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Originally published February 11, 2012 at 10:01 PM | Page modified February 12, 2012 at 9:47 PM

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It's time for Seattle to forgive David Stern

If Seattle is going to build an arena and attract NBA and NHL teams, it will need the support of many who were cast as villains when the Sonics left town. Seattle will need NBA commissioner David Stern.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Commissioner David Stern says he is open to returning the NBA to Seattle.

Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata admits he now sees the cultural value of having a new arena with new franchises in town.

Chris Van Dyk of Citizens for More Important Things appears to believe that a new arena could be an important thing for Seattle.

In this new strange-bedfellows world, villains have become heroes, enemies have become friends, the unforgiven have been forgiven. Bygones are bygones.

There are many of us, remembering the harsh way Seattle was treated when the Sonics left for Oklahoma City, who worry that this new wave of enthusiasm for a new building in Sodo sometimes feels too good to be true.

We remember how former Mayor Greg Nickels caved in to the NBA's hard-nosed negotiators and made the deal with the devil that guaranteed the end of the old Sonics in Seattle.

We remember how unrelenting Stern was in his praise for OKC and how unbending he was when he talked with Washington's politicians.

We remember how confident we were that U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman was going to rule in favor of Seattle and hold the Sonics to their KeyArena lease, keeping the franchise in town for two more years, buying time to find a local owner and propose a viable arena deal. And then we never got to hear from her.

We watched the premiere of the award-winning documentary "Sonicsgate" at SIFF Cinema and heard the sniffling and saw the tears as everyday Sonics fans saw how their hopes unraveled and their dreams died.

But that was then and this is now. A new predominantly privately financed sports arena in Sodo is a real possibility, and it is a necessary addition to Seattle's cultural geography.

New alliances are forming. It's time to forgive and time to move on.

Stern said this week that he met last year with Christopher Hansen, who is the point man in the push to get an arena built here. The commissioner, who was Dr. No when the Sonics were maneuvering to move, said he was open to the league returning to Seattle.

We can stay angry with Stern. We can bluster and say things like, "I'll never go to another game as long as Stern is the commissioner," but that would be foolish and shortsighted.

Once the dust settles; once all of the land around Sodo has been secured and all of the political hurdles to build the arena are cleared; once the plans for an arena have been completed, Seattle will need Stern's support. That's how the game is played.

We have to learn from the loss of the Sonics. We can't be naive again. This is a Machiavellian world. You have to be as aggressive as Gary Payton on the ball or Shawn Kemp at the rim.

If Seattle wants the Sacramento Kings, or some other NBA team; if it wants to join the NHL family, it has to be as self-assured and tough-minded as Paul Silas or Dennis Johnson.

The other local franchises, especially the Mariners, have to be supportive. The last thing we need is infighting among the teams already here.

As Mariners president Chuck Armstrong once said, when the Sonics were making their 1996 run, "A rising tide floats all boats." Let's hope he remembers his own words.

Sure, there should be some sympathy for Sacramento. We're trying to take another city's team.

But the NBA has been trying to help Sacramento for six years. The league basically set up an embassy there, trying to lobby local governments in an effort to get a new arena built. It did everything but build a Green Zone around the existing arena.

Isn't nearly six years of failed lobbying enough?

Compare the league's commitment to Sacramento to its lack of effort in Seattle. Stern made two trips to Olympia, where he wasn't in the mood for compromise, and finally said "see ya" to the Legislature.

We shouldn't feel too sorry for Sacramento. It has had more than enough chances to keep its team. The upcoming March 1 deadline is just the latest of many that have come and gone.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere in Seattle is changing. Former naysayers are saying yes. Politicians are talking enlighteningly. Civic leaders who know what they're doing are leading the way.

So let's forgive David Stern, because we have no other choice. Let's applaud Nick Licata for his dramatic change of heart.

The arena, the new Sonics, the real possibility of an NHL franchise, are all too important to let a few hurt feelings linger any longer.

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

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