BY Art Thiel 07:44AM 01/28/2013

Thiel: $1 billion question NBA will ask of Seattle

Adding Kings’ price to arena drives project cost to more than $1 billion. Seattle’s ardor for NBA hoops was waning before Bennett; will owners buy Hansen — and busy Seattle?

The relationship between the NBA and Seattle had been on the skids well before Clay Bennett showed up. / Sportspress Northwest file

At the height of their glory in KeyArena, the Sonics sold out their 17,072-seat capacity for three seasons in a row. With Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp and coach George Karl, the joint rocked, the drama rolled and Seattle was right there with the Bulls and Lakers at the acme of the NBA.

But that was more than 15 years ago — 1995-96, 1996-97 and 1997-98. Then came the lockout in fall of 1998, and the NBA and Seattle have never been the same.

The hope behind Chris Hansen’s pursuit of an existing team that will fill his proposed dream palace in SoDo is that the Seattle marketplace will re-smooch with pro hoops as it did in the mid-90s.

But now that a team seems within reach — Hansen has offered a $525 million value for the terrible but mobile Sacramento Kings — an apparent battle of wills has begun between the towns, to be decided, perhaps, in mid-April by a vote of the NBA owners. But as the daily developments play out over the next three months, one question will be asked more frequently:

At a commitment of more than $1 billion and growing, is the NBA worth it?

To the legion of hoophounds, of course it is. Without question. Forty-one years, baby. Lenny. Slick. Fred. Gus. Jack. X. Nate. The Glove. Reign Man. Ray. First-name friends.

Also in the marketplace is a legion of who-cares types and a subset of active haters, thanks in part to the bloody, two-year extraction that has left a hole of four years and reinforced every stereotype of sports leagues as arrogant oligarchists.

Now that the Kings have been formally targeted, Seattle no longer can play the lost-virtue card. Fans who called out NBA Commissioner David Stern and his cloying acolyte, Clay Bennett, for destroying a good relationship have to shut up before being readmitted.

Stern, Bennett and the other owners will consider the $1 billion question from their perspective:

Is this extraordinary private investment, one of the biggest ever in team and building, sustainable in a busy sports market that faded on the NBA in better economic times than now?

The NBA will be certain to review the history of decay, which is outlined here:

Regarding the simple metric of attendance, after the ’98 lockout ended and Seattle played a 25-game home schedule, the Sonics were credited with a full-capacity sellout in ’99. But those tickets were largely sold pre-lockout. Anyone who attended that Fat Man’s Fantasy Camp of a season knows the joint was about half-full most of the time.

The next seven full seasons of mediocre ball showed a decline in ardor:

1999-00: 15,018

2000-01: 15,630

2001-02: 15,452

2002-03: 15,541

2003-04: 15,255

2004-05: 16,475

2005-06: 16,199

The seasons of 2006-07 and 2007-08 under Bennett were virtually irrelevant, as his ownership deliberately undercut the roster and the gate to help make the argument that the NBA was no longer working in Seattle.

The decline in popularity was felt most acutely in the luxury suites, which was a critical development. Premium seating was, by terms of the lease, the primary source of revenue paying off the 20-year construction bonds issued for the 1995 remodel of the Coliseum into KeyArena.

The pay-as-you-go-plan worked nicely for four years. Then came the lockout, and weak ball. It never worked again. Suite revenues failed every year to cover the mortgage.

Besides the poor play — after the lockout, the Sonics won only one playoff series until leaving for the plains  — many factors bore down on the franchise.

*In 1999, the Mariners opened a new stadium and sold all its suites and most of the Diamond Club seats behind home plate;

*In 2000, Barry Ackerley, who spent respectably on players, coaches and facilities, sold the team to Howard Schultz, who talked a great game about public stewardship but failed miserably;

*In 2000, despite being declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court, Initiative 695’s intent — elimination of the motor vehicle excise tax — was made into law by the Legislature because the measure had 56 percent of the vote. But the revenue loss blew a hole in the budget that has permanently crippled the state’s ability to help fund services and projects, including stadiums/arenas and their upgrades;

*In 2001, a recession made some companies re-think where to spend on sports entertainment;

*In 2002, the Seahawks opened a new stadium and sold all of its suites;

*Changes in federal tax laws made business-expense deductions of suites more difficult for some companies and individuals;

