Seattle’s Return To The NBA Getting Closer?


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It was one of those days where people remember precisely where they were when they got the news. Like assassinations, market crashes and so many other seismic world events, the day Seattle lost the SuperSonics — officially, July 2, 2008 — didn’t just come and go. It seared itself into the hearts and psyches of NBA fans in that Pacific Northwest city.

“It killed me, man,” former Sonics coach George Karl said Wednesday night. “I was in the Seattle area with my daughter, in Olympia. There were rumors and then it was over. It happened so quick.”

There had been promises, there had been worries, there had been political wrangling. When the clock ran out, all that remained were accusations, recriminations and, yes, tears. The reality was stark: Starbucks impresario Howard Schultz and his partner had sold the SuperSonics to an investment group headed by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett. Talks about a publicly financed arena broke down, and the Sonics were headed to Oklahoma and a new life as the eventual Thunder.

Forty-one years of NBA history was over. The source of some of the league’s biggest names and most entertaining teams — and the only Seattle franchise to claim a championship in major professional sports — was gone.

“Destroyed,” was the word chosen by Boston’s Jason Terry, who grew up in Seattle and starred at Frankin High, which is about 5 miles from the Sonics’ old haunt, Key Arena. “There [were] all kind of ‘Save the Sonics’ shirts, signs and blogs.”

As of Wednesday though — four years, six months and seven days since the moving vans rolled in — Seattle is as close as it’s been to getting the NBA back. Investor Chris Hansen was close to a deal to purchase the Sacramento Kings and relocate them to the Emerald City, according to multiple media outlets.

First reported by Yahoo! Sports, Hansen — who already has a deal to build a new arena, this time largely through corporate funding — was offering the Maloof family that owns the Kings more than $500 million. The team’s future in Sacramento has been shaky for several seasons because of squabbling over a new arena in the California capital, with possible destinations such as Orange County and Las Vegas mentioned in the past.

Seattle, via Hansen, has been an interested party from the start, though. According to Yahoo!, the Kings would be renamed the SuperSonics, begin play in time for the 2013-14 season and be based in KeyArena for two years while their new home is constructed.

Just how imminent the sale might be morphed through the day Wednesday; some reports out of Sacramento had the Maloofs reconsidering Hansen’s offer. Details of Hansen’s financing for the arena in Seattle’s “SoDo” section — south of downtown — still must be worked out. In October, he reached an agreement with local government to build the $490 million facility near the city’s other stadiums, Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field. An estimated $290 million would come from private investments, with $200 million in public financing repaid through rent, admission taxes and Hansen’s own sources, the Associated Press reported.

The NBA, meanwhile, has its own requirements for a franchise sale and relocation. For the former, an application for transfer must be filed, due diligence is performed on the people and finances involved and then the league’s Board of Governors votes, with 75 percent approval — 23 out of the current 30 teams — needed for new ownership.

For relocation, a team must apply by March 1 if it wants to move in time for the following season. The NBA’s relocation committee than has 120 days to study the proposal and make its report to the Board of Governors. When the owners vote, a simple majority — 16 of 30 — is needed for approval.

The NBA declined to comment on Monday’s news reports. It is believed that KeyArena, the Sonics’ home before their departure and the driving force in Schultz’s decision to sell, would be acceptable as a temporary home should the deal go through.

Hansen is a Seattle native and San Francisco resident who made his fortune working with Blue Ridge Capital and, since 2008, as managing partner of the Valiant Capital firm he founded. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and two members of the Nordstrom department-store family are among his fellow investors in the NBA deal.

His co-conspirators, of course, would be the Sonics fans who had their hearts broken in the first offseason of Seattle rookie Kevin Durant’s career. And that’s what many of them would feel like co-conspirators if they gain re-admittance to the NBA at the expense of some equally passionate Sacramento fans.

“There are a lot of people here who don’t want somebody else’s team,” said Steve Kelley, a Seattle Times sports columnist who began covering the NBA in Portland in the 1970s. “They feel like the pain was so great when the Sonics left, they would rather have, say, an expansion team in 2016 than take another city’s team.”

Expansion isn’t on the league’s radar, however, and this might be Seattle’s best hope for the foreseeable future. Besides, even subtracting the Sacramento sympathizers and those still resistant to the slightest public funding of a private sports enterprise, that leaves a large group eager for their Sonics.

“Many people here are over-the-moon excited,” Kelley said. “Combine it with the Seahawks” — the city’s pro football team is advancing in the NFL playoffs — “and they’re like, ‘How can this week get any better?’ Fans here have been heartbroken and riding the roller-coaster [since the Sonics left], but I think most of them feel really good about this.”

