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Originally published February 4, 2012 at 10:01 PM | Page modified February 4, 2012 at 10:05 PM

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Progress being made to acquire NBA, NHL teams

Almost since the day Seattle was robbed of its NBA team, a group of well-intentioned, well-heeled, basketball-savvy hoopaholics quietly has been working with both local government and league officials, attempting to get an arena built and a team returned to this city.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Almost since the day Seattle was robbed of its NBA team, a group of well-intentioned, well-heeled, basketball-savvy hoopaholics quietly has been working with both local government and league officials, attempting to get an arena built and a team returned to this city.

Now, four seasons after the Sonics left Seattle and became the Oklahoma City Thunder, the possibility of the NBA returning feels more real than ever.

What if the group that includes former Sonics president Wally Walker can accumulate enough property south of Safeco Field and gain a few concessions from the Seattle City Council (an increase in the hotel-motel tax, a surcharge on tickets) to build an arena that will be predominantly privately funded?

Without fanfare, without news releases or news conferences, without any look-at-me showboating, people who want the league back in town have been trying to make it happen.

Rapid recent progress has been made. Mayor Mike McGinn has been among those championing the idea.

And once the plans for construction of a new arena near Safeco Field are finalized, I believe the NBA will return to Seattle. The financially strapped Sacramento Kings could become the Seattle Sonics as early as the 2012-2013 season.

This is more than mere wishful thinking. And it could turn out to be more than the NBA.

What if the NHL, which owns the Phoenix Coyotes and desperately wants to sell them and move them and is very interested in Seattle, finds a home for the Coyotes here?

There still isn't an official proposal in front of the Seattle City Council. All of the Sodo land hasn't been purchased. Neither the NBA nor the NHL Board of Governors has met to discuss the possibility of franchises moving to Seattle.

No ownership groups have announced their intentions to purchase either team, though a proposed summit meeting of potential investors is being discussed for later this month. And Anaheim maintains its interest in securing the Kings.

Does the NBA really need a third team in Southern California? The Kings' franchise would be the forgotten child of L.A. sports.

Obviously much still needs to be worked out, but an announcement of an arena plan and the opportunity to bring the NBA and NHL to Seattle could come as early as April, and this is no April Fools' joke.

The NBA already has told interests in Seattle the new Sonics could play in KeyArena for the next two years while the arena was under construction. And there have been published reports the NHL would be interested in a similar agreement with the Key for the Coyotes.

The idea of NHL hockey at the Key, with its terrible sightlines, seems a bit of a stretch, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Seattle needs a new arena. Bands like Radiohead and The Black Keys, who are playing at the Key in the next few months, should be heard in a venue with better acoustics than the echo chamber that is KeyArena.

Imagine the return of early rounds of the NCAA basketball tournaments to Seattle. Imagine a presidential candidate accepting the nomination here.

Most important, imagine parents and children having the same opportunities my father had when he took me to my first NBA game; having the chance to take their kids to Sodo to see Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, or the NHL's Sedin twins and Marian Gaborik.

The first time I opened the giant doors and walked into Philadelphia's Convention Hall, I thought I was walking into a castle. It was thrilling. and 50-plus years later, it hasn't gotten old.

I've watched a few thousand NBA games in person since that night. I've seen practically every great player the game has produced. But still I remember that first game, seeing players like Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Tom Gola and Paul Arizin for the first time, almost as clearly as I remember any game I've seen.

How many thousands of kids from Seattle, Olympia, Yakima, Centralia, Everett and Bellingham experienced that same feeling I had after the Sonics arrived in Seattle in 1967?

For more than 40 years, from the glory seasons of Lenny Wilkens, Gus Williams, Jack Sikma, Fred Brown and Dennis Johnson, to the near-miss greatness of the George Karl, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Nate McMillan teams, to the last lean seasons in town, people came to Sonics games full of anticipation.

When the team left, it looked as if Seattle's next generation of NBA fans would miss its chance to see the NBA's next galaxy of stars.

Maybe not.

Seattle could be getting two new games, two new teams.

Think of the rivalries: the new Sonics against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Vancouver Canucks against the Seattle Coyotes.

Hoops and hockey. It can happen.

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

More columns at www.seattletimes.com/

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