Given that this still is the first round of the NBA playoffs and that one of the league’s most famous first-round series – and video euphoria – is the footage of Denver’s Dikembe Mutombo on his back, clutching the basketball in joy after the Nuggets’ 1994 upset of the Seattle SuperSonics, it’s appropriate to bring the big fellow into the conversation.
Seattle just got Mutombo-ed again. Only this time, it was the league’s power structure — from the Relocation Committee up to commissioner David Stern himself — who wagged a long finger at the politicians, the money men and the fans of the Emerald City.
“No, no, no,” the committee’s 7-0 vote to deny relocation of the Sacramento Kings to Seattle seemed to say. “Not in my house.”
Or at least, not on Stern’s watch. Our man David Aldridge did a great job of covering both the big picture and the nuances of the surprising decision to recommend to the Board of Governors that the Kings stay put, short-term and possibly long-term.
Various Seattle media outlets did their own great jobs of providing perspective, with a little venting, for that disheartened and in some cases bitter audience. For example, columnist Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times suggests the NBA “changed the rules” for procuring and moving franchises:
[Seattle bidder Chris] Hansen tried to win the right way. He tried to do it with transparency; no buying the Kings and pretending to want to stay in Sacramento. He tried to do it with record-setting money and a polished business plan.
But the NBA is a liar’s game, full of hypocrites, improper alliances, a lack of financial creativity and a commissioner who is more powerful than the owners he represents. Stern revises the rules according to his whims. It seems Seattle was destined to lose in this ever-changing game. We’re back in a familiar place with that spirit-crushing league.
Brewer wrote that Seattle only will get a shot at re-admittance to the NBA — by buying and moving some other city’s team or through expansion — after Stern’s retirement on Feb. 1, 2014. Longtime columnist Art Thiel, writing for SportspressNW.com, also saw the vote as an extension of Stern’s will:
Delighted by the rising value of his franchises — Job One for any sports commissioner — but looking at another potential ugly relocation, Commissioner David Stern gave every chance for Sacramento to match the record Hansen bid. For one reason: He didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.
Rather than screw over a second city with relocation, he has screwed over, at least temporarily, the same city twice.
At worst, he figures he can live the rest of his days with never getting a drink brought for him in Seattle.
It’s possible that moving the Kings from Sacramento to Seattle would just shift the problem and hack off a whole new bunch of people. It also is possible, as Thiel suggests, that keeping Seattle open as a viable market gives the NBA leverage over shaky franchises or headstrong municipalities not unlike the NFL has with Los Angeles in waiting for someone’s team.
Another possibility, intentionally or not, is that the NBA is teaching a lesson to the decision-makers in its many markets: Love us now, not after we’ve gone.
Seattle did not play nice with the NBA prior to 2008, fighting Clay Bennett (who is the head of the relocation committee, by the way) and not budging on financing for a new arena. Sacramento, on the other hand, has rolled up its sleeves and been busy finding ways to keep its only major league caliber team in town.
That’s the sort of commitment — before things get broken, not after it’s too late — that Stern and the other owners (who love $550 million franchise valuations and the freedom to sell or move when they want) treasure most.
In the meantime, Stern was right as this Kings/Sonics decision approached. One city or the other was going to be unhappy. Now there’s no more guessing.