BY Steve Rudman 02:40PM 02/10/2012

Rudman: Seattle is Not Above A Good Poach

When we attempt to poach the Sacramento Kings (or any other NBA franchise), we want to do it with a lot more deftness than Clay Bennett exhibited when he made off with the Sonics.

Clay Bennett, soon to hijack the Sonics, accepts a team jersey from Howard Schultz after purchasing the club in July, 2006. / Getty Images

It’s difficult to imagine a figure more loathsome to sports-minded Seattleites than Clay Bennett, the unscrupulous knave who poached the Seattle SuperSonics in 2008 and spirited them to Oklahoma City. With the NBA’s blessing, Bennett instantly re-packaged 41 years worth of Sonics history, records and memories under the nickname “Thunder.”

When then-owner Howard Schultz placed the Sonics up for sale, Bennett came to Seattle with the express intent of relocating the franchise to Oklahoma City. Although he lied repeatedly about his scheme, as a spate of e-mails with his business partners subsequently showed, many of us fell for his “commitment to Seattle” drivel until he issued his ultimatum that we build him a new arena, or else.

Having created a hoop through which he knew Seattle taxpayers could not, or would not, jump, Bennett was freed to move the team to OKC, his aim all along. Even though we should have known better, we hated getting poached like that.

Things might have turned out differently if we hadn’t had a weak-kneed mayor (Greg Nickels), or deeper community pockets, or more time. All we had was the common sense not to invest $500 million of taxpayer money on a new arena. Although the cost of that decision was the loss of the franchise, at least we kept our dignity.

Now, with momentum intensifying for a mostly privately funded basketball/hockey facility south of Safeco Field, the question becomes: How do we pluck Sacramento’s franchise (or anyone else’s) without appearing to pull a “Clay Bennett” on the NBA fans of that city?

Further, how do we “monitor developments” in Sacramento, which must have its financing plan in place by March 1, or make plans for the Kings’ arrival as soon as next fall, without appearing to be lurking with talons out?

Really can’t be done. The Seattle City Council is already mulling over and commenting publicly on how an arena deal might be structured  – which assumes a wounded franchise will become available — with the softest possible hit on taxpayers.

In addition, several local on-line polls are asking readers which of several teams is most likely to relocate to Seattle. A few of these polls are generating thousands of responses, indicating a passionate interest in a franchise raid. Sacramento leads every list, with New Orleans at No. 2 and Memphis No. 3.

Since no NBA expansion is imminent (contraction is more likely), the only way Seattle can acquire a team is by feasting on another city’s misfortune.

Most of us are not adverse to a good poach, deftly executed. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago many — at least all UW football fans – stood in awe of coach Steve Sarkisian for the adroit manner in which he poached the football staff at Cal, facing budgetary constraints, for a couple of prized assistants, and came away with a five-star recruit, Shaquille Thompson, in the bargain.

We just don’t want to appear as unseemly as Clay Bennett, or as two-faced as Howard Schultz, or as double-dealing as NBA Commissioner David Stern when we commence the hijack. We want our poaches clean and classy.

Besides, this has really become a Sacramento issue. It can fend off a poach if it chooses, and right now the Sacramento story seems headed down a particularly pathetic path.

Phenomenal to watch are the lengths Sacramento is apparently willing to go to keep the Kings and retain its status as a “major league” city. In a creative display of ankle grabbing, Sacramento has come up with a plan to fork over the city’s parking revenues for the next 30 years in order to fund a downtown playpen for the Kings – at a time when Sacramento, as with many California cities, is desperate for tax revenues and has a soaring unemployment rate.

The Sacramento City Council has already approved several preliminary measures to make this happen, mainly by asking companies interested in leasing the city’s downtown parking operations to come forward. Upfront revenue from a parking deal could provide $200 million to put toward a proposed $406 million arena.

Stern must be roaring in amazement that the Sacramento City Council has been reduced to such utter desperation, especially over such a dubious economic product as an NBA franchise.

All Seattle needs to do now, assuming that an arena can be built south of Safeco with private funds, is stand back and watch the Sacramento story play out, or unravel.

If Sacramento gets a financial arena package together by March 1, enabling the Kings to remain, we’ll just wait for the next franchise to wash up on the beach. If Sacramento can’t – or won’t — pay the freight for a new arena, then it will find itself without a team, just as Seattle did, and we’ll be ready to strike.

We’ll just poach with a little more finesse than Clay Bennett showed.


YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    I’d rather have an NHL team, or even a NASCAR track, before having the NBA return to the area.  The NBA is duplicitous in their business dealings.  Look at how David Stern mediated between Bennett and the city of Seattle:  he didn’t.  Instead of mediating he belittled our civic leadership and placed blame on them.  Then compare how he’s negotiated compromise in Sacramento, even extending the mandated deadline last year.  He’s gone so far as to say the league will not leave New Orleans and gave Charlotte a team to replace the Hornets.  Thunder minority owner Aubrey McClendon  confirmed the OKC owners intent was to move the franchise unless an out of this world arena offer was given and he was shut down.  Evidently lying is an acceptable form of business negotiation for the NBA.  I respect McClendon more than Bennett or Stern.  At least he says the truth.

    Even if an NBA team comes here they’ll never be the Sonics.  The Sonics are in OKC.  They have Kevin Durant, Nick Collison and Sonic draftee Russell Westbrook.  They have Brian Davis on their broadcast team.  Sonics GM Sam Presti is there.   Every time I see Durant and here his latest exploit I roll my eyes.  He should be a Sonic.  Hey, Ray Allen should be a Sonic.  So should Rashard Lewis.  Thanks for trading them Clay.  If not for you Rashard would have never gotten that big contract from the Magic and Ray wouldn’t have gotten his ring.

    I don’t like the idea of giving the NBA what it wants when they give so little in return other than demands that they benefit from.  I’d rather start a new relationship with the NHL instead of revisiting one that was so problematic in the end.

    • Brett

      And how is the NHL any different? We’re talking about poaching an existing franchise in that league as well. They’ve shown that they’re just as willing to move teams around as the NBA is. The only difference is that our city doesn’t have a pre-existing relationship with that league. Personally, I want an NBA team back because I love the game. I’m not going to let David Stern ruin that for me.

  • jafabian

    I’d rather have an NHL team, or even a NASCAR track, before having the NBA return to the area.  The NBA is duplicitous in their business dealings.  Look at how David Stern mediated between Bennett and the city of Seattle:  he didn’t.  Instead of mediating he belittled our civic leadership and placed blame on them.  Then compare how he’s negotiated compromise in Sacramento, even extending the mandated deadline last year.  He’s gone so far as to say the league will not leave New Orleans and gave Charlotte a team to replace the Hornets.  Thunder minority owner Aubrey McClendon  confirmed the OKC owners intent was to move the franchise unless an out of this world arena offer was given and he was shut down.  Evidently lying is an acceptable form of business negotiation for the NBA.  I respect McClendon more than Bennett or Stern.  At least he says the truth.

    Even if an NBA team comes here they’ll never be the Sonics.  The Sonics are in OKC.  They have Kevin Durant, Nick Collison and Sonic draftee Russell Westbrook.  They have Brian Davis on their broadcast team.  Sonics GM Sam Presti is there.   Every time I see Durant and here his latest exploit I roll my eyes.  He should be a Sonic.  Hey, Ray Allen should be a Sonic.  So should Rashard Lewis.  Thanks for trading them Clay.  If not for you Rashard would have never gotten that big contract from the Magic and Ray wouldn’t have gotten his ring.

    I don’t like the idea of giving the NBA what it wants when they give so little in return other than demands that they benefit from.  I’d rather start a new relationship with the NHL instead of revisiting one that was so problematic in the end.

    • Brett

      And how is the NHL any different? We’re talking about poaching an existing franchise in that league as well. They’ve shown that they’re just as willing to move teams around as the NBA is. The only difference is that our city doesn’t have a pre-existing relationship with that league. Personally, I want an NBA team back because I love the game. I’m not going to let David Stern ruin that for me.

  • NickBob

    ‘the cost of that decision was the loss of the franchise, at least we kept our dignity.’
    Kept our dignity, yes, and half a billion taxpayer dollars.  
    If the NBA came back, a silver lining is the possibility of giving the commissioner an A-Rod greeting, turned up to 11. An NHL team would give us a prayer of returning the Stanley Cup in time for the centennial of our last Cup. That’s a more exciting prospect than landing another NBA team that’s been pre-Wally Walkered into mediocrity. 

  • NickBob

    ‘the cost of that decision was the loss of the franchise, at least we kept our dignity.’
    Kept our dignity, yes, and half a billion taxpayer dollars.  
    If the NBA came back, a silver lining is the possibility of giving the commissioner an A-Rod greeting, turned up to 11. An NHL team would give us a prayer of returning the Stanley Cup in time for the centennial of our last Cup. That’s a more exciting prospect than landing another NBA team that’s been pre-Wally Walkered into mediocrity. 

