Turn out the lights: Sonics will play in Oklahoma City next season
In the end, a 41-year legacy fit loosely into a five-page settlement. Lenny Wilkens, Fred Brown, Dennis Johnson — they're worth $45...
Seattle Times staff columnist
In the end, a 41-year legacy fit loosely into a five-page settlement.
Lenny Wilkens, Fred Brown, Dennis Johnson — they're worth $45 million.
Gus Williams, Jack Sikma, Shawn Kemp — they're worth an additional $30 million if another team doesn't come here within five years.
Gary Payton, Spencer Haywood, Nate McMillan — their histories are in a holding cell with mere optimism that they'll be released.
For two contentious years, we wondered how this would all end. We saw the Oklahoma Raiders telegraph their intentions from the beginning and hoped someone would stave off their attack. We endured scenario after scenario, proposal after proposal, e-mail after e-mail, and one vicious trial, all for a sterile conclusion.
Five pages. It's called a memorandum of understanding, or MOU in lawyer talk. It says, among other things, that the Sonics are gone.
From M-V-P chants to M-O-U rants.
Oh, how the Sonics have fallen.
The city, after exhibiting a chest-poking resolve to keep the Raiders in their KeyArena lease, folded. Once intent on letting the Sonics go only with a guarantee that NBA basketball would return to Seattle, Mayor Greg Nickels settled for a tub of cash and a promise from the NBA to be nice.
David Stern won't shoot spitballs at Nickels anymore. Stern will keep the mayor updated on relocation or expansion opportunities ("Um, sorry, mayor, nothing yet. Call back next century, OK?"), and he won't curse after hanging up the phone.
Where's the guarantee? As Nickels said on this dour day, "There is no guarantee."
Dim the lights on NBA basketball in Seattle. And prepare to sit in the dark for a while.
It could be a long, frustrating wait. The process to regain an NBA franchise will be more exacting than this failed attempt to retain one. With the unfocused leadership of several local and state politicians, it's impossible to be hopeful for a swift restoration of the Sonics.
Despite the mayor's contrary sentiments, July 2, 2008, will go down as the final bungle in a mortifyingly poor endeavor to save the city's oldest pro sports franchise. It's a day that most bona fide sports towns avoid. Seattle became a lesser city Wednesday than it was Tuesday.
It's still a fine, world-class, visually splendid place. But this was a huge, irreplaceable loss.
Now, we're back in the same place we were a year ago, only without a team. It's back to the state Legislature to ask for some arena funding. This time, the city has a $30 million incentive to make a more convincing argument. If there is no arena plan in place by Dec. 31, 2009, the Raiders don't have to pay the city that extra cash.
Clay Bennett had his deadline. Here's another deadline. Seventeen months to lobby a group clearly uninterested in funding another arena.
"We've got to get the Legislature to step up," Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis said. "And we've got $30 million riding on this."
The only good news is that the NBA has reversed its stance on KeyArena. It now believes a renovated Key will work. Obviously, Stern trusts the business acumen and passion for basketball of Steve Ballmer, who would potentially own a new Seattle NBA team. Without Ballmer and his group, which includes developer Matt Griffin, there would be no hope. As it is now, there's only scant hope.
The humorous — and unacceptable — part of this entire debacle is that all parties are communicating and acting like adults again. The city and the NBA have agreed to work together. Bennett has agreed to assist Seattle (and try to avoid losing that extra $30 mil). They're all like mafia families, hugging and kissing after killing each other for months.
Perhaps if all parties had negotiated with sincerity and purpose from the beginning, this predicament could've been avoided. In the end, the city stopped playing hardball because it couldn't win with that approach. Not with Czar Stern leading the NBA.
So will diplomacy yield better results? Who knows? Right now, it's just awkward seeing the combatants refraining from sticking their tongues out at each other.
The Raiders and the City Swindlers now working together, in a sense? Wacky. Weird.
"Kind of a twist, isn't it?" Ceis asked, grinning.
Meanwhile, Bennett was in Oklahoma City, declaring, "We made it."
He pulled off one of the biggest heists in sports history. He drained the Sonics' joy out of Seattle, which is all the better because it makes the moving vans lighter. He plans to start the process of moving the team this morning.
If you see a Mayflower van with "OKC" spray-painted on the side, don't jump in front of it. Bennett has shown how little he cares for you already.
It's best to let go, for the time being. It's over. The Sonics are gone, the Raiders are victorious, and the mayor is hoping the franchise fairy will leave an NBA team under his pillow.
The long, deep sleep begins now.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.