With the dunk of Superman Dwight Howard as a diversion (and I had to wonder what the league’s previously self-appointed Superman, Shaquille O’Neal thought of that one), David Stern quietly announced that the Sonics leaving Seattle is just as inevitable as Howard’s jam.
In his annual address at the All Star weekend, Stern announced that he saw the departure of the Seattle Sonics as inevitable, and that he supported Sonics owner Clay Bennett’s desire to move them to Oklahoma City, Bennett’s hometown. This move will occur despite efforts from Bennett, Stern, and local Sonics supporters to keep it in Seattle. However, without public funding for a new playing venue, it would be impossible to do so… and this is something that the city council refuses to do.
Stern stated, “I accept that inevitability at this point… There is no miracle here.”
This address by Commissioner Stern drew the ire of Seattle’s Deputy Mayor, Tim Ceis.
“If Mr. Stern had any kind of integrity, he wouldn’t be trying to hijack this team out of Seattle,” Ceis said. “David Stern hasn’t lifted one finger since Clay Bennett bought this team to do anything to try and keep it in Seattle. It’s been an ongoing conspiracy between the league and Clay Bennett to hijack this franchise out of Seattle.” (The Seattle Times, Feb. 17 ’08)
Stern feels that it’s pointless that the team stay any longer, and that he’d urged Sonics ownership to pay off remaining debts, buy off the lease, and leave the city at the culmination of this season. According to The Seattle Times, this offer was $26.5 million, and was rejected by the City of Seattle. The city currently holds an injunction against the team leaving before the end of the current lease at KeyArena, which will end in 2010, and has a lawsuit against the team.
The Sonics sent the offer to City Attorney Tom Carr, offering to settle the city’s suit against the franchise.
Carr responded to the offer and Commissioner Stern’s involvment,
“I sent them a letter saying it was low and they miscalculated the debt amount, if that was their goal, and that we couldn’t accept it at this point,” Carr said. “The city’s intent is to hold them to the lease.
“I don’t know what Mr. Stern is trying to do. I will say it’s a sad fact that he’s treating a 40-year NBA city like this. I suspect what they are trying to do is put pressure on the decision makers. But when an NBA team signs a lease to play for 15 years, they should play for 15 years and not play games like this.” (The Seattle Times, Feb. 17 ’08)
It’s a pity that it’s come to this. Seattle’s oldest pro-sports franchise is leaving, it’s only a matter of when. Clearly, the City has within it’s power the ability to keep the Sonics in Seattle, but it’s apparently not something that’s high on the Seattle City Council’s agenda.
In this day and age with many cities eager to procure a professional sports team, it’s an amazing stance for Seattle to take. But not overly new to them: previous owner Howard Schultz – a Seattle resident – tried over, and over again to procure city funds to build a new arena, but no assistance was forthcoming.
Not many cities are lucky enough to have franchises in all 3 of the major sports. Seattle is one that does, with the Seahawks in the NFL, and the Mariners in MLB. Looks like they’ll be soon struck off that list. A pity too, with the current roster looking like they could – in future years – have a pretty special group, lead by rookie sensation Kevin Durant.
To paraphrase David Stern, the Sonics have left the building. Or rather, they want to. Only a city’s irascible council keeps them there.