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Originally published May 15, 2013 at 7:30 PM | Page modified May 17, 2013 at 12:27 AM

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David Stern's Seattle sucker punch shows we must stop being a pawn in NBA's game

Scorned Seattle must wait for Adam Silver to take over as NBA commissioner and save its energy for an expansion fight it can win.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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At the end of the fight, the old, vindictive NBA commissioner couldn't announce the winner without first needling the city he was about to make a loser again.

At the end of a polarizing relocation issue that he once described as "wrenching," the man who always measures his words couldn't resist one smug remark directed at Seattle.

At the end of another heartbreaking NBA result, David Stern taunted us.

"This is going to be short for me," he told reporters in Dallas on Wednesday. "I have a game to get to in Oklahoma City."

Ouch.

It was a sucker punch followed by a gut punch. First, Stern reminded Seattle that its team is now in Oklahoma City. Then, he announced the NBA was rejecting the city's bid to get a team back.

"This was not an anti-Seattle vote," Stern said after the NBA Board of Governors voted 22-8 to deny the attempt of a group led by Chris Hansen to relocate the Sacramento Kings. "This was a pro-Sacramento vote."

In other words, Seattle lost in the same way that a sparring partner loses to a boxer in training. It wasn't a real fight, just an exhibition for the benefit of one. Hansen really wasn't competing for the Kings. Seattle existed solely to be used to make Sacramento better in the NBA's eyes.

For the past four months, we have been Stern's pawn. Now, we're back to being his punch line.

No more.

Let's not play this game anymore. The next time Seattle plays with the NBA, it has to be a fair game that the city is capable of winning. For certain, that means it has to be a game that Stern isn't overseeing, which will require waiting until Adam Silver takes over in February to engage in talks again.

The Stern/Seattle relationship is too toxic to bother mending, and if there was any doubt about The Commish's grudge-holding ways, his opening remarks made his Seattle disdain clear.

The league turned down an epic Seattle offer in order to do the right thing — and since when did the NBA start caring about doing the right thing? Seattle's failed bid doesn't just affect Sacramento. It gives a clear path for every incumbent NBA city to keep its team. Heck, the past two NBA relocation situations, both involving Seattle, provide a road map of what to do and what not to do.

Stern made an example of Seattle five years ago when the league moved the Sonics to OKC after a contentious, ill-timed fight over building a new arena. Now, Sacramento represents the best-case scenario. It'll be so easy to go to cities now and lobby for new arenas by saying, "You want to lose your team like Seattle? Or do you want to be like Sacramento?"

Let's not play the poaching game. Any reconciliation between the NBA and Seattle should be mutual. It can't just be about Seattle trying to get back on the NBA's good side. It can't just be about the NBA threatening other markets by dangling the idea of moving to Seattle. It has to be a shared desire to come back.

Which means it likely has to be expansion. No more playing the sparring partner.

It seems that Silver, who is younger and has fought fewer battles than Stern, is a practical man open to the idea. Some make him out to be Stern's puppet of a sidekick, but that's unfair. He will bring a fresh perspective.

Asked Wednesday about Seattle, Silver sent a strong indication that expansion will be considered, likely early in his tenure as commissioner.

"We want to wait and see what happens in our next national television negotiation, but we're very appreciative of the fans in Seattle," Silver said. "We've regretted having to leave the market the last time, and we fully expect we'll return there one day."

Of course, we hope the NBA commissioner-elect understands why we frown upon the notion of "one day." Five years ago, Stern convinced Mayor Greg Nickels to stand down, drop his lawsuit against Clay Bennett and let the Sonics move to Oklahoma City, partly on the promise of getting a hookup "one day."

Five years later, "one day" didn't happen despite a $625 million offer, a $490 million arena deal and a group Stern recently called a "perfect prototype NBA owner."

The disappointment isn't about not getting to steal the Kings from Sacramento. It's about being locked out of the league without clarity as to how to open the door. As much as we've tried to argue otherwise, it is both fair and proper that the Kings remain in a place they've called home the past 28 years. From the fans to politicians to big-wallet investors, Sacramento exhibited an overwhelming will to keep the Kings.

But in Seattle, an NBA city scorned, the league's newfound appreciation of loyalty doesn't resonate. We hate the NBA business model. And we want back in for selfish reasons and on our terms.

This city is too wonderful and too proud to be dismissed like Stern has done. That's why Hansen wants to fight back. That's why he's still talking about trying to become a minority Kings owner, which would make this an even greater fiasco. Ultimately, he'll back off, but not until the NBA starts negotiating with clarity and good faith.

Not until Stern ceases with his unprofessional vendetta.

Not until Seattle gets to play a game it can win.

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

On Twitter @JerryBrewer

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