BY Art Thiel 11:01PM 06/14/2012

Thiel: Arena rally sends strong vibe to councils

The street party in support of the arena project was a well-orchestrated success that sent an emotional message to council members who have to use heads as well as hearts.

The guy in the Payton jacket is arena mogul Chris Hansen, peering onto the Occidental Park stage to check out the music amid fans who barely notice his presence. / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

As the Seattle basketball space-time continuum ripped across Pioneer Square — on one end was Slick Watts for the gray-hairs and the other end Nate Robinson for the tat pack — one little kid was clearly having the best time surfing the energy.

The smile on Chris Hansen’s face could not be chipped off with a hammer and chisel. He’s the 44-year-old rich guy from Roosevelt High whose $290 million offer to build an arena that would bring back the NBA gave him something rare Thursday afternoon — the chance to be 15 again.

An adored 15, at that.

From several thousand fans garbed in Sonics green and gold boomed a chant:  “Thank you, Chris! Thank you, Chris!” The brick walls of Occidental Park seemed to shake.

Backstage minutes earlier, just before the two-hour party organized by Hansen’s PR crafters drew to a close, a pudgy young fan walked up to Hansen, who was wearing a green Sonics jacket with “Payton” across the back, and blithely handed him his smart phone. Fan asked mogul to take a picture of him, the fan, with Shawn Kemp. The former Sonics all-star draped his arm around the guy, Hansen took the picture and the fan retrieved the phone and was off with a bright, “Thanks, dude.”

I’m thinking former Sonics owner Howard Schultz would have had “people” for such deeds.

Even with the high passion of a fan base unleashed from four years with a broken heart, the afternoon was so Seattle casual it seemed to wear Crocs. King County Executive Dow Constantine found himself backstage between speaking chores when ex-Sonics star Detlef Schrempf whooshed by on his way up the stage stairs.

“Yow,” said Dow. Star-struck, he nevertheless went low volume so as not to attract attention. So Seattle.

The easy mingle of generations, cultures, races and wallet sizes has always been a big part of the gravitational pull of sports. It’s always taken for granted. But Thursday, there was no game. No contest. Just the memory of loss and the desire to retrieve. So the purity of purpose stood out. Throw in music by the Presidents of the United States of America, Blue Scholars, Common Market and Macklemore, and the afternoon was a little primal too. A powerful vibe.

Was this emotional wallop calculated? Of course. Down to the minute on stage, and up to the minute strategically. The second game of the NBA Finals featuring the Oklahoma City Thunder, known hereabouts as Baja Sonics, was the raw backdrop. Ahead next week are deliberations by the councils of the city and King County, who will hear testimony from Hansen on why it’s good to give him what amounts to a $200 million loan. Co-signers for Hansen on the loan? Steve Ballmer and the next-gen Nordstroms, names that are fairly fireproof hereabouts.

The moment was ripe.

As with comedy, timing with business deals is nearly everything. Hansen’s offer came out of nowhere in February, complete with a nearly purchased site, which was chosen mostly because it came pre-zoned for stadiums. Opponents, mostly of the site, have been on the defensive since then, even with often legitimate complaints about increased congestion in what potentially is probably the most intensely mixed of uses for any two-square-mile chunk of metropolitan North America.

The emergence of the ex-Sonics team as a national powerhouse can only be considered fortuitous for arena advocates, because it throws success in the beagle faces of a fan base who had been bushwhacked by Schultz, the NBA and the business and political communities in Seattle and OKC, a fan base whose angst has been subject of numerous national media stories this week.

Hansen and crew, via social media, sports-talk radio and the shrunken American attention span, has generated a sense of urgency despite the fact that this project is light-years ahead of any of its Seattle predecessors.

Consider: The bond measure creating funding for a multi-purpose domed stadium was passed by voters in 1968. Construction began in 1972 because it took FOUR FREAKIN’ YEARS to choose a site for the Kingdome.

For basketball fans — including Hansen — it’s time for a deep breath and a hold on the scold for the Mariners, the Port of Seattle, the industrial council and the railroads. The project is going way too fast for a collective group of site opponents that has been hosed before by commitments broken by city government. Their skepticism is legit.

More than congestion, the arena is a flashpoint for a civic clash over the fate of SoDo. Every discerning participant in the debate knows that’s the heart of thr argument. Hansen and others believe the re-development of much of SoDo into higher-end uses is inevitable. The stakeholders think otherwise.

So it is left to the councils, Constantine and Seattle mayor Mike McGinn to navigate righting a wrong — the Sonics’ departure — without making one place and numerous businesses pay for the consequences.

In a moment apart from the hub-bub, Constantine, who admitted to surprise at the turnout — “I thought maybe a thousand; it’s not a beautiful summer day here,” he said — doesn’t think the task is as hard as it seems.

“You know, this deal is not any more complicated that a lot of things I and the council deal with all the time,” he said. “But because it’s sports, here we are.”

Because it’s sports, the problems may get the attention now that SoDo should have had years ago.

