HOUSTON — For 21 years the voice of the Sonics, Kevin Calabro this weekend was a face at the All-Star Game that reminded everyone of Seattle.
And virtually every player, coach, team official and media member who greeted Calabro did so carrying optimism about the imminent return of the NBA to Seattle.
“They are giving me a wink and a nod that it looks good, you guys are back in the league next year,” said Calabro, who worked events this weekend for ESPN Radio. “And I’m the one that’s got to tamp it down a little bit.”
Calabro, having lived through every heart-wrenching moment of the loss of the Sonics to Oklahoma City in 2008, says he reminds all that “there’s still a process that has to take place here.”
And while that process was as discussed as any other topic during All-Star weekend, little appeared to happen to make the ultimate resolution any clearer.
NBA commissioner David Stern’s responses during his hourlong news conference Saturday were, as had been expected, carefully worded to avoid giving much of anything away.
“I think he is being very cautious with his wording,” said Michael McCann, an on-air legal analyst for NBA TV. “I think he knows he has two concerns, and one is appearing like he is favoring one side or the other.”
The other concern, McCann said, is “the legal aspect to it,” with Stern knowing anything he says publicly could be brought up in litigation down the road.
Also uncertain is the reception that greeted Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who spent the weekend here lobbying owners on behalf of his city’s efforts to keep the team in Sacramento. The owners will vote in New York on April 18-19 whether to approve the sale of the team from the Maloof family to a Seattle group led by Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Hansen’s group also has applied to relocate the team to Seattle for the 2013-14 season.
Johnson characterized his meetings here as positive when he met the media Saturday. But he also has not yet been able to publicly reveal the details of the plan. Johnson said he didn’t think that would hamper his efforts here because he’d be able to say more in private about where things stand than he can in public. Still, McCann said, “I’d imagine there is some disappointment on his end that he wasn’t able to put together an offer yet because this was his chance to meet with folks in person.”
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, meanwhile, tracked events from home.
He confirmed in a phone interview with The Times, though, what Stern said in his news conference — that the two had recently talked about the progress of events in Seattle. McGinn said he spoke on the phone with Stern roughly 10 days ago, saying he wanted to reiterate the city’s support for Hansen’s plans and to let the NBA know it was ready to answer any questions the league might have.
“What he said to me is very consistent with what he has been saying publicly, which is that we have a strong ownership team and a strong plan,” McGinn said.
McGinn said Stern “didn’t ask for any further information and didn’t raise any specific concerns” about Seattle’s plan.
That includes the readiness of KeyArena to be the host to a team next season; Hansen has pledged $7 million for improvements to the arena. “I think we have to do the work of making it ready, but we can do that,” McGinn said.
Other steps aside from NBA approval also remain, including a lawsuit brought by the Longshore workers union to void the city’s arena deal with Hansen.
A hearing before Superior Court Judge Douglas North has been set for Friday to hear arguments on the suit, which alleges the city and county illegally reached an agreement with Hansen before the completion of an environmental-impact statement on issues such as freight mobility and alternative locations.
There also is a lawsuit that says the deal violates the terms of Initiative 91, which requires the city to make a profit on any investment in a sports facility.
An environmental review also must be completed.
Johnson referred to those “challenges” faced by Seattle on Saturday in saying he thinks Sacramento has a “competitive advantage” in having an arena deal that the NBA agreed to a year ago (though that deal must again be approved by the Sacramento City Council).
“Kevin is fighting for his city, and that’s exactly what he should be doing,” McGinn said. “But we have a solid arena (plan), we have support from the city and the county, and we are moving forward with the permitting process right now and we anticipate we will be in a position to support a team.”
McGinn, in fact, said he feels as if Seattle’s position has “just been getting better all along (since the sale was announced Jan. 21). Now there is the next big step, which is the decision of the NBA.”
One for which Calabro — who gets regular tastes of the NBA with his ESPN job but hopes to again someday be the voice of the Sonics — joins in with the rest of Seattle in anxiously awaiting.
“I have moments where I really get pumped up about the possibilities and then I kind of temper that knowing we are going to have to wait this thing out until April,” he said. “But at least we know we are going to get an answer then.”