*In 2006, after repeated failed attempts to get public instead of private financing to upgrade economically obsolete KeyArena — he claimed that even a full-season sellout would not allow the Sonics to break even in the NBA’s broken economic model  —  Schultz sold the club to Bennett in for $350 million. Schultz paid $200 million six years earlier;

*In 2006, Initiative 91 passed in the city with a 74 percent yes vote. The new law mandated a small positive return in every lease of a city facility by a pro sports team (a workaround was made for the Seattle Storm), effectively killing sweetheart leases that would likely have been necessary to renew the Sonics deal in 2010. The lease was deliberately designed to end five years short of the retirement of the 20-year life of the construction bonds, so that whoever owned the Sonics had leverage over the city.

*In 2008 . . . well, you probably recall the lawsuit, the trial and the $45 million settlement  that let the Sonics out of the final two years of the lease.

As you can see, the failure to retain the Sonics was years in the making, layered by failures  internal to the club and the league as well as external market factors. Some are common in most or all markets, but one thing unique to Seattle was I-91.

Despite being poorly written and poorly understood, with no organized opposition, I-91  sent a message Stern and the owners took only one narrow way: The vast majority of Seattleites don’t want pro hoops.

The law’s ambiguity or misinterpretation didn’t matter; it only matters that 27 men (Mark Cuban and Paul Allen voting no) felt Seattle told them to drop dead.

To his credit, Hansen got the I-91 message. He built a complicated proposal that relies mostly on private wealth to take the operational risk, with $200 million loaned from the city and county on a lease-purchase deal. His lawyers and lawyers for the governments think the deal exceeds I-91’s requirements. But an I-91 backer doesn’t think so, and filed suit a couple of weeks ago to stop the SoDo arena deal.

Independent of the legal outcome, Hansen has to satisfy his pending lodge brothers, who will ask again about Seattle’s intent and ability. They don’t care about pep rallies in Pioneer Square. They don’t care about injustice, unfairness or sentiment. They care about making money.

They must decide in April whether it is wise to relocate a team from the No. 20 TV market where it was the lone big-time sport, to the No. 12 market that shunned them in 2006 and now has added, in contrast to conventional American sports wisdom, a pro soccer team that pulls in 38,000 a game  — plus a college football team that is in the commercial fray big time, in order to pay down $200 million in stadium renovation bonds.

Reputationally, the owners have to like Hansen and Steve Ballmer, especially compared to the Maloofs who own the Kings. But the Seattle ownership will bear a financial burden for team and arena that is nearly unprecedented, and they must do it with a bad team that has to be broken down and built up on Seattle’s watch, not on Sacramento’s.

All is possible; Hansen has shown extraordinary patience and skill in maneuvering a difficult project to get this far, this fast. But now, there are people beyond the Mariners and the Port of Seattle who don’t want him to succeed; rich people who may like basketball in their town as much he likes his in Seattle.

Getting back together with the ex is never easy. Much must be forgiven and forgotten. And the way forward may be harder still.


  • Supes fan stuck in RVA

    Debbie Downer Thiel is at it again.
    Art, it’s called risk. This is what a hedge fund guy like Hansen lives with
    every day. He’s run the investment through more complicated financial models
    than you will ever understand, and has come to the conclusion that the potential
    reward outweighs the risk. Despite his affinity for the Sonics, he would not
    have made the investment if it didn’t pass that level of financial analysis for

    You see, his ability to see beyond the risks of a project to the rewards and
    apply his process to achieving those rewards with the highest degree of
    probability possible is why he is a billionaire, and you sir, are not.

    Please go back to being a Debbie Downer about things you at least understand,
    like how badly the Mariners suck. At least your pessimism is justified in that

    • art thiel

      Thanks, Supes fan. Would that you were as good at reading as you are at explaining the world of finance to my fragile mind.

      I’m sure Hansen is good with the risk. But the NBA isn’t a hedge fund. And it’s not his choice to make; it’s the owners’ choice to decide if he is properly funded. Which was the point of the column. Yes, Ballmer’s worth $15 billion, and I’m sure Hansen’s worth a lot. But people smarter than me — although not nearly as smart as you — think the amount of private capital extended in this project is high. Maybe too high. At the moment, Ballmer’s money is a token. The more money he puts in, the better NBA will feel. And the more some people at Microsoft will have reason to plot his ouster.

