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Originally published February 15, 2012 at 10:30 PM | Page modified February 15, 2012 at 10:41 PM

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Christopher Hansen steps out of shadows, now real game begins

Bay Area hedge-fund manager with Seattle roots shows charm, idealism, but can he deliver?

Seattle Times staff columnist

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I don't doubt Hansen's sincerity, but I have serious doubts about the business model of... MORE
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In case you weren't certain, Christopher Hansen is an actual person. I can confirm it. I saw him Wednesday afternoon. He's short.

He's also charming, funny and refreshingly idealistic. He's shrewd, yet shy. He probably needs to shave soon.

The man attempting to bring the NBA, with an NHL chaser, back to Seattle has come out of his 5 o'clock shadow. Hansen is neither myth nor savior nor arena fairy. He's real. And this new arena dream — it's real.

This is no longer an idea. This is a plan. Now that Hansen has revealed himself and put a face on this enterprise, Project Impossible is officially on the clock. Hansen cautions that he's still "very early in the process" and "a lot could derail it," but he's far enough along to start selling himself, if not his proposal.

It means that the big news you've been waiting for is coming. His plans may be detailed in a news conference as early as Thursday. During a 50-minute interview with The Seattle Times on Wednesday, Hansen offered only that his group is "very close to announcing our offer to the city." He calls himself "reluctantly enthused" that this plan will work. After nearly four years of darkness, reluctantly enthused sounds pleasantly ambiguous.

But despite how hard it was to arrive at this point, this is where it gets truly difficult for Hansen. To use a sports metaphor, his team has been practicing for a year to prepare for this moment. Now, the games begin. Now, the stakes are considerable. Now, there will be opponents to beat, and the opposition will test Hansen's well-conceived strategies.

Every game plan looks good on paper, but is Hansen savvy enough to thrive amid the inevitable scrutiny? Will his plan blow people away initially and possess the flexibility to be modified? And can Hansen, a hedge-fund manager unaccustomed to the spotlight, sell it with conviction?

Spend an hour with the man, and he makes an impression simply because he's normal. He's a homegrown businessman and a true Seattle sports fan who has remained loyal to his city's teams even though he lives in San Francisco now. He doesn't root for Bay Area teams just because he lives there. He's Seattle, and Seattle only. And he is convincing when he says that he doesn't want to build an arena, be a part-owner of an NBA franchise and lure the NHL in an attempt to make as much money as he can.

Hansen understands that investing in sports isn't a decision that people make for great financial gain. He wants to give back to his community, but he also wants to do something fun to feed his sports passion. He has long dreamed of being a professional sports owner. He has the right perspective on sports to handle it.

If he's successful, he just might rescue some of us from cynicism. The Sonics' departure was a bitter experience and an eye-opening one about the cold realities of professional sports. But here comes Hansen, talking about civic duty and franchises serving as community stewards and producing a product that can make an entire region proud.

Tell him that a cynic would call him too idealistic, and the 44-year-old shoots back, "I don't think I'm much different from the average person. I think that's where you're wrong. You have 20,000-30,000 people singing songs, walking through Pioneer Square on the way to Sounders games. There are a lot of people in this community who think about this the same way that I do. So I don't think I'm some ideal person. I think I'm just average, to tell you the truth. I think that's why people are disillusioned with professional sports. It's not like your average guy supports a lot of the ridiculous stuff that goes on with professional athletes and stuff these days."

Is it possible for a person to have the teeth of a shark and the heart of a boy who grew up pretending he was Gus Williams on the basketball court? If so, Hansen just might be the man who can bring back the Sonics.

"I don't mind the criticism that will come, just like I'm pretty apathetic about accolades," Hansen said.

It's easy to consider Hansen too good to be true. That can be determined later. Right now, it's most important that he proves too good to be defeated.

It's real now. He's real. Let Project Impossible begin.

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

On Twitter @Jerry_Brewer

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