A bad look for David Stern as Seattle-Sacramento battle for Kings drags out
No doubt, it's a tough decision. But if you're looking at it from the Seattle perspective, it's frustrating that commissioner David Stern continues to defend the Sacramento offer while giving vague references that it does not fully match the Chris Hansen deal.
Seattle Times staff columnist
As two cities suffer through an agonizing wait, NBA commissioner David Stern is sitting vigil, choosing his words carefully — and stressing everyone out because, if you haven't heard, he's not the comforting type.
His idea of levity is engaging in verbal sparring with reporters. On Friday, during a news conference after the NBA Board of Governors meeting, he went a few rounds with KING5-TV reporter Chris Daniels, and Stern came across more as petty than entertaining. And it was no surprise what the fight was over: The widespread perception that Stern is fighting alongside Sacramento — and against Seattle, again — in this tug-of-war over the Kings franchise.
No matter how much he denies it, Stern is being cast in a role that does nothing for his Seattle image. He has been a villain in these parts ever since he grew angry because House Speaker Frank Chopp dismissed him in Olympia when Stern was trying to help Howard Schultz fund a new arena. It led to the most vindictive act of Stern's NBA tenure: His embarrassingly unprofessional encouragement of Clay Bennett and his Oklahoma investors as they bought the Sonics from Schultz, deceived the public with a phony attempt to build an arena and then bolted to Oklahoma City five years ago.
Since then, there have been whispers from credible sources that Stern realized the Sonics situation got out of hand. There have been whispers from credible sources that the commissioner would like to return to Seattle as one of his last acts before he retires in 10 months. There have been whispers from credible sources that Stern would now be an ally, not an enemy, of Seattle.
Stern had good, encouraging communication with Chris Hansen as he proposed a new arena in Seattle to lure the NBA and NHL. But as Hansen has miraculously put a local arena deal together and signed an agreement to purchase the Kings pending league approval, the Stern/Seattle redemption narrative has turned into speculation that he's pushing to stick it to Seattle again.
It's not that simple, but for emotional Sonics fans who will never get over what happened five years ago, it is that simple. Sure, this is a complicated situation because Sacramento, unlike other cities that have lost NBA teams recently, has a collective desire among fans, local politicians and the remaining public to do anything necessary to keep the Kings, including cobble together an arena deal in only three months. In contrast, by the time the Sonics left, the fans were fighting by themselves. No last-minute arena deals. No mayor competing like Kevin Johnson. No belief that losing the NBA would greatly alter Seattle, which has several professional sports teams.
The situations are different, and that's why Stern is doing everything he can to help Sacramento. In truth, this is the way the commissioner should act. The respect for incumbent cities should be this great, and the process to relocate to another city should be an extraordinarily difficult one. Considering that the Maloofs — bad owners looking for a golden parachute — sold out Sacramento, it's wonderful that the NBA is stepping in and making sure it has a good opportunity to save the Kings.
Sonics fans wouldn't even dispute that. But here's the irritating thing: Why couldn't Seattle get the same effort from the commissioner? Why did he have to let Chopp and the state Legislature get to him and turn the Sonics situation into a personal grudge match that made victims out of innocent fans?
The Stern/Seattle baggage is heavy, and that's why Sonics fans will be hyperventilating for at least two more weeks. This relocation saga was supposed to end Friday. Instead, the Board of Governors' decision has been delayed. And without question, that benefits Sacramento, whose competing offer to the Maloofs still has so many loose ends that the family sent a letter to the league saying the Seattle agreement should be approved and processed.
"We've never had a situation like this before," Stern said of the two-city competition.
Stern later said, "This will be, by far, our most extensive review of anything like this in the league's history."
He quantifies that in terms of an "enormous" amount of man-hours and money spent on outside consultants.
No doubt, it's a tough decision. But if you're looking at it from the Seattle perspective, it's frustrating that Stern continues to defend the Sacramento offer while giving vague references that it does not fully match the Hansen deal. And he's even admitting that the NBA's joint finance and relocation committee is considering an offer from the Sacramento group that is incomplete but being looked upon, for the sake of discussion, as complete.
Maybe Stern, after all the media reports about the commissioner wanting to return to Seattle, needs to win a PR battle by being overly fair to Sacramento. Or maybe he didn't envision both cities fighting so impressively over the Kings.
Still, whether true or not, whether fair or not, Stern now must deal with the perception that he's still anti-Seattle. If the team moves to Seattle, the story will be that the owners wanted it, not Stern. If the team stays in Sacramento, the story will be that he used his considerable influence to avoid having another franchise relocation on his legacy. It's a no-win situation, in terms of Stern's Seattle image. It's not that simple, but to Sonics fans, it is.
All of a sudden, Seattle vs. Sacramento is starting to feel like Seattle vs. Stern.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JerryBrewer
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