      But you understand all these things. I don’t.

      • Mike B

        I think there is a high amount of capital invested and we are a city with practically everything taking from a city with really nothing but California politicians and bureaucrats(sp?).
        That being said, I can’t help feeling excited about the possibility of the Sonics coming back

        • art thiel

          Big judgment, Mike, on the worthiness of a city, when a lot of it is about franchise ownership. The Maloofs pissed away a great fan base. As the Mariners have done in Seattle.

      • Supes fan stuck in RVA

        Unfortunately I did read your column Art. I read how there was a notable “decline in ardor” for the Sonics as evidenced by attendance going from 15,018 in 99-00 to 16,199 in 05-06. I guess you have to be a brilliant sports writer to understand how that’s a decline.

        You’re right about this much. If the Sonics put out a consistently mediocre product like they did in 1999 – 2006, they won’t succeed long-term. I’m not sure how much analysis it takes to figure that out.

        But this is where you either buy Hansen’s vision or you don’t. The guy is committed to putting together a consistent contender and a cutting edge building that will revolutionize stadium design and be forward thinking in regard to fan experience and revenue streams, as opposed to the half-baked, backward-looking Key Arena remodel in 1995. He’s also committed to maximizing TV revenue, quite possibly with a regional sports network, which is where the real dollars are these days.

        I get it, you choose to look behind and see all the pot holes and land mines. I guess it’s just your pessimistic nature. Meanwhile, Hansen is laying out a completely fresh, forward-looking vision, while at the same leveraging off the best of the Sonics 40-year legacy and the still-strong passion that exists, despite the NBA’s best attempts to kill it.

        After what he’s accomplished in the last 18 months, if you still doubt Hansen and his vision, I think it says a lot more about you than it does about him.

        • art thiel

          I share your admiration for what Hansen has done. I’ve written about that before. It’s not my job to share or not share his vision. That’s your choice. I’m striving for impartiality, and pointing how it can look to the owners, not you or me. The RSNs are indeed a big revenue source, but I can tell you that Fox/Root weren’t getting the numbers post-lockout for the Sonics that they were pre-lockout. Is there more to be had with a Sonics/Mariners RSN? Sure. Do you think this Mariners ownership is likely to do that?

          And yes, I am a skeptic of any authority, project or idea that comes across the public domain. That’s what every journalist should be. Otherwise, they’re fan-boys telling you want you want to hear.

          I’ve written before that the way Hansen has done this deal is the best proposal Seattle sports has seen, and one of the best public-private deals in the country. But now he has moved to the tough part, where he is taking another team out of its market. Different game. Tougher opposition. As good a businessman as he appears to be, no one thinks of everything.

  • ReebHerb

    All the fans or those that can afford to pay are on the East side. Still think a basketball arena should be located there rather than amongst the horrible traffic of Seattle.

    • Michael Kaiser

      Ya, as opposed to that nice smooth drive down 405. But, really, though, I do agree that it would be nice to have something over on the eastside, especially as I am looking for a place over there to live–again.

      • There’s always a risk in citing a venue on one side of town as opposed to a downtown or city center area – that fans on the other side of town won’t cross town to see the games. So you really don’t see this anymore. The move clearly is to move these venues back to the downtown core. Even the Warriors are moving back to SF.

      • art thiel

        And after all, this is about you Michael.

        • Michael Kaiser


    • Pixeldawg13

      Well, since Hansen has bought the land in SoDo, that’s where he’ll build. I don’t see anyone else jumping up to build an Eastside arena–do you?

      • art thiel

        Hansen beat them to the punch. If the EIS puts up too many red flags, you’ll hear about a Bellevue site.

    • art thiel

      Many would make the same argument, Reeb. I’m not sure it’s going to be any easier for the Eastsiders to get to SoDo. As the Mariners have said, 4,000 parking spots have been lost since they opened in 99.

  • Matt712

    “Schultz sold the club to Bennett in for $350 million. Schultz paid $200 million six years earlier;”
    ….Pretty much sums it up, no?

    • Mike B

      Hard to believe that when he bought the team, HS wass one of the most popular owners in the NBA.

