In 2008 the NBA Board of Governors voted to allow the ownership group led by Clay Bennett to move the Supersonics team from Seattle to Oklahoma City. National sports pundits have generally agreed that the league erred in allowing the move because of fan support in Seattle.
Are David Stern and the NBA board of Governors now ready to admit that error? More specifically, can the league affirm a prior stance while admitting that earlier error and still deny the move of the Kings to Seattle BECAUSE of that admission?
In the years following the approved move of the Sonics, David Stern and the majority of the board have been unrepentant in that decision citing their perceived difficulty at that time in getting the City of Seattle to fully partner with the Bennett group with a public subsidy to build a new arena. They weren't after only a loan of money guaranteed to be paid back, but an actual investment in the arena with the team and NBA which was subject to gain and loss just as the NBA's investment.
As reporter Chris Daniels graciously volunteered to discover from Stern, the NBA continues to maintain that the City of Seattle was willing to previously give both the local NFL and MLB teams these subsidies, but seemed, in the opinion of the NBA, to draw the line with giving the NBA equal access to these funds. The City of Seattle, in Stern's mind, dropped the ball. "I'm trying hard on one hand to not close the door [on a future NBA franchise in Seattle] but I'm giving this press conference in the face of a scorched-earth policy [by Gorton] to inflict as much possible injury on our team as he can," Stern said when the Sonics moved.
Seattle fans and city leaders countered with the fact that 10 years previously the city HAD invested money to improve Key Arena, thus a new venue was not necessary at that time. Revenue generated by the Sonics in Key Arena, however, had been at or near the bottom of the league for several years, leading to the NBA's position that a new arena was necessary.
So it seems, even after a documentary argued the wrongness of the Sonics move, and national reporters almost uniformly agreed that there should be an NBA team in Seattle, Stern and the NBA have never officially come out and admitted they were wrong to approve the move of the Sonics.
Are they willing to do so now, is a big question?
And even if they do admit it is wrong to move a team from a city in which the fans support the team, are they willing to admit that their requirement for a city to subsidize (not just loan money with a guaranteed payback) new arena construction is no longer a necessary factor in keeping a team in a city?
The City of Seattle now has offered up to $200M in public subsidies to assist the Chris Hansen group in financing a new arena, but the money has a guaranteed repayment as per Seattle law, so essentially it is not a subsidy with equal assumption of risk, as is commonly the practice in these situations (and IS in fact the situation in Sacramento's $258M proposed subsidy.)
Seattle's proposed current contribution is, in fact, NOT the type of subsidy David Stern and the league requested back in 2008. A new arena would indeed be built, as the NBA required, but it is because of a deep pocket ownership group willing to guarantee the profit that the City of Seattle requires with the use of public funds and NOT because of a true change of heart by the City of Seattle.
So... is that enough for Stern and the league? Are they willing to say, "Hey, we made a mistake back in 2008 in requiring a full commitment from the City of Seattle. All that neglect we felt about the other leagues getting full assistance and the NBA not... forget about it."
Sacramento City IS offering the exact kind of subsidy that Stern and the NBA wanted from Seattle back in 2008. By accepting the Sacramento offer and thereby rejecting the Seattle offer the league can nix a repeat of, in their mind, the smaller mistake of moving a team away from supporting fans while reinforcing it's stance on city/league partnerships.
The NBA, by denying the relocation of the Kings to Seattle, can reaffirm that, in general, it is a mistake to move a team from a city with fantastic fan support while in turn rewarding a city government who is willing to become full partners, with the gains and risks inherent in that partnership, along with the NBA.
Disclosure: I am a Sacramento Kings fan foremost so if this seems slanted to you, it probably and unapologetically is so. As always, I reserve the right to fix any errors you kindly point out in the comments. ;)
Dave Lack was the longtime webmaster of the Bleacher Mob and Kingsfanclub websites way back when before real life became too hectic.
You can follow him on Twitter at @davelack
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