Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sonics might leave Seattle

This is a gut-check moment if you lived through the Browns' departure in 1995.
The city of Seattle appears primed to lose its NBA franchise if reports today are correct. ESPN is reporting that an Oklahoma City-based group has purchased the Supersonics, along with the WNBA's Seattle Storm.
Don't confuse this with being just another Grizzlies dash from Vancouver to Memphis, or the Hornets bolting Charlotte for New Orleans. The Sonics are far more a part of the fabric of Seattle than either of those teams were in their previous homes.
The Sonics were Seattle's first modern major league pro franchise, founded in 1967. The Sonics predate the Mariners, the Seahawks, even the ill-fated Seattle Pilots.
The Sonics are the only modern-era Seattle team ever to win a championship. Lenny Wilkens, the NBA's answer to Don Shula, won the only title for himself and Seattle in 1979.
Pro basketball is a good fit for Seattle, an indoor sport in a town that needs something to get itself through the rainy winters.
Baseball and football needed to be conformed and altered to fit into Seattle's precipitation-heavy climate. The Mariners and Seahawks played on a pool table surface inside the Kingdome for more than 20 years. Then the Mariners moved outside, though a retractable roof was still deemed necessary at Safeco Field. The Seahawks moved next door to Seahawks Stadium, a facility of somewhat bizarre architecture reminiscent of a European soccer stadium.
But they were still new facilities. When the time came to build, the relative newbies from the dome were granted the cash. The Sonics, meanwhile, were made to do without.
They played in the outdated Seattle Center Coliseum for years. The facility was renovated and renamed Key Arena in 1995, but all the Sonics ownership saw was an aging arena their team was forced to play in while the city's football and baseball teams received brand-new palaces.
If you live in Cleveland, that should sound pretty familiar.
Let's face it: professional sports teams are bargaining chips to the billionaires who own them and the power-tripping city officials who build the castles they play in. The franchises are used for blackmail, extortion, threats, backstabbing and any other lowball tactic a hardened businessman or politician can use to get his way.
Three things you don't want to see made: laws, sausages, and stadium deals. They are ugly, ugly processes.
Uglier still if you are the fan that loses his or her team after 40 years of loyal ticket- and merchandise-buying. But that's what appears to be happening in Seattle, a city that is on the verge of losing its NBA team for reasons other than lack of fan support.
Sound familiar, Cleveland?
Prior to the Browns leaving, the concept of relocating teams was a curiosity to me. Since then, it's become a problem that can affect any city and for no good reason than bickering power brokers.
I wish there was a way fans could fight back. But sometimes, there are just circumstances beyond one's control.

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