come out of the settlement with this much: the logo and history of the Sonics and some resources to take steps towards securing a new team. Seattle fans ALSO deserve a team. Now it's time for the city to step up. Let's say the city does play their cards right and invests Bennett's money in renovating Key Arena under the agreement that was discussed with the Ballmer group. Then they say to Stern, 'hey, we've set up a good arena just like you asked, now let's make the team happen.' ... The City of Seattle lost this fight, but they've also been given the opportunity to do right by their fans for whom they have been claiming to be fighting. Now we're going to see if the only villain in this story is Bennett. Will the city leadership be able to step up and do the right thing? I'm hoping for a happy ending, and I'm optimistic for one important reason: If this saga so far has shown us anything, it's that David Stern ALWAYS GETS WHAT HE WANTS. And I don't see how it's in his best interest to leave Seattle's fans without a team for very long."
Dave Zirin on Slamonline: "Some deal. The city gets its payout. Bennett and McClendon get to move their team to OKC. And the fans get slapped in the face."
Percy Allen of The Seattle Times: "In NBA parlance, two words sum up the Sonics' move to Oklahoma City: Bad trade. 'I would say so, but then I'm a little emotional right now,' said Damien Wilkins, who has played his entire four-year NBA career with the Sonics. 'I'm really, really mad. I'm disappointed for the city of Seattle. I'm disappointed for the fans and the people that supported us for the last 41 years.'"
Art Thiel of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "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."
Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: "Maybe someday, maybe even soon, this son of Oklahoma City can sit back and appreciate his role in the remarkable rise of his hometown to major-league status. But the celebration is for later. For now, Bennett only wants a Fourth of July vacation in Colorado, then to hit Oklahoma City streets and sell, sell, sell this basketball team that as of today doesn't even have a name. 'I don't feel, standing here today, victorious,' Bennett said Wednesday night at the Skirvin Hotel, two blocks from the Ford Center, where his basketball team will tip off less than four months from today. 'I just don't feel that.' Bennett is too bloodied to raise his arms in triumph. Like all owners who try to move franchises out of longtime homes, Bennett took a beating in Seattle. Some of it deserved, some of it not."
John DeShazier of Times-Picayune: "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."
UPDATE: An e-mail from TrueHoop reader John: "This is not the end. Let this be a wake up call for the NBA fans in Seattle. You were too late to stop this from happening, but the way team moves will be handled in the future is dependent on you. If the team flourishes in Oklahoma, and interest in the NBA completely dies in Seattle, it will vindicate Clay Bennett. Any owner who's dismayed by low numbers, or an old arena, will think 'hmm, maybe I could do what Bennett did...' The people of Seattle must not lose hope. They must work to bring the NBA back to their city and make it thrive. If at the very least they equal the success of Oklahoma, any NBA owner would realize that all the hassle, the legal fees, and settlement money Clay Bennett paid to move the Sonics was just not worth it. The fans of Seattle not only owe it to themselves to bring back the NBA to their city, but they owe it to every other city out there with a basketball franchise. In retrospect, this move must be made to look like a poor financial decision, that's the only language the owners and the league understand."
UPDATE: E-mail from TrueHoop reader Michael: "One of the saddest parts of this whole situation is that the innocence of sports has been lost on me. Going forward I will never be able to support another team (of any sport) with the dedication I once did. What I want is the perspective of a fan from another city. Doesn't this also force you to question your allegiance to your team? Portland is just down the road from Seattle. If things fall apart and they stop drawing are you really confident that Paul Allen won't leave for greener pastures ... and even worse that David Stern won't stop them? This story will slowly fade away ... but the fact that this hasn't impacted how people feel about their NBA teams makes me feel bad for the next group of fans that have had their head in the sand."