“The transportation challenges exist now, without an arena, and the port has lost some business now, without an arena,” he said. “The problems aren’t because of the arena. But the solutions could be because of the arena, because it finally catalyzes the conversation and gets us off  the dime.

“If we move aside the heat and focus on the problems, we have the resources and the brains to solve it.”

That remains to be seen, but it’s not an unreasonable forecast. Hansen and his advisers added some momentum Thursday by summoning emotions of the fan base at exactly the right time to bring pressure to bear on the councils’ decision-making.

The councils will have reams of data and testimony  to analyze, but as any politician knows, when competing sides have nearly equal logic, the tie is broken by the heart.

Gary Payton (left) and Shawn Kemp (right) listen as ex-University of Washington star Nate Robinson exhorts the crowd at Occidental Park Thursday. / Art Thiel, Sporspress Northwest


YourThoughts

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=608757232 Jake Gravbrot

    Any idea on roughly how many people showed up Art?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=608757232 Jake Gravbrot

    Any idea on roughly how many people showed up Art?

  • NPS

    6K!

  • NPS

    6K!

  • NixBeeman

    Pretty sure it was 1.6 million.

  • NixBeeman

    Pretty sure it was 1.6 million.

  • disqus_aEA4p3zFXu

    “I’m thinking former Sonics owner Howard Schultz would have had “people” for such deeds.”

    That says it all, Art. Great read as usual. The Sonics were but another way Howard could show off what a bad-ass he was. Just playing pick-up games with his famous friends wasn’t enough–he had to own a team. Ultimately, his sense of smug superiority alienated everyone including his own players. He still probably hasn’t a clue as to why he’ll go down in regional sports history as the most lame-ass figure of all time.

    • art thiel

      Well, “all-time” is a pretty big category. Remember Ken Behring? Brian Bosworth? George Argyros? I could go on. But I get your point. The guy is oblivious to why he’s derided. He took it personally when the legislature denied him. It does that to everyone. Of course, maybe that’s his issue — he never believed himself to be among us.

      • disqus_aEA4p3zFXu

        I don’t think people like him see themselves as ordinary folk. Behring was a creep for sure, but Bosworth? He was just a bust with personality. Also, a guy that can cash in like he did with those anti-Boz shirts he sold in Denver–you gotta love that. George Argyros? Sure, he’s up there, but at least he and Ken weren’t successful in sticking it to us. I think Howard’s in a class all his own because he executed a plan to sell a team to an out-of-town owner who clearly had no intention of keeping the team here, and everything went according to plan. Howard is about as honest as A-Rod…

  • disqus_aEA4p3zFXu

    “I’m thinking former Sonics owner Howard Schultz would have had “people” for such deeds.”

    That says it all, Art. Great read as usual. The Sonics were but another way Howard could show off what a bad-ass he was. Just playing pick-up games with his famous friends wasn’t enough–he had to own a team. Ultimately, his sense of smug superiority alienated everyone including his own players. He still probably hasn’t a clue as to why he’ll go down in regional sports history as the most lame-ass figure of all time.

    • art thiel

      Well, “all-time” is a pretty big category. Remember Ken Behring? Brian Bosworth? George Argyros? I could go on. But I get your point. The guy is oblivious to why he’s derided. He took it personally when the legislature denied him. It does that to everyone. Of course, maybe that’s his issue — he never believed himself to be among us.

      • disqus_aEA4p3zFXu

        I don’t think people like him see themselves as ordinary folk. Behring was a creep for sure, but Bosworth? He was just a bust with personality. Also, a guy that can cash in like he did with those anti-Boz shirts he sold in Denver–you gotta love that. George Argyros? Sure, he’s up there, but at least he and Ken weren’t successful in sticking it to us. I think Howard’s in a class all his own because he executed a plan to sell a team to an out-of-town owner who clearly had no intention of keeping the team here, and everything went according to plan. Howard is about as honest as A-Rod…

  • Cruddly

    Time for a new logo for the neoSonics. Perhaps Chris Hansen and his group could sponsor a contest for designing a new Super Sonics logo.

    • art thiel

      If the Kings aren’t pulled away shortly, you might need to update the logo before the next opportunity in 3-4 years.

  • Cruddly

    Time for a new logo for the neoSonics. Perhaps Chris Hansen and his group could sponsor a contest for designing a new Super Sonics logo.

    • art thiel

      If the Kings aren’t pulled away shortly, you might need to update the logo before the next opportunity in 3-4 years.

  • Jamo57

    Before leaving for the rally yesterday I experienced the odd, yet telling, juxtaposition of reading complaints from readers at the Times’ reader boards about the traffic problems the rally would cause while watching the parade for the Stanley Cup champion LA Kings in Los Angeles. I could see no signs of anyone in the area upset about the traffic near the parade route while Seattle formed its usual circular firing squads of looking for every reason why something might fail, or someone will be inconvenienced, or other signs that the sky will surely fall.

    Dow Constantine is right. We have the intelligence, the creativity, the resources to make this work for everyone involved. Unfortunately we also have the tyranny of the loud, which Seattle has always had, to hold things back. LA simply moves forward and gets things done. We worry about what would happen if things go wrong and look for every worst case scenario to justify our hiding under the bed.

