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Originally published April 9, 2013 at 9:07 PM | Page modified April 29, 2013 at 11:41 PM

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Sacramento plays hard for the NBA

When it comes to public handouts to woo the NBA, Sacramento has it all over Seattle.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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In the scoring of the Seattle-versus-Sacramento reality show, who wants to win an NBA team the most probably doesn’t rate up there in importance with, say, who has the shiniest billionaires.

But if desire does matter, we, Seattle, are toast. Because Sacramento totally wants this more.

It’s not even close. They apparently want the NBA so badly they are letting their politicians pull stunts that, if tried here, would get you run out of town. Or at least forced to sit through a lecture from Citizens for More Important Things.

Take Sacramento’s $447 million arena plan. It was unveiled to the public and then passed by their City Council only three days later.

Can you imagine the reaction from the Seattle process factory if our mayor put forth a half-billion-dollar public-private partnership and wanted it approved in just three days?

Even the recent Seattle ordinance requiring healthy snacks like carrots in the City Hall vending machines took our council three weeks.

But beyond the haste there’s what is in Sacramento’s arena plan. It’s 60 to 75 percent public subsidies, depending on who’s counting. That’s about what the Oklahomans tried to get out of us to keep the Sonics here five years ago. To which we said “No thanks.”

Then check out the goodies. In return for their mayor and City Council giving them gobs of taxpayer money, the multimillionaires agreed to provide, for the mayor and City Council, a “furnished luxury suite at the (arena),” including tickets and preferred parking “at no cost to the city.”

For all the carping we do about how our public officials are tainted in this way or that, the true nature of Northwest politics, usually, is how boring and strait-laced it is. I’m not sure anyone at Seattle City Hall these days even possesses the Machiavellian wiles it takes to even think of finagling a luxury suite.

But what’s most revealing is the public nonreaction in Sacramento. One group, called Eye on Sacramento, called out the luxury suite as a sort of bribe — “one of the dirty little details of the arena deal.” It got all of five paragraphs in the local paper and no obvious public blowback.

Again, can you imagine the populist and good-government fury that would rain down on Mayor Mike McGinn, appropriately, if he tried to use his public perch to pencil in his own luxury suite?

Let’s face it. Sacramento must want this more than we do. They want it so bad they can’t see straight.

A Sacramento blog called “Bleed Black and Purple” (see?) put the two cities’ divergent perspectives this way:

“The Kings are the one thing (outside of state legislation that makes its way through the Capitol) that gets this city mentioned at a national level. There is a reason why this city fights the way it does. Because this is it for us.

“But if the NBA doesn’t end up returning to Seattle ... outside of the die hards, would the city really feel it?”

Probably not. I support the Sonics coming back, but culturally and economically I’d say the Sacramento blogger’s got Seattle pegged about right.

So what will sway NBA owners when they choose a winner next week? Seattle investors supposedly have a signed contract to buy the team. With the city, they’ve crafted one of the better arena deals in the nation for taxpayers. In a normal business, that would be a slam dunk.

This is no normal business. It’s a cartel. And one thing we know from bitter experience is the NBA cartel likes its host cities a little desperate.

Easier to leverage more subsidies that way. Advantage: Sacramento.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com

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