Plans for a proposed multipurpose arena in Seattle’s stadium district can move forward after a final environmental impact statement released Thursday found no major issues to block the project. The FEIS on investor Chris Hansen’s plans for an arena near Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field was released by the city after nearly two years of work. “We’re one step closer to bringing NHL hockey and NBA basketball to Seattle,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement.
It is in this gap that the Milwaukee Bucks and their ambitious out-of-town new owners want to lead a massive effort in urban revitalization — an arena-focused development funded with a blend of private and public money. Or, if they fail to raise adequate public political support, it is here that this city’s fraught relationship with professional basketball will end, with the Bucks moving on to Seattle; Las Vegas; Louisville, Kentucky; or some other city with more ready cash for stadiums. After months of progress, promises of hundreds of million in investment and the release of mock-ups of an architectural gem, the Bucks’ future in Milwaukee is looking shaky. The battle for the team’s future is coming to a head quickly.
The curse of the Zombie Sonics is alive and well. That’s right, Emerald City hoops fans can breathe easy once again knowing the Larry O’Brien Trophy will not be hoisted by Clay Bennett in Oklahoma City this year. Entering last night, the Thunder were in a heated race to capture the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference, but thanks to a New Orleans victory over San Antonio, their championship hopes were dashed once again.
Haywood v. National Basketball Association went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Haywood’s favor in 1971. The sides settled out of court, allowing Haywood to stay with Seattle, and the NBA implemented an exception to its rule for players who could prove financial hardship. As a 21-year-old NBA rookie, Haywood had been ridiculed, degraded and sued. He had also changed the face of pro and college ball, paving the way for many like him to use the sport as a way out of poverty. Welcome to the NBA, kid. “Remember, I’m from Silver City, Miss.,” Haywood said. “If I hadn’t seen it there, I wasn’t going to see it in life. God had prepared me since I was a kid.”
Mayor Ed Murray says a recent visit with NBA commissioner Adam Silver has him doubting that Seattle can land a team within the next few years. And that has Murray worried no team will arrive before the November 2017 expiration of a Sodo arena funding agreement between the city, King County and entrepreneur Chris Hansen. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between them states an NBA team must be acquired for Hansen to receive up to $200 million in city and county bond funding for the proposed venue.
The Gasman spotlights the Golden State series’ pivotal moment with lucid detail. He points to a monstrous alley-oop dunk from Payton to Kemp to crack a 124-124 tie in the third game of the series and crack the sound barrier inside the Coliseum. Gastineau reminisces about one of the iconic moments in Seattle sports history. “It was a big lob from Payton to Kemp for just an unbelievable dunk. And it was a remarkable call from [Sonics Radio/TV broadcaster, Kevin] Calabro, and the next two days you couldn’t turn our station on without hearing it.” Calabro’s call reciprocated the energy in the Coliseum that night with a passionate crescendo as Kemp buried the ball through the hoop. “Up to Gary Payton, a lead pass to Kemp and he’ll slam it down! What a lob! Wow! Gary Payton with a lob ahead to Kemp! He went airborne and defied gravity! What a play! The Reignman has struck!”
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Seattle in the early 90’s was a three-sport city, but after the Sonics fired head coach KC Jones halfway through the 91’-92’ season, the team hired a coach who would become an icon a decade later. George Karl came from Spain to replace Jones and the Sonics soon became the main event in town once again. Before the coaching change, Seattle’s enigmatic young stars, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, were under fire and fans squawked for the pair to be traded. But where fans saw trouble, Karl saw potential for greatness. “Karl lit a box of dynamite under this city,” says Gastineau.
That a major station could ignore a third of the professional sports sphere entirely is preposterous from an outsider’s perspective. But it is a testament to the severity of the pain that the move to Oklahoma City caused the city of Seattle. “There’s no doubt there’s a huge hole here. There’s a huge gap here, especially in the wintertime. Once the NFL season ends in January, that’s when the traditional rhythms of thinking about basketball used to start and now it’s gone.” “People say, ‘Oh it’s not that bad’, but really it is like there was a death in the family. When they left, it left a huge hole in the city’s sports heart that might never be fixed,” add Gastineau.
