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Originally published Tuesday, July 5, 2011 at 10:01 PM

Steve Kelley

There's no reason NHL and NBA can't succeed in Seattle

Seattle needs a big-league boost, and rumors that Chicago businessman Don Levin is interested in building an arena on the Eastside might be exactly that for a region that has shown it can embrace a new professional team.

Seattle Times staff columnist

quotes Only one possible name for the NHL team...The Seattle Metropolitans. We won the Stanley... Read more
quotes "And why does small market Oklahoma City have a championship-caliber NBA team, whi... Read more
quotes Bring back the Seattle Metroplitans! The first US American team to win the Stanley Cup... Read more

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So what do you call this NHL team that might, just might, be coming to an interstate near you?

The Seattle Coyotes? The Bellevue Coyotes? The Washington Coyotes?

Or will it be the Eastside Panthers? The Seattle Panthers? The Washington Blue Jackets? The Seattle-Bellevue Blue Jackets?

It probably still is a long way from becoming a reality, but the idea of a new arena being constructed on the Eastside is more than just wishful thinking on the part of every local sports fan hungry for hockey and the return of basketball.

As Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said recently, the idea of a new arena now is in the hands of the real-estate moguls.

If they build it, teams will come.

Should we call the region's next NBA team the Seattle Hornets? The Washington Hornets? Or should we have a contest to decide not only the nickname, but the geographical designation?

Of course, we're getting way ahead of ourselves. So what? It's summertime, a season that allows time to day dream. And Chicago businessman Don Levin sounds as if he's more than merely a dream.

According to KIRO-TV, he has been out here and has had talks with the right people about building an arena on the Eastside.

My worst fear since the Sonics left for Oklahoma City was that we would spend the next decade or more in some emotional tug of war, getting pulled back and forth between rumors.

We would chase after every whisper from the New Orleans Hornets to the Florida Panthers, hoping some foundering franchise would leave home and come to the Northwest. We would glimpse a dozen different arena blueprints only to discover there wasn't enough money to make the plans work.

But this story has legs and the timing could be perfect for Levin, who is an owner of the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

The runaway success of the Sounders has shown that, if it is done right, Seattle will embrace a new team.

With the NBA now in the early stages of what is going to be a long and acrimonious lockout, the league has its best chance to finally fix its business model and make owning a team more attractive.

And the lush, two-month Stanley Cup run of the Vancouver Canucks has re-energized the legion of hockey fans south of the Canadian border.

Why not here? Why not start now?

This region needs a new arena. Why does Tulsa have a glittering, state-of-the-art building and Seattle-Bellevue doesn't? Why are NCAA tournament games — men's and women's — going to Spokane in March and not Seattle? And why does small market Oklahoma City have a championship-caliber NBA team, while Seattle has no team?

Stuff is percolating around here.

There are several blueprints for arenas on the Eastside. There are many well-heeled moguls who want the NHL, the NBA, or both. And there are ways to construct a new building that don't involve raising taxes.

My wish is that somebody in our community would step up and rally the fans. We need a Mark Cuban-kind of leader who isn't camera shy; an orator who has done this before and has a sense of the pulse of the population.

This is a big-league region that needs a big-league boost. It needs more conventions and a better concert venue. It needs a better variety of sporting events than the occasional skateboarding or bull-riding contests.

It needs Sidney Crosby and Dwight Howard, Tim Thomas and Dirk Nowitzki coming to town. It needs a place to celebrate the depth of the basketball talent the region has produced, homecoming nights for Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford, Brandon Roy, Spencer Hawes, Aaron Brooks and the rest.

Imagine a game night to anticipate on a gloomy Tuesday in February. And imagine what a light-rail link to a new arena in Bellevue would do for the nightlife of the region. Think about the jobs that arena would create.

Imagine the energy a late-spring playoff run would generate. Imagine a renewal of the NBA rivalry with Portland and a new, fired-up hockey rivalry with the Canucks.

It appears that Don Levin wants to own a building and bring big-league sports teams to some worthy town.

Why not here?

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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