For most of four decades, Seattle fans had one of the league’s most competitive franchises. The Sonics entered the league in 1967-68 as an expansion team and climbed above .500 by their fifth season. At the end of their 11th, they were playing in The Finals. A year after that, they were NBA champions.

Members of that team — Fred Brown, Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma, Wally Walker — became some of Seattle’s most beloved athletes ever. They had company from
Sonics teams before and after, including Lenny Wilkens, Spencer Haywood, Slick Watts, Tom Chambers, Derrick McKey, Nate McMillan (aka “Mr. Sonic”), Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, right on through Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Durant. Wilkens began his Hall of Fame coaching career while still playing, and legendary Bill Russell, Bernie Bickerstaff, Karl and McMillan had successful stints on Seattle’s sideline.

As recently as 2004-05, the Sonics won 52 games and the Northwest crown. But improvements to Key Arena in 1994-95 (the team played in Tacoma that season) weren’t sufficient to generate the revenue streams desired by ownership, and attendance sank to the bottom third of NBA teams over their final decade in town.

For some Seattle residents, the NBA’s exit led swiftly to an out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude toward the league. “People have largely ignored the NBA,” Kelley surmised, “to such an extent that a lot of them have embraced the soccer team [the MLS’s Seattle Sounders].”

Any time Kelley wrote about the NBA, particularly the Portland Trail Blazers, he got cold, quick feedback that “We don’t care anymore,” he said.

That might have been their bruised feelings speaking, though. A local group set up SaveOurSonics.org, a site dedicated to returning the NBA to Seattle. And the players who made their names playing in the franchise’s green and gold uniforms still reign among the city’s sporting elite.

“This is a basketball town,” Kelley said. “Shawn Kemp is a hero here still. When Gary [Payton] comes to town, it’s like [Barack] Obama coming to town. Detlef Schrempf still is here and he’s loved. Kemp is about the most popular guy in town — even he’s taken aback by it. He’s like the Pied Piper — when he walks down the street, people are yelling out to him.”

Many NBA players, past and present, yell right back in their memories of and affections for Seattle.

“It was a great basketball town,” said Kendall Gill, who played for the Sonics for two (1993-95) of his 15 NBA seasons. “After they rebuilt KeyArena, I didn’t think the team was ever going to leave. I’ll tell ya what, fans there didn’t deserve it because that was a great basketball town. It’s also a great place to live — I was too young, I couldn’t appreciate it but it was a great place to be.”

Minnesota guard Luke Ridnour was drafted 14th overall by Seattle and played five seasons with the Sonics. He lives in Washington in the offseason and still sees, hears and feels the passion of jilted Sonics fans.

“So to get the team back, it’d be pretty cool,” he said. “I hear they would call them the SuperSonics and everything would be the way it was before, even the same uniforms they used to wear, so that’d be cool too. The Sonics have a rich tradition, they were there for 40 years and it’d be great to have them back.”

Said Terry: “My heart is in Seattle. I’ve always dreamed that one day they’d get a team back there.”

Boston guard Avery Bradley, a native of Tacoma, said: “People are going to be excited. Every time I go back home I see people wearing Seattle stuff, so I think it’s going to be big for the city.”

Said Karl: “I had so many good years. It revamped my career. I come back from Madrid, Spain, take a team that was under .500, makes the playoffs and wins the first round. The next year we go to the conference finals and then we stub our toe a little bit and lose to Denver [the first No. 1 seed upset by a No. 8]. The depth of that team’s talent, it was the most talented defensive team I ever coached. It was fun.”

So Seattle was a great NBA city? “I think it’s a great sports city,” Karl said. “It has an East Coast feel. Seattle is an individual city. Outdoors, entrepreneurs, there’s just a lot of mental action there.”

If the Kings deal goes through, there soon might be a lot of basketball action there again.

“A part of me is disappointed because I’ve enjoyed my time in Sacramento,” Karl said. “I’m not going to lie – I’m happy Seattle’s going to have a team but I am disappointed Sacramento can’t keep theirs.”

NBA.com correspondents Michael Kelly, Brian Robb and Randy Renner contributed to this report.

65 Comments

  1. Big Al says:

    The relocation of Sacramento means one less California team. We all wanted the Clippers to leave LA but the underserved landing of Chris Paul has somewhat seal their tenancy in the Staples Center for now. There have been suggestions to revive the Supersonics name, or rename the team Superkings, but what’s more important is turning it into a decent squad.

