On the eve of a lockout, petulant NBA commish last week took more shots at Seattle for no good reason. What’s the point?
Try as I might to resist the picking the scab of the Sonics, the Vancouver-Seattle Once Removed NBA playoff series resumes with Game 4 Monday in Memphis, and David Stern picked at it first.
Last week, the NBA commissioner made a conference call to Sacramento media to praise a last-ditch effort that will keep the Kings in the California capital for another season. The city is attempting yet another futile effort to build a new arena in the least likely state for public funding for sports projects.
Stern would have been fine patting on the back Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, who has the benefit not only of being a former NBA player, but a supporter of the only big-league sport in town.
Stern, who has been, for him, slightly contrite in his public utterances since he helped push the Sonics to Oklahoma City three years ago, decided to toss Seattle down the basement stairs again by contrasting the response in the cities.
You know, to call it night and day, it’s absolutely an incredible difference, he said. And it is night and day. It’s 180 degrees difference.
Recalling episodes from three and four years ago, Stern went on to lambaste the politicians for their refusal to attend to him as a golden retriever would pursue a tennis ball.
“I guess what I would say is in Seattle, there was a hostility by the mayor (Greg Nickels), who was interested in doing nothing, as opposed to what Mayor Johnson has, the way Mayor Johnson has put himself out on this for the people of Sacramento, Stern said. The Speaker of the House (Frank Chopp) was hostile to the NBA and its players and was not the least bit interested in moving any legislation even that just authorized King County to do that which it might have done to help support an arena.
Whereas here, we have Senator (Darrell) Steinberg calling to say, you know, Any way in which I can be helpful.
Well, good for Steinberg and Johnson, who also probably would be willing to marry a yak if it bought them a few months to figure out something better.
What Stern isnt saying is that allowing the Kings to move this fall to Anaheims Honda Center would be disastrous, because there isnt going to be an NBA season.
Far more than their brethren in the NFL, the NBA owners are in a colossal economic mess. The owners have been aiming toward this summer for years and the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, which will allow them to shut down the league until they get a deal they like with the players union.
Of course, they tried the same stunt in 1999, and all that accomplished was to provide a salary system to pay players such as Jerome James and Danny Fortson the approximate value of Belgium to do nothing.
Even the NBA is smart enough to realize that relocating a franchise to a new market without bothering to include a season is a little like selling an engine-free airplane. Not going to get off the ground. Even Anaheim, which has made a fortune for a more than half a century selling the antics of an animated mouse, can smell this one.
As to Sterns point of the situation between Seattle and Sacramento being night and day, he is right for, naturally, the wrong reasons.
Seattle already did the NBAs bidding in 1994-95. For nearly $100 million financed by city construction bonds, the old Coliseum was remodeled into KeyArena, which Stern himself called state of the art on his visit to the arenas re-opener.
In the intervening years, nothing in the building sufficiently deteriorated to warrant abandonment except the NBAs economic model, which even the owners knew, because thats why they locked out players in 1999.
Stern, of course, didnt bother to explain any of that last week to the people of Sacramento, because he prefers to cast history in the fashion of the old Soviet Politburo, which used to take care of leaders no longer favored by erasing their pictures from the group photo.
Stern has erased any culpability by the NBA and turned blame upon the entities least able to fix the situation the city, county and state politicians who in 2006 were handed a flaming bag of compost by the dealings between former Sonics owner Howard Schultz and Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett.
The state funding world changed dramatically after the Coliseum remodel and the subsequent creation of Safeco and Qwest fields. Statewide anti-tax sentiment, fueled by Tim Eymans misbegotten but nevertheless effective initiative campaigns, turned politicians, and many voters who elected them, into nay-sayers for any new stadium projects, especially so soon after having fed three teams from the public trough in the 1990s.
Just ask the University of Washington, which had the benefit of being a public institution seeking funds to repair a decrepit public building, Husky Stadium. The politicians told UW, several times, to drop dead.
Schultz knew the situation, Bennett was told about it before he bought in 2006, and the politicians explained it endlessly. Yet Stern feigned hurt when his personal visit to the state Legislature in 2008 was received with somewhat less hoo-rah than a papal visit. No tax help came because no legislator felt the issue was worth expending political capital on a hopeless, controversial enterprise.
For the foreseeable in this national financial travail, that is going to be the way it is for most governments, with the exception of one-horse towns like Oklahoma City and its oil oligarchy, which was more than happy to fix up its arena to NBA standards for the glory it is receiving in this playoff run.
Sacramento received a stay of execution, nothing more. There will be no public funding, and little chance for private funding because theyve been after it, without success, for years. Stern said as much last week.
If this becomes yet the fifth or sixth or seventh (failure), it’ll be the last, as far as we’re concerned, effort with respect to an arena, Stern said Monday.
The stay merely saves embarrassment for the NBA in showing up at Disneyland with its pants down.
No, I did not expect Stern to acknowledge the truth, nor accept any responsibility for the entire sordid affair of franchise transfer. Never has, never will. But did he have to pistol-whip Seattle last week when what happened here was, to turn his phrase on him, night and day compared to Sacramento?
It was needless, unwise antagonism, inflaming a situation that was addressed sympathetically on national TV during the playoffs by Seattle fans Charles Barkley and George Karl. For a sophisticated, learned man, Stern is offering childlike petulance.
Once the lockout begins, Stern and his empire are going to need friends. When he can make politicians look sympathetic, the man has lost his touch.
Post-lockout, the NBA will need at the helm a bridge-builder, not a bridge-burner.
Follow Art on Twitter at @Art_Thiel.