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Originally published February 15, 2012 at 10:31 PM | Page modified February 15, 2012 at 10:40 PM

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Old-school Sonics fan delivers optimistic but realistic message

Chris Hansen once dreamed of dunking like Shawn Kemp, but now wants to bring back NBA to Seattle.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Christopher Hansen has a daughter named Peyton. And although it's not spelled like The Glove spells his last name, Hansen is a such an old-school Sonics basketball fan that maybe Gary Payton was lurking in his subconscious when he named his daughter.

"Maybe in some subliminal way," he joked Wednesday.

Hansen, a Bay Area investor and the apparent leader of a group that is trying to build an arena in the Sodo District that could house both NBA and NHL franchises, made his first on-the-record comments at The Seattle Times.

"We're very close to announcing an offer to the city," Hansen said. "That's why I'm here."

Hansen is a multimillionaire Everyman. He grew up in Rainier Valley near Franklin High School and, like many Seattle kids, he took his game to the playgrounds and mimicked all of the stars from the various Sonic teams.

He was Dennis Johnson, Ricky Pierce and Payton. He dreamed of dunking like Shawn Kemp, but like many gym rats he wasn't big enough or good enough.

How can you not like Hansen? He is urban cool, well-spoken, relaxed and unassuming. But more important than liking the messenger is liking his message, and Hansen's message is both optimistic and realistic.

"I'm comfortable I can be a general partner in an investment group that will build an arena and bring back an NBA team," he said during his 50-minute interview. "No one was doing anything credible about this. So, a sense of civic obligation and pride and a desire to get NBA basketball back in Seattle, really led me to ... I started down this road a year ago, and it's gone pretty well so far."

This is a job for grown-ups. It's a job for people who understand the business world and have the savvy to navigate through city and county councils.

Hansen is a grown-up. He understands the time has come for the chorus of whiners to fall mute. The people who seem to want a full apology from NBA commissioner David Stern seemingly more than they want another NBA franchise are wrong.

A deal won't get done without the help of Stern and the ironic chair of the NBA's Relocation Committee, Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett. It's that simple, and it's a key component of Hansen's message.

"One important message just for the city is, it's time to really let go of that," Hansen said. "As we try to put our best foot forward, and bring back professional basketball and hopefully professional hockey to this city, I think we have to realize the mistakes we made and stop blaming other people."

Hansen said all of the right things, and he said them with conviction. This wasn't some slick dealmaker offering promises he couldn't keep and making demands that weren't real.

"Focusing on the past and what happened is not going to help Seattle get a new arena and get an NBA and NHL team," he said. "It's irrelevant. Letting go of it is going to help the process.

"If this is all successful in the end, if there's any message to the people it's like, maybe it took the Sonics to leave to realize what we had and to build something special like this. I think it's important for people to stop blaming everybody else for the Sonics leaving. It's not part of the solution."

Much of Hansen's message was about returning good faith to pro sports and doing things properly. Several times he mentioned his admiration for the populist way the MLS Sounders have run their franchise.

"My goal here is fairly simple," he said. "To try to find a fair deal that has the best chance of getting a new arena built here and get a team back. I'm not doing this for any sense of ego, or desire for the public spotlight.

"If it weren't for my desire to bring an NBA team here no one would have heard of me. I would prefer to keep it that way. This isn't about Chris Hansen. This is about an NBA team and a new arena. That's what fans want and what Seattle should be excited about."

Hansen is the right kind of laid-back personality to quietly lead the push.

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

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