BY Art Thiel 07:00AM 05/09/2011

Thiel: Stern keeps making it worse

On the eve of a lockout, petulant NBA commish last week took more shots at Seattle for no good reason. What’s the point?

David Stern took yet another verbal slap at Seattle during the discussion about keeping the Kings in Sacramento. / Noel Vasquez, Getty Images

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.

But no.

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 isn’t saying is that allowing the Kings to move this fall to Anaheim’s Honda Center would be disastrous, because there isn’t 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 Stern’s point of the situation between Seattle and Sacramento being night and day, he is right – for, naturally, the wrong reasons.

Seattle already did the NBA’s 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 arena’s re-opener.

In the intervening years, nothing in the building sufficiently deteriorated to warrant abandonment except the NBA’s economic model, which even the owners knew, because that’s why they locked out players in 1999.

Stern, of course, didn’t 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 Eyman’s 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 they’ve 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.


  • Garydepeche


    Let’s move on. NBA is dead to me now. (our family was a season ticket for 16 years) Even if they brought a team back to town, I will not be supporting it.

    I really thought that I would miss the action but to my surprise, I have not and have moved on as well.

    I think your talents can be better utilized on something more relevant than the NBA….

    • Michael Kaiser

      The NBA is the only successful sports franchise this town ever has had. And watching a Lakers’ playoff game down in LA last week brought that back. The Seahawks have had its almost-moments and the Mariners have had, well, its own rich history.

    • G5chize

      I think YOUR talent should follow LeBron to South Beach Gary! Who cares if YOU moved on. Sonics fans will always be Sonics fans. Movng foward never forgetting what those snakes did to the hearts of die hard Sonics supporters!

  • Yesterday I turned on the NBA for the first time in a while because Twitter said the Lakers were getting crushed and that Terry was in on the romp…. that’s worth checking out. But I also saw in the Lakers the kind of thuggish buffonery that had started to turn me off from pro basketball even before the stunt Stern and his buddy Bennett pulled on Seattle.

    As a result I’m of two minds. I like the idea of bringing the Sonics back because I’m nostalgic. I like the NBA and Sonics of my youth. But I don’t want to have to steal them from some other city and not interested in watching overpaid thugs act like… well thugs.

  • SammyB

    Stern’s the devil, and I really do feel bad for the 10’s of people in town who care about the NBA. Pro sports is broken, heck, maybe college is too.

    Either that or it’s just Monday.

  • John_S

    Stern was right in one point, the legislature did not take it serious and still hasn’t and they disrespected him and in the process drove the Sonics out of the area by doing so. There’s culpability on the legislature, the mayor, stern, schultz and bennett.

    That is not the first time the legislature disrespected a figurehead of a sport. Ask Richard Petty how it went when he spoke to the legislature about funding a new racetrack. It was the same deal.


    Didn’t Barry Ackerly want to build a new arena that would house not only the Sonics, but also an NHL tenant? He tried for years to get it done to no avail and had to settle for a reconstruction of Key Arena which do to it’s limited footprint put a limit on what could be done.

  • Born

    One thing Stern has correct Speaker of the House Frank Chopp waste oxygen everday with each breath he takes. Personally I’d rather see the NHL. But this backwarda$$ town it will never happen my next choice and I’m taking is I am relocating.

  • as I said to others before things aren’t always what they seem to the average fan, Seattle fans for the majority are routing things work out for Sacramento but we Seattle fans have seen how things can change like a magicians trick.

  • Johnarms

    How anyone in Seattle can support the NBA, which pays David Stern’s salary is beyond me! Get over it!

    We will not have a team in the foreseeable future, and with its broken economic model who would want one?

    The Sounders have filled that void for me. Let the new rivalry with Portland begin.