  • jafabian

    Recently Bernard Pollard of the Baltimore Ravens stated that in 30 years the NFL might not be around due to issues on lack of player safety (I disagree wth that statement) I think the league that should be looking over its shoulder due to it’s economic model. How Key Arena can go in the span of ten years from an ideal venue to a horrible one is only a reflection on what’s wrong with the league and it’s like the league turns a blind eye on its problems. Nor do they see the big picture as that a full arena is not the only way to generate revenue. I’d think a 17,000 seat arena would be better so as to at least give the appearance of a packed house consistently. But their economics prevents that. And luxury suites only go so far when you offer a product as poor as Clay Bennett did while he was in Seattle.
    I’d love to see Stern address as to why the Sonics failed under Schultz and then ask him why is it the Sounders do so much better. And they go head-to-head with the M’s. I’m looking forward to the NHL coming here moreso than having the NBA return. IMO, the NBA is quietly devolving into a sport more like WWE than a basketball league.

    • Simple Key Arena got passed up in amenities and fan comforts. If that wasn’t the standard by way of measurement, Key would be fine, as Stern said it was in 1995.

      • art thiel

        It was passed up because it lacked the square footage to make it the entertainment plaza of the newer, bigger arenas. The Key footprint is half the size of the newer venues, and it’s in a public park, meaning it’s hard to make changes to the footprint without input from the thousand constituencies that use the park.

    • art thiel

      The NBA will never accept responsibility for letting down its customers. Effzee’s post above states well the alienation felt by some fans about whether the game is honest. I can never forget that Sonics/Suns playoff game.

  • Jojo

    So….why do people in Seattle think this will work?

    • Bill Bob’s Brother

      And why won’t it work?

  • RadioGuy

    An NBA team will sell out until the novelty wears off, even after the new arena is built. At some point, the team is going to have to start winning in order to keep fans coming through the gate. The Mariners should have learned that their ballpark is not the main reason people come to games, although with the new scoreboard and added seats in left field, I’m not so sure they have. The venue itself is not the product.
    It’s possible Seattle will support a new NBA franchise on a sustaining basis, win or lose, but a more likely scenario is that attendance will wax and wane depending on how the team is doing on the floor. Every team has its hardcore fans, but it’s the casual front-running fan who determines the real level of support a team gets: If you win, they’ll show up…if you lose, they’ll find something else to do. That’ll be the case with the NBA in Seattle, too, and the way the original Sonics left five years ago will not help.

    • bobby knight

      isnt that the case with any sport, in any city?

      • RadioGuy

        It is with most of them, but not all: The Montreal Canadiens haven’t won a Stanley Cup in nearly 20 years and are only moderately competitive at best, yet try getting a ticket to one of their home games. Same with any of the other Original Six NHL teams. Even with all those lousy teams in the 70’s and 80’s, the Green Bay Packers have sold out every home game since 1960. The NFL is a cash cow anyway…of the 32 teams, only Miami drew less than 84% capacity at home in 2012.

        But, yes, in general the theme anywhere is “Win it and they will come.” Seattle is no different, although UW football has perhaps the most loyal fan base (college sports ARE different because fans don’t attend pro teams for four years to earn degrees).

        • art thiel

          Montreal with hockey, Green Bay with fb, Cubbies with baseball . . . yes, there are exceptions. Seattle is likely 95 percentyof the markets: Win and you have us, lose and you don’t. And there’s not a damn wrong with that.

    • jafabian

      Look at the Bobcats. There’s few places more passionate about basketball than in North Carolina and they have a favored son running things. How the Hornets left put such a bad taste in their mouths they barely support the franchise there. That could happen here in Seattle under the right circumstances.

      • Brett

        Actually there are few places more passionate about college basketball. The NBA is a different beast.

        • RadioGuy

          The Hornets drew extremely well in Charlotte (23,000+ for ten years in a row) before George Shinn became a human wrecking ball, ruined the franchise in NC and moved them to a basketball mortuary like New Orlleans. The Bobcats have never been able to put the genie back in the bottle.

          • And why do you think New Orleans is a basketball mortuary? To the extent that it is, you may recall that the Jazz skipped town in an off-season because the Mormon owner wanted to go where? To the leading Mormon state. Burnage is burnage, man. And this league has done it quite often. By now, I think even Sac is burned. Even with new owners and new digs, I doubt they ever get the kind of support they used to get. I remember reading that the Kings needed new digs 15+ years ago. The drama has largely been nonstop since.