    And we’re surprised our championship teams no longer exist and LA seems to win one every other year?

    • art thiel

      I’m not sure Seattle’s ways are a lot different than other cities. Every sports building ever built in the U.S. has had the same kind of detractors. And they’re not all dumb or obstructionist. Existing businesses and residents are always displaced, and others inconvenienced, by a big sports structures. Those people deserve to be heard. Seattle’s problems are compounded by how much we are jamming into the area that’s already constrained by the Sound, Lake Wash and only one N/S freeway. Most cities, often by luck, spread out their working ports, downtowns, industrial areas and sports districts than in the same square mile or two. And they long ago addressed transpo issues we’re just getting to.

      • Jamo57

        I agree in general Art, but Seattle pays more attention to ‘opposition’ IMHO and give them way too much influence. I stole the term ‘tyranny of the loud’ from a transportation official we had in for an interview at the community radio station I volunteer at. Ironically he was referencing our history of not planning for for inevitable growth and our failed past transportation initiatives. I don’t find it all that inconceivable that the same opponents of the arena and stadiums have opposed transportation issues in the past.
        It could get worse as folks like Tim Eyman want to undo the bedrock of democracy of ‘majority rules’ but passing initiatives that would require 2/3 majority to pass anything.
        Coming from Everett I always take the ST 510 Express bus to the stadiums. It is usually half full with only a handful of other fans. There is existing unused transportation capacity now. We make this way too difficult.

  • Jamo57

    Before leaving for the rally yesterday I experienced the odd, yet telling, juxtaposition of reading complaints from readers at the Times’ reader boards about the traffic problems the rally would cause while watching the parade for the Stanley Cup champion LA Kings in Los Angeles. I could see no signs of anyone in the area upset about the traffic near the parade route while Seattle formed its usual circular firing squads of looking for every reason why something might fail, or someone will be inconvenienced, or other signs that the sky will surely fall.

    Dow Constantine is right. We have the intelligence, the creativity, the resources to make this work for everyone involved. Unfortunately we also have the tyranny of the loud, which Seattle has always had, to hold things back. LA simply moves forward and gets things done. We worry about what would happen if things go wrong and look for every worst case scenario to justify our hiding under the bed.

    And we’re surprised our championship teams no longer exist and LA seems to win one every other year?

    • art thiel

      I’m not sure Seattle’s ways are a lot different than other cities. Every sports building ever built in the U.S. has had the same kind of detractors. And they’re not all dumb or obstructionist. Existing businesses and residents are always displaced, and others inconvenienced, by a big sports structures. Those people deserve to be heard. Seattle’s problems are compounded by how much we are jamming into the area that’s already constrained by the Sound, Lake Wash and only one N/S freeway. Most cities, often by luck, spread out their working ports, downtowns, industrial areas and sports districts than in the same square mile or two. And they long ago addressed transpo issues we’re just getting to.

      • Jamo57

        I agree in general Art, but Seattle pays more attention to ‘opposition’ IMHO and give them way too much influence. I stole the term ‘tyranny of the loud’ from a transportation official we had in for an interview at the community radio station I volunteer at. Ironically he was referencing our history of not planning for for inevitable growth and our failed past transportation initiatives. I don’t find it all that inconceivable that the same opponents of the arena and stadiums have opposed transportation issues in the past.
        It could get worse as folks like Tim Eyman want to undo the bedrock of democracy of ‘majority rules’ but passing initiatives that would require 2/3 majority to pass anything.
        Coming from Everett I always take the ST 510 Express bus to the stadiums. It is usually half full with only a handful of other fans. There is existing unused transportation capacity now. We make this way too difficult.

  • Krash Kron, Jr.

    My all-time Sonics team – from a fan since ’67……
    Point – Gus Williams/Gary Payton
    2 guard – DJ/Dale Ellis
    small fwd. – Detlef Schrempf/X-Man/Kevin Durant
    power fwd. – Shawn Kemp/Tom Chambers/Spencer Haywood
    Center – Jack Sikma/Marvin Webster
    6th man – Fred Brown/Vinnie Johnson.
    coach – Lenny Wilkins/Geo. Karl
    owner – Sam Schulman
    GO SONICS !! Great Rally @ Occidental Park! Thanks, Chris Hansen ! More memories to come!

  • Krash Kron, Jr.

    My all-time Sonics team – from a fan since ’67……
    Point – Gus Williams/Gary Payton
    2 guard – DJ/Dale Ellis
    small fwd. – Detlef Schrempf/X-Man/Kevin Durant
    power fwd. – Shawn Kemp/Tom Chambers/Spencer Haywood
    Center – Jack Sikma/Marvin Webster
    6th man – Fred Brown/Vinnie Johnson.
    coach – Lenny Wilkins/Geo. Karl
    owner – Sam Schulman
    GO SONICS !! Great Rally @ Occidental Park! Thanks, Chris Hansen ! More memories to come!