SEATTLE — We’ve heard this before.
Give up, if you know what’s good for you.
Don’t fight the NBA. It’s suicidal.
Be gracious losers, and maybe the NBA Team Fairy will leave a green-and-gold nugget under your pillow.
Outside of Seattle, that’s a popular line of thought now that it appears the Chris Hansen group won’t be allowed to purchase and relocate the Sacramento Kings. The league’s relocation committee made the recommendation to deny the move last week, and with only eight days until the Board of Governors makes an official vote on May 15 in Dallas, it seems Sacramento is primed to win this custody fight.
NBA commissioner David Stern would’ve loved for Hansen, Steve Ballmer and their investor dream team to put their heads down and walk away after the recommendation went public. Instead, Hansen is quoting Muhammad Ali and intending to exhaust his “options” to bring the NBA back to the Puget Sound.
Some say he’s crazy.
I refer to my favorite Ali-ism.
“Rumble, young man, rumble.”
I hope Hansen, who is keeping his next move private, continues to apply pressure. I hope he pushes the NBA as far as he can push it on this matter. I hope, even if he can’t get the Kings, he can do something to receive a firmer commitment from the NBA about Seattle’s hopes of reacquiring a franchise.
If the risk is alienating the league in perpetuity, so be it.
The truth is, Seattle played nice five years ago in the hopes of getting a team back quickly, and it’s not like that turned Stern into an advocate.
Think back to July 2, 2008, the day the NBA went dark in Seattle. Former Mayor Greg Nickels stood before a baffled media corps and tried to explain why giving up was for the best.
His rationale was, at best, infuriating: The fight between the city and carpetbagger owner Clay Bennett had become so nasty, so litigious, that it was bad for the NBA, and since the city was destined to lose eventually, it was time to quit, show some diplomacy, get back on Stern’s good side and keep the bridge operational for the league to return one day.
So Nickels settled the KeyArena lease lawsuit for $45 million. Bennett would’ve owed the city an additional $30 million if a team didn’t return in five years, but that required the state Legislature to authorize $75 million in funding toward a renovated Key by Dec. 31, 2009, which didn’t happen.
Two years after Howard Schultz had sold out the city, setting the entire debacle in motion, Nickels opened the gate for Bennett to move the team to Oklahoma City. And for what, besides money?
“There is no guarantee,” Nickels said that day about the Sonics’ return.
For all Nickels’ optimistic talk about being friends again, the lack of a guarantee stood out the most. In the end, despite all the ill will of the city/Bennett tussle, Stern and the NBA were happy because it got what it wanted at a good price for one of its owners. It was a good business deal — for Stern and Bennett, at least — that “repaired” the relationship.
And that part about the NBA and Seattle holding hands and singing songs and searching for franchises to plunder together? That was over soon as Bennett was off the hook for the extra $30 mil.
In a business like this, you’re friends when there is incentive to be friends. And you’re enemies until there is incentive to be friends. That’s why I think it’s a false notion that Seattle’s hopes would be forever ruined if it challenges the NBA on this Kings sale.
Short of an antitrust lawsuit — which is the nastiest this could get — there is room to fight. The NBA has seen ugly plenty, from its history of labor disputes with the players, to Stern’s controversial decisions on player discipline, to the many bitter and complicated franchise relocations. Most of these fights haven’t resulted in rampant blacklisting. And Stern, the biggest grudge holder in the league, is retiring in nine months.
Now is the time to fight.
It’s the time to fight because this is a perfect storm of a fantastic potential ownership group, a supportive local political climate, a re-energized fan base, sensible arena deal and an unprecedented offer to the NBA. It’s the time to fight because the group has some leverage with a signed purchase and sale agreement with the Maloofs and opportunities are so precious, which is why Hansen and Co. has placed such a high price ($550 million total valuation of the franchise) on acquiring a team from a small market. It’s the time to fight because Seattle may never be able to offer the NBA something this attractive again.
Without the Hansen group, the city wouldn’t even be in the game. If this investor dream team doesn’t win, there’s no telling when the city will have an opportunity again. Pushing the NBA might not bring the Kings to town, but it could make the owners open the expansion conversation, finally. Or force them to provide more clarity about how to get back into the league.
Let Hansen take his best shot. If you’re scared it will be a last shot for Seattle, well, at least you trust the shooter.