  • Soggyblogger

    I know many fans have more interest in this issue, and are more aware of the history involved than I  am, but I just don’t get why that team down in OKC is ours, and a new team wouldn’t be ours as much. I mean players come and go so fast anyway, you cannot recognize the teams from year to year. I know expansion is not on the table, but if expansion is not possible, then take whatever team is available. If a team is for sale, and we buy it, then it is ours. Of course, not mine, but whoever it is that buys it. OKC stole our team in a dastardly underhanded way, but if we buy a team while being upfront about moving it to Seattle then that’s not poaching it is buying.

    And why can’t we buy a team? Seattle, I mean? Green Bay owns its football team – so why can’t Seattle buy a team? Not that Seattle can afford a team or even if it was put to a vote would probably WANT a team, but I would vote for it if they let Alaskans vote. Heck, we’re just a suburb of Seattle anyway. (Don’t tell any of my Alaskan friends I said that).

    Plenty of Seattlites take this whole issue much too seriously. One day, probably in the distant future, Seattle will get another basketball team. Until then, choose a team to follow and pretend you love them. That’s what I used to do in ALL sports. Before the Sonics. Before the Pilots. Before the Seahawks. We had the Seattle Totems (minor league hockey) and that was about it. Oh, I forgot the Seattle Rainiers. Awesome team. AAA farm team for Boston Redsox I believe. And I went to a few hockey games even though I hate hockey. It reminds me too much of soccer.

    Sure lets buy a team, but poaching? And, really, did anyone believe Bennett when he said he was committed to keeping the team in Seattle? Really? How naive was that? How can a city expect the owner of a team to keep it in that city unless the LAW requires it? I mean, I can take my Ford Pinto and move to another city anytime I want, and Seattle can’t do diddly squat about it, and THAT  is the AMERICAN WAY. What if some restaurant wanted to relocate in another city? Should Seattle be able to say that the owner of that restaurant MUST stay in Seattle?

    The only way to ensure Seattle has a basketball team is to buy one. Period. And I mean the city itself. Personally, I would vote for Seattle buying a basketball team or a football team, but baseball seems like a bad investment and I would vote against it. I know basketball is having attendance problems, but I think Seattle has a soft spot for basketball that it does not have for baseball.

  • Soggyblogger

    I know many fans have more interest in this issue, and are more aware of the history involved than I  am, but I just don’t get why that team down in OKC is ours, and a new team wouldn’t be ours as much. I mean players come and go so fast anyway, you cannot recognize the teams from year to year. I know expansion is not on the table, but if expansion is not possible, then take whatever team is available. If a team is for sale, and we buy it, then it is ours. Of course, not mine, but whoever it is that buys it. OKC stole our team in a dastardly underhanded way, but if we buy a team while being upfront about moving it to Seattle then that’s not poaching it is buying.

    And why can’t we buy a team? Seattle, I mean? Green Bay owns its football team – so why can’t Seattle buy a team? Not that Seattle can afford a team or even if it was put to a vote would probably WANT a team, but I would vote for it if they let Alaskans vote. Heck, we’re just a suburb of Seattle anyway. (Don’t tell any of my Alaskan friends I said that).

    Plenty of Seattlites take this whole issue much too seriously. One day, probably in the distant future, Seattle will get another basketball team. Until then, choose a team to follow and pretend you love them. That’s what I used to do in ALL sports. Before the Sonics. Before the Pilots. Before the Seahawks. We had the Seattle Totems (minor league hockey) and that was about it. Oh, I forgot the Seattle Rainiers. Awesome team. AAA farm team for Boston Redsox I believe. And I went to a few hockey games even though I hate hockey. It reminds me too much of soccer.

    Sure lets buy a team, but poaching? And, really, did anyone believe Bennett when he said he was committed to keeping the team in Seattle? Really? How naive was that? How can a city expect the owner of a team to keep it in that city unless the LAW requires it? I mean, I can take my Ford Pinto and move to another city anytime I want, and Seattle can’t do diddly squat about it, and THAT  is the AMERICAN WAY. What if some restaurant wanted to relocate in another city? Should Seattle be able to say that the owner of that restaurant MUST stay in Seattle?

    The only way to ensure Seattle has a basketball team is to buy one. Period. And I mean the city itself. Personally, I would vote for Seattle buying a basketball team or a football team, but baseball seems like a bad investment and I would vote against it. I know basketball is having attendance problems, but I think Seattle has a soft spot for basketball that it does not have for baseball.