  2. Ballto3 says:

    I wonder which city would lose their team next so that they can relocate to Sacramento in the future.

  3. KONG says:

    oh and also veto every all star trade and send them to the 2013-2014 seattle super sonics

  4. KONG says:

    truth of the matter is, the maloofs are in debt, there is no possible way in hell that they are getting a new arena deal in sacremento from ANYONE, because if it was gonna happen it woulda happened YEARS ago.

    selling the team for 500 million would be without a doubt their best interest, it would not only cover all of their debts, it would give them a profit. how stupid can they be to reject that offer?

    its not like the maloofs did any good for the organization the last 10 years. david stern needs to step in and make them sell the team.

  5. Wendell says:

    Picture this setting.

    Opening night of the 2013-14 season. OKC @ Seattle. Prime time. Kevin Durant returning to the place he started. Seattle people receiving the team that was theirs and was taken away. You can’t even hear the announcers because of the Boo’s.

    This game can be the biggest thing to happen in the NBA in the last decade. Think of how huge the attention this will bring.

    I always loved the SuperSonics, even as a diehard Nuggets fan. I always love their exciting teams, their fans are so loud and I just find the green and gold simply beautiful, on the uniforms and that court.

    I was really saddened when the news that the SuperSonics were moving came out. Seattle is one of the cities that should always have an NBA team and that team it IS the Sonics. So as much as I am sad for Sacramento, because of the incredibly loud fans, I’m also happy that I’ll be seeing the Sonics in my screen again. 5 long years…

    And I think Tyreke, Cousins and Robinson will do well wearing the green and gold :)

  6. Kotlik says:

    Seattle should name their team “SuperSquatchs”, they already have Squatch the Mascot. Also OKC got the history of the original Supersonics

  7. Richard says:

    Big Jebb: Learn something b/f posting. Sonics fans here in Seattle DID NOT want the team to leave; Bennett underhanded the WHOLE situation just to get the team out of Wa. State. Plain/Simple.

    IMO, seriously, he and his investors should have stepped up when the Hornets were in OKC. OKC Hornets? GREAT!!!! Why not? Sorry; N.O. was a mess after Katrina, and that is NO disrespect to the good ppl of Louisiana. It was a political move on the part of David Stern to not upset fans there, and temporarily relocate to OKC while N.O. was being restored, which it has not completely. Seeing how successful the Hornets were, they got the idea to purchase from Schultz the Sonics. And bold face LIE to the Seattle fans about keeping the team here, the “good faith” policy, et al…

    Sad IF this goes thru for Sactown; they have previously relocated from Rochester, NY, to KC, and now Sac. Vagabond team. BTW, what about any retired numbers? Isn’t C Webb’s # 4 retired? Other players? It’ll be great for us Sonics fans, but I’m not 100% good about getting another team from another city. OKC fans don’t seems to care about that sentiment, apparently…

  8. claybennet isAbitch says:

    Okc fans are ignorant. Your team is our team. Built in Seattle and stolen shipped to Oklahoma. You guys only sell out our games because you never had a pro team before. Just wait till Durant leaves. Okc is done. Welcome to Seattle tyreke, Thomas Robinson, Isaiah Thomas, cousins and the rest of you. Sorry sac town fans. Unfair to our town…but at least you still have pro teams in your state. We didnt

  9. akboy says:

    Alaska NEEDS a NBA team! JK..seattle derserves a NBA team

  10. Rickson says:

    hehehe they will bring back Shawn Kemp and Gary Patton numbers and put it next to Christ Webber’s number,

  11. Najee Nixon says:

    hate to see Sacramento loose there team but it’ll be good to see the SuperSonics back. All respects to Bob Davies, Jim Pollard, Maurice Stokes, Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas, Adrian Smith, Nate Archibald, Bob Cousy, Mitch Richmond, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby, Vlade Divac, Doug Christie, Bobby Jackson, Corliss Williamson, Rick Adelman and all the other player who made the Rochester/Cincinnati Royals/Kansas City-Omaha/Sacramento Kings successful.

  12. Najee Nixon says:

    I hate to see Sacramento loose there team but it’ll be good to see the SuperSonics back. All respects to Jim Pollard, Maurice Stokes, Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas, Adrian Smith, Nate Archibald, Bob Cousy, Mitch Richmond, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby, Vlade Divac, Doug Christie, Bobby Jackson, Corliss Williamson, Rick Adelman and all the other player who made the Rochester/Cincinnati Royals/Kansas City-Omaha/Sacramento Kings successful.