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But Bennett’s words were as devoid of truth as much as KeyArena is devoid of Sonics basketball today. The Gasman’s foresight became a reality. After a nasty two-year litigation process, the team announced on July 2nd, 2008 that they would be moving to Oklahoma City. What went wrong? Mike Gastineau strikes the gavel and points the finger right at Schultz. “Howard Schultz was a quitter and that’s what killed this team. He is the beginning, middle, and end of it. He is an incredible titan of industry. He taught the world about $4 for a cup of coffee but he was a terrible basketball owner,” says Gastineau.
Aldridge responds: If you are asking if the Hawks would move to Seattle some day, David, I think not. I’m not naïve enough to think there’s no chance the Hawks could leave Atlanta, but I think the current chances fall somewhere between microscopic and impossible. The league has no desire to leave Atlanta and there’s corporate money flowing throughout the city and state, more than enough to put a local group together with a chief rainmaker who would keep the team in town. As for Bruce Levenson’s motivations, well, we’ve discussed those at length over the past couple of months.
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But I make no excuses. I posted my best personal numbers last season, and we still didn’t make the playoffs. Some of the backlash was pretty hard to take — I learned that there is apparently such a thing as an “empty stat” (I’ll try to remember the importance of that the next time I am boxing out for a rebound against Tim Duncan). In the end, I was given the opportunity to move on, and I took it. My decision was about wanting to win. When I think back to being a kid shooting on an eight-foot hoop in my Shawn Kemp jersey, I never dreamed about putting up a triple-double or signing a max contract. I dreamed about holding up a championship trophy. In order to get to that place, I knew that I needed to move on.
Now twenty-five years later, Furman says he is still working on getting the NBA to the Bluegrass State but with a group of organizers in Louisville instead. The group hopes to bring a team there which has the NBA-ready KFC Yum! Center that seats over 22,000. “The NBA TV contract runs out 2015-16, and it looks like the NBA is going to expand to two more teams. They’re talking about Seattle and one other team and I figure that other team may be Louisville,” Furman said.
So now Daniels must wait like everyone else, hoping for word from the front lines. When I first contacted him and Robinson about meeting up for this article, both were excited to hear from me. Maybe I knew something they didn’t. Maybe there was something afoot. It was tough to break the news that there was no news. In reality, it was worse than that. According to a source in the league office, “There are no plans to expand right now and it doesn’t appear any teams are going to move anywhere.”
Ballmer reiterated, as he has several times since making the bid, there’s no chance he’ll eventually move the Clippers to Seattle. He said the NBA would never allow it and he paid the price he did because the Clippers are a Los Angeles-based team. “Probably most people will tell you I paid an L.A. beachfront price, not a Seattle beachfront price for the team,” he said. “I’m not crazy.”
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Ballmer spoke to reporters Monday before teeing off in a “Snoqualmie Showdown” charity round of celebrity golf with Fred Couples, Rick Neuheisel and Sports Radio KJR morning radio host Mitch Levy ahead of the Boeing Classic later this month at Snoqualmie Ridge. He expressed regret at leaving the group fronted by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen that is trying to bring the NBA back to Seattle, but said the opportunity to buy the Los Angeles Clippers was too big to pass up. “It was my dream to have a team in Seattle,” said Ballmer, speaking locally for the first time since his $2 billion offer in May to buy the Clippers, which is held up in a court battle between the league and outgoing owner Donald Sterling. “I spent some time on that and worked on it and I wish that had worked. I don’t know when that will happen. With luck, maybe it happens in the next few years, but if it takes a few more than that, I decided that this was probably the best path for me to take.”
If the gentleman from Kentucky and this league insider are correct, the NBA not only wants to return to a lucrative market, whose absence is costing it significant money, but is seriously considering expansion as an alternative to do so. Three things need to happen before this can come to fruition: Seattle must get the proposed SoDo arena to a shovel-ready condition, the situation with the Clippers must be resolved, and the new TV deal must be inked with sufficient extra revenue to warrant expansion.
A league source who asked to remain anonymous has told Sonics Rising that “there’s a good chance, not definitively so, but good that Seattle and another expansion city will be added to the next TV contract. The Seattle market is bigger than most think. Lot of untapped revenue we are losing out on there” (emphasis ours). Sonics Rising also reached out to officials in Louisville but were told they had no comment at this time.