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Originally published January 22, 2013 at 8:37 PM | Page modified January 28, 2013 at 9:31 AM

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Telling the NBA off was just smart business

Hey Sacramento, sorry we’re taking your basketball team. But don’t hate the player. Hate the game.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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My opposite number in Sacramento, a columnist for the Bee newspaper, doesn’t think much of us Seattleites these days.

Recently Marcos Breton was hosting an online chat for the Bee when he announced this:

“Please bar all Sonics fans from this chat. You’ve been crying like babies since the Sonics left. You’ve been whining about how your team was stolen but you have no problem stealing another team.

“Hypocrites.”

Oooh. That’s some NBA-quality smack talk. This Breton dude sounds tougher than the team we’re supposedly getting.

On these playground taunts about us “crying” and “whining” — as I recall, what we actually did was a more Seattle-like passive-aggressive mix: “complaining,” followed by “suing.” But what really got my attention here was the H-word.

Are we hypocrites? For buying — OK, stealing — another town’s sports franchise, just as ours was bought out from us?

Answer: No. Not even close.

The thing everyone needs to remember about the death of the Sonics — especially you, Sacramento — is that what really happened is we told the NBA to buzz off but good.

Our local owner, Howard Schultz, pleaded with us to buy him a new arena. We said, politely, “no.” So he sold out to some sweet-nothing whisperers from Oklahoma. Who in turn asked us to build them an even pricier palace, once again almost solely at our expense.

So again, we said “no.” Less politely this time.

The sports talk-radio shows largely blamed our feckless politicians when the team left. But that wasn’t it. The people around here had just had enough, en masse, of the pro sports extortion racket.

Sure, we were mad the Sonics owners turned out to be such liars (as far as I know, though, nobody from Seattle has been lying to Sacramento). And we were sad when the basketball was gone (especially when our old team got so irritatingly good so fast).

But the real story here was that somebody finally told the NBA to take it or leave it. To start paying your own way or get out.

A city that votes 74 percent to end the blatant subsidization of pro sports, as we did with Initiative 91 six years ago, right at a time we knew it would probably cost us the Sonics, is not exactly simpering like a baby.

And lo, look what happened as a result. Faster than you can say “12th-largest media market,” the billionaires and the NBA came sniffing back around. Only this time they propose an arena in which they pay the lion’s share of the costs, more than $300 million, as well as shoulder most of the risks. Without taxes on us. The way it should be with pro sports.

Sacramento, it’s not personal. Or hypocritical. What it is is business. All we did was tell the NBA “no” — not a word it’s used to hearing. “No” turned out to have a market value of about 300 million bucks.

So you can get all mad at us if you want. Call us names. But as the kids say these days, don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Tell the NBA to get lost. I bet they’ll be crawling back before you know it.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com

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