  13. Mario says:

    How can this article claim the “only Seattle franchise to claim a championship” as that doesn’t take into account the very successful Seattle Storm 2004 championship. That was a great season for Seattle Storm fan’s, the sport of basketball and the city of Seattle.

  14. big jebb says:

    They did nothing to keep the team they had. They don’t deserve another.

    • Sonicsfan says:

      Big Jebb you sound ignorant saying that. The fans did everything they could to keep the team here. Which is why the city was trying to enforce the key arena lease and took Clay Bennett to court. The only reason he was able to break the key arena lease is because the Mayor (who was not re-elected due to his actions) took a settlement from Bennett. Lots of people to blame but to say we did nothing to keep the team shows you basically have no knowledge of what happened when the team moved.

  15. drewla says:

    How about Seattle gets their team back (Thunder) and Clay Bennett gets the Kings? Then we can really see if OKC can support an NBA francise. Lets be honest people..if the Thunder moved anywhere they’d be successful simply b/c of how good they are. A true test of time is can your city support a NBA team while having a good area but a bad team? That’s still to be determined in OKC. Go SONICS! sorry Sacrameto :-) :-(

  16. Alex says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7n5rkOb7dzc this video reminds me how sad it will be when sacramento lose their team, the kings are all they’ve got. Obviously Seattle felt robbed when the team went to OKC, but that doesn’t mean they should do the same to another franchise.

  17. Tudor says:

    The least we could do is sign the petition to keep the Kings in town! http://www.yousign.org/kings
    Don’t let them take our team away!

  18. PhilCaldwell says:

    If this happens, let’s hope Hansen offers Durant and Westbrook a ton of cash, to get them back here where they belong. Nothing would be better for Bennett, than watching his two studs leaving him with the same mediocre team that he created in Seattle to get them in the first place. Ibaka too, would be just lovely if those guys all let Bennett know what they really thought of his antics.

    • TJ says:

      No, they’re not. With a team in Cleveland they will NEVER have a team in Columbus. No pipe dreams, no wishing, no amatuer website will change that.

  19. fat says:

    i said it all along. kings fans should have just been warrior fans from the beginning. now they’re screwed! and this is bull. las vegas deserves a pro sport team. hell…. NEVADA deserves a pro sport team..

  20. Susan says:

    Sacramento has supported it’s team through the years and it’s sad to see how the Maloofs have run the team into the ground. Not only that, the Maloof used to provide excellent customer service and that too has gone away several years ago. That is the reason Sacramento has not been supporting the team like it had in the past.

    In a perfect world, it would be great if the Kings would be sold and stay in Sacramento. With new owners in Sacramento I could imagine it like the old days with every game being sold out. I also believe Seattle deserves a team, it too is a wonderful city, but not taking a team from an existing location. It’s not the fault of the Sacramento fans…it’s the owners who have created this mess.

  21. Pmount07 says:

    MAn!! im so happy that Seattle is coming back
    now the questions begs, will they keep the Kings
    name? or change back to the Sonics or a complete
    different team?? also what colors will they
    wear?? cant wait!!

  22. zgillet says:

    Kings “fans” (there can’t be THAT many) can just go to Warriors’ games an hour and a half away. I think the Clippers should move to Vegas, honestly. Two teams in one arena is just dumb.

  23. KDs not nice says:

    Honestly I think most Thunder fans, including myself, would be glad to let Seattle retain its history as well as its name. Retire the Sonics players jerseys in Seattle, hang the championship banner there (btw our arena does not have any retired jerseys nor banners from the Sonics, we only have our division ones and our western conference championship… so far).

    Notice who didn’t comment on how nice Seattle was and how sad they were the team moved. Our guy KD!

  24. Kamote says:

    Wow, been a sonics fan during the Payton-Kemp era. The only team I rooted for against the Bulls in the Finals :). They deserve a team. And maybe this time, Cousins and Tyreke would get their heads right.

  25. Andrew says:

    what is wrong with adding 4 new teams? 2 in the west and 2 in the east? 18 teams in each conference.. moving teams around is dumb.

  26. […] in NBA history will …NBA: Sacramento Kings might be headed to SeattleSan Jose Mercury NewsSeattle's Return To The NBA Getting Closer?NBA.com (blog)Seattle, NBA Reunion Coming If Sacramento Kings Sale Is Finalized By Maloof […]

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  28. Mega Freak says:

    All sides of this situation and the Seattle/OKC argument should remember that the blame for a team moving can never be placed on the fans in the new location. I’m from OKC, and even I admit that Seattle was ripped off by Clay Bennett, but the fans here had no say in it. We were all certainly glad to finally have a pro sports franchise, but most of us also felt bad about taking a team from its fans. So now I also ask that Sacramento fans don’t blame the fans in Seattle, but rather the Maloof’s for handling their team so poorly.

