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Originally published February 13, 2012 at 10:01 PM | Page modified February 14, 2012 at 6:30 PM

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Why we shouldn't feel guilty about stealing another city's team

Relocating teams is just part of the NBA's transient game.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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It's not that I feel guilty Jerry, I just don't want the Kings. I don't want any NBA... MORE
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It's hard not to feel like a hypocrite right now. Christopher Hansen, our arena fairy, is working diligently to try to build a palace that could lure the NBA and NHL, and as intriguing as it sounds, there's an inner conflict because Seattle can't succeed without doing harm to another city.

Four years ago, we were robbed, right? That's what the popular never-forget-the-Sonics T-shirt says. ROBBED. A group of Oklahoma businessman bought the Sonics from Howard Schultz in 2006, and two years later, the moving vans were breaking the speed limit. Forty-one years of civic pride, gone. Thinking about Oklahoma City is like eating cold oatmeal now. It makes Sonics fans want to gag.

Here we are in 2012, though, trying to get in position to do the same to the NBA's Sacramento Kings or New Orleans Hornets or the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes or any other team that would make us feel whole again.

Hypocritical? Perhaps.

But should we feel guilty? No. Not at all.

Here's why: We didn't invent this game. We're just left to choose whether we want to engage and play. The business of American professional sports is built around our irrationality. It's an infallible con because our love for sports is so strong in this country. Ponder the absurdity that a privately owned sports business gets to choose when it operates as a public jewel and when it chooses to be a cold and independent moneymaker. At its worst, it can be a most one-sided love affair — all take, little give. It accepts a city's name and its loyalty, only to drift somewhere else if business gets tough.

It's an insane relationship, really. But for any city, it has considerable benefits, too, including international branding, a trickle-down effect that allows many businesses to make money and civic pride. If you can get a sweet deal that involves little or limited taxpayer money — which, it appears, is Hansen's goal — then a city is foolish not to embrace the opportunity for more entertainment.

Make no mistake, though, that this is a vicious game. Guilt is a futile emotion. That's because relocation is inevitable.

Look at the NBA, where half of its 30 teams can be considered transplants. And that's not counting current NBA cities such as New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Charlotte and Dallas, which have lost franchises during the league's 64-year history.

Pro sports leagues are known to be transient, but NBA teams move the most. In the past 30 years, six NBA teams have done the city shuffle. Major League Baseball has had one during that time.

Three NBA franchises have relocated since the turn of the 21st century. The NHL, MLB and NFL have had two combined.

Seattle didn't invent the rules. In fact, Seattle suffered from playing by these rules. I once wrote that I have no ill feelings toward the people of Oklahoma City — save the anger for the people actually involved in the "heist." They did what they needed to bring the NBA there. Just the same, other cities shouldn't be angry with Seattle because there's a buzz about taking their team.

I feel bad for Kings fans, in particular. I covered the NBA when Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic were all-NBA players on those entertaining Sacramento teams, and for about five years, the atmosphere in that arena was the best in the league. The fans have done nothing wrong, just like the average Sonics fan did nothing wrong.

But cities lose because many pro sports teams are terrible at business, and when they hit rock bottom, they always look for a bail out. When you can't provide one, they just bow out. That's often the game. Spoil them or else.

Sacramento will have a hard time playing victim when you recall that the Kings came there from Kansas City after stops in Cincinnati and Rochester. New Orleans once had the Jazz, lost them to Utah and then took the Hornets from Charlotte, which now has the Bobcats. Even the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the NBA's signature teams, originated in Minneapolis.

So, why bother? Well, as I said before, there are plenty of benefits. Let's face it: We live in a sports-crazed society. If a city wants to be big time, it has to have 'em in our culture. It's like a party at a popular nightclub. They're asking a ridiculous cover charge, so why pay it? Because we really want into that party.

It's not right. It's not fair. It's not logical. It just is.

I want the NBA back soon, with the NHL on the side. By any means necessary. Who's with me?

And as we play this game again, instead of feeling guilty, we should spend more energy watching our backs.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @Jerry_Brewer.

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