For those of you still unaware, I run a news-parsing blog on the side so I can keep my thoughts separate. I'm posting an article from that blog here today in the hopes that you'll enjoy it and start reading that one, too.
Also, because this makes me mad in a way that almost nothing else can.
Save Our Sonics
Why NBA commissioner David Stern is killing basketball in Seattle.
For the vast majority of you who aren't die-hard sports fans like myself, I'm going to let you in on what might be one of the biggest outrages in professional sports in the last thirteen years. This is bigger than the current steroids scandal in Major League Baseball. Bigger than the brawl at the Palace at Auburn Hills in 2004. Bigger than anything.
Seattle SuperSonics owner Clay Bennett is relocating the team to Oklahoma City.
You're skeptical. I don't blame you. You can't see why a team being moved is such a big deal. Well, let me fill you in on the details, and you'll see why this is a tremendous outrage not only for committed Sonics fans, but for everyday people like yourself who don't follow basketball.
Some background: the Sonics play basketball at KeyArena, which was renovated in 1994. I've never actually been inside KeyArena myself (since I'm a solid Portland Trail Blazers fan), but I'm led to understand that it's a pretty solid arena. The Sonics have been in Seattle since 1967 and have won an NBA championship in that time. And then in 2006, Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett purchased the team from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. Fans were concerned that the team would be relocated from Seattle, but Bennett publicly promised that he was committed to the city.
He then asked for a $500 million tax bond to build a new arena since he felt KeyArena was "economically inviable." (His justification was that there wasn't enough space for bars and restaurants. The arena itself is just fine.) He submitted a plan for residents of Seattle to foot the bill through taxes. (Guess how much of Bennett's personal money he was willing to spend on a new arena? Zero.) Voters refused, having just approved bills to build Qwest Field (for the NFL Seahawks) and SafeCo Field (for the MLB Mariners), BOTH OF WHICH COST LESS THAN $500 MILLION DOLLARS. Bennett, upon hearing this, declared that Seattle was not committed to professional basketball and announced his intention to move the team to Oklahoma City.
This stirred up complete outrage in Seattle. ESPN.com's Bill Simmons asked fans to send him emails describing their plight, and he got over 3,000 of them within 24 hours. He lists an excellent sample of them here. It's informative, if time-consuming, reading. There are devoted fans who are shocked that anyone could call them unfaithful. One fan talks about being present during the 1996 NBA Finals and not being able to hear the announcer over the roar of the crowd...during the PREGAME INTRODUCTIONS! Seriously. What kind of dedication does it take to generate that kind of noise? This same group of fans filled KeyArena so they could watch Sonics playoff road games on the Jumbotron, and they were able to fill most of the arena on weekdays. That's dedication. And that's the sort of group Bennett is stealing a team from.
Did I say stealing? I meant it. There's no way you can call this a simple relocation. This is like someone coming to Wrigley Field, buying the Chicago Cubs, and saying fans aren't suitably dedicated to the sport and moving the team to Albuquerque. There aren't any words for how outraged I am.
But shouldn't there be someone who prevents crimes like these from happening? You're absolutely right. His name is David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA. And rather than step in and prevent such a travesty (which actually would have been a crime - part of his contract states that Bennett would not attempt to relocate the team), Stern chastised the city of Seattle for not being willing to support professional basketball. He said that if the Sonics left the city, there would never be another NBA team to take their place. Seriously. Here's his exact words:
"I'd love to find a way to keep the team there. Because if the team moves, there's not going to be another team there, not in any conceivable future plan that I could envision, and that would be too bad."
TOO BAD???? This is the man whose JOB it is to provide equality in the NBA and he says it would be TOO BAD if Seattle lost basketball??? This is ridiculous. This is unconscionable. This is reprehensible. And the worst part is that Bennett was a traitor from the start. Recent emails have come to light that state that Bennett bought the Sonics with the intention of taking them out of Seattle and into Oklahoma city. (I'm serious. I have documents.) The city of Seattle has started a motion against Bennett for breaking his contract, but it remains to be seen if that will affect the Sonics' pending move.
Here's why this should matter to you.
Clay Bennett demanded $500 million to keep the Sonics in Seattle, an offer he knew would never be met. This is essentially the same as someone taking your child hostage and telling you they would shoot them in the head unless you paid an absolutely unpayable ransom. Bennett has shot Seattle basketball in the head, and he's still shooting. And kicking the corpse. And taking a leak on it. And in the future, someone could do the same thing to you. David Stern has set the precedent for the NBA. It's now perfectly acceptable to demand exorbitant amounts of money from your fan base for a new arena or else you can move the team. Do you know what they call that in the real world? BLACKMAIL. If this happened in any other business, Bennett would be facing trial right now. Instead, he's being vindicated by the very man who should be standing up to him.
In closing, let me provide you with an example of what will happen to Bennett if he successfully manages to steal the Sonics. In 1995, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell announced his intentions to move his NFL team to Baltimore. He succeeded, but not before earning the absolute hatred of the city of Cleveland. He hasn't returned to the city in thirteen years. When Browns kicker Lou "The Toe" Groza died in 2000, Modell didn't attend the funeral, saying he feared for his life. Do you think the same thing might happen to Bennett? Let me put it this way. I doubt he walks on the streets of Seattle anymore. If the Sonics get stolen to Oklahoma City, don't be surprised if you hear that Bennett was found murdered in a gutter in Seattle.