    Blame those responsible for the move, not the fans.

  29. Felipe says:

    I have always wondered about what will happen with the history of the Supersonics (e.g. trophies, jerseys retired, etc). Since we lost the team back in 2008, I’ve always thought if we can get another team to Seattle we can´t take back the 1978 Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy and any of that. Those things now belongs to the Thunder franchise and if it’s true that we can get the Kings franchise we are only getting their history and not the one we lost. It will be cool if Clay Bennet in an act of decency could give back the supersonics’ history to Seattle, which is the place where that history was forged.

    • Jeremy says:

      As part of the move of the Sonics to OKC, Bennett left the Sonics history , colors etc with the city of Seattle. No trophies or records went with the team. That’s why the Kings will be the Sonics and why all the Sonics banners still fly at Key Arena. OKC had to start from zero.

  30. Devante says:

    next season we’re gonna see both returns of the Hornets in Charlotte (if Jordan will change the brand) and the Supersonics, what a season that’s gonna be, but i don’t want the Sacramento franchise to move, they have a history over there

  31. David says:

    Good article Steve ! Last time I was @ Key Arena watching the Sonics play was in 2007… great atmosphere! and a lot of excitement around town! If the SuperSonics come back to Seattle, I’ll be first in line to get tickets :D!

  32. Gus Williams says:

    Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp are to OKC what Johnny Unitas is to Indianapolis – nothing! They will never have their jerseys hanging in the rafters of OKC. Never!

  33. Adam says:

    Can’t wait till the thunder show up in key arena and smack them sonics haha

  34. malibu says:

    Payton and Kemp would never allow OKC to retire their jerseys. They played for the Sonics, not the Thunder.

  35. James says:

    I don’t think it would be the same if Kings move to Seattle as SuperSonics, since the Sonics have its history as the former franchise of Thunder. This would be a totally new SuperSonics if they move to Seattle, because the old SuperSonics’ history is attached to the Thunder now, you can’t deny that.

  36. nelson says:

    Las Vegas needs a team already the sonic should come on over.

  37. Fredrick Wells says:

    Just wait for Thunder vs Sonics (or Thunder vs Kings or Sonics vs Kings) match-up next season (on TNT, NBA TV and ESPN)!

    Look for Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp to have jerseys retired in both Seattle (SONICS) and Oklahoma City (as this was the Sonics and this team had the Championship history in comparison to the ROCHESTER ROYALS that will be moving in).

    I would LOVE to attend a LIVE NBA Game in SEATTLE as well!

  38. KevinGarnettAllStarOverratedVotedfor AllStar says:

    Is San Diego a big market..If yes..Maybe its great to have San Diego have a NBA team..

  39. DAVION says:

    Oklahoma City vs Seattle in Seattle!!!! showdown of the ages!

  40. loose89 says:

    There’s already too many teams in the NBA, Stern and Silver know this, there was NEVER going to be an expansion, especially for just 1 team it just wouldn’t work

  41. Rn22 says:

    No way.. Don’t sell the kings!

  42. bounty hunter says:

    i say put a team in Las Vegas b4 anywhere else !!!

  43. dr .max says:

    sandiego nba@ no is better this san diego clippers,seatle supersonics,sacramento kings, spirit st louis, washington bullets,

  44. Bstarr says:

    Indeed very sad for Sacramento but nice that Seattle returns to the league. I hope that they do some changes and improve their game. And pls be wise, don’t hire a coach like Mike D’Antoni. Try one of the van Gundy brothers.

  45. jake s says:

    As an Oklahoman i’m finally glad that the thunder will no longer be the shadow of another team. KD is all ours! Seattle can have have Big Cuz and his >.400.

  46. Dan says:

    I get chills thinking of the Sonics coming back! My fondest childhood memories are going to Sonics games, seeing players around town, at school etc. I will never forget July 2nd 2008! Getting the Sonics back gives Seattle part of its identity back I cannot wait!

  47. San Diego NBA says:

    How about bring them down to San Diego?! J/K i know Seattle deserves an NBA team before us. Hope it works out!

  48. ben says:

    sad for the kings fans

  49. Expansion Team? says:

    I heard rumors about Seattle getting an expansion team weeks ago.

    I wonder if that would be an option for Sacramento after the deal is done.