  • Michael Kaiser

    Did the word “hater” evolve at one point out of someone’s third-grade class? Of course it has, however, fit quite comfortably into today’s culture.

  • If they start up an RSN, the gate won’t matter very much. As the Pac-12, Dodgers, and Angles have proven, the money is made in the TV deals.

    • Matt Man

      A very, very solid point Neil. It’s the 21st century reality and a few of our teams going in together could generate a LOT Of new revenue this way.

    • art thiel

      Tru dat, Neil. But I can you that the RSN here will looking nothing like the deals in LA/Dallas. And if you believe the theories in some of the TV trade pubs/blogs, the train of big money has left the RSN station. Not saying I know how it will play, but to be successful, the Mariners and Sonics need to be together. Good luck with that.

  • Basketball Jones

    The NBA is a flawed product.

    • Yes it is and for so many reasons. The NHL, also flawed, is still much more enjoyable from a fans perspective. I would love to see an NHL team in Seattle.

      • art thiel

        If the NHL is so enjoyable for so many, why has it never had a significant contract from an American TV network?

    • art thiel

      Well that would certainly be the first time in American industrial history for that conclusion.

  • Liggie

    I never understood why the sports fans and KJR didn’t put up anything more than token opposition to I-91. I do understand why Bennett didn’t.

    • art thiel

      It was amazing — one of the great civic whiffs. Then again, it established that the voters in Seattle wanted a fairer deal from pro sports than they’ve had — and damn if Hansen isn’t trying his best to play by their rules.

  • Grounder To Third

    I know that island treehuggers like Art Thiel love to sit around worrying about how other people spend their money, but I’m convinced that Hansen, Ballmer, and the Nordstroms are big boys and they have the will and the finances to handle whatever comes along, they didn’t become successful by playing the “what if something bad happens?” game all day.

    • art thiel

      Again, Grounder, it’s not what I think or you think. It’s what the NBA owners think. I’m not saying Hansen and Ballmer aren’t going to succeed in the sale. I am saying there’s a lot of winning back to do of the owners and fans for long-term success of a project operating on a thin margin.

  • Theilsucksballs

    Art, get a clue. You are the rain in Seattle, you bitter, fat, ugly, bald man. Perhaps if we got rid of you, this city may embrace some more optimism – instead of focusing on all the negatives as you yourself always do. Just because you hate your life, does not mean we all hate ours. Peace ya D-bag!!!

    • PokeyPuffy

      classy! hate much?

      • art thiel

        Look at it this way — he misspelled my name in his login handle.

    • Tim Mchugh

      You’ve gotta be kidding me. Your response said absolutely nothing of substance–you’re just another mindless fan spouting venom. Art is the thinking person’s journalist. Obviously you’ve come to the wrong place.

      • art thiel

        Tim, we welcome all here. Even those who want to see me in cheerleading outfit. Th mind reels.

    • art thiel

      Who you calling fat? A few pounds, maybe, but c’mon . . . but I do appreciate how much influence I have on the city from such a learned source.

  • Jared S.

    Schultz actually bought the team in 2001.

    • art thiel

      Jan. 11, 2001, you’re right. Hope you got more from the column than that.

      • Jared S.

        I did. But I think it’s important to emphasize how quickly
        Howard went from bright-eyed, enthusiastic, and idealistic about owning the
        Sonics (preserved for posterity in those guest columns he wrote for the Times)
        to disillusioned, petulant, and eager to cash out. Not to mention how quickly
        Key Arena went from “special” and “beautiful” in David Stern’s eyes (I assume
        you’ve seen that YouTube video) to apparently an unredeemable pile of crap.
        Those were both major parts of the problem.

        Also, how long did Schultz actually try to get public money
        for another Key Arena renovation? I only recall him trying in 2005 and 2006.
        Then he sold to Bennett, despite previously promising that the team would
        fulfill its lease obligations.

        I don’t think you’re wrong for being skeptical that all this
        could work, but I still blame the Schultz/Stern/Bennett axis of evil for their
        underhanded dealings more than I do the politicians for being reluctant to
        build the Sonics a new arena 10 years after the last one.

        • art thiel

          Jared, I’ve made the same point a few times a slightly different way — the source of Seattle’s travail was always the broken NBA economic model. That’s not my opinion, it’s Stern’s opinion. That’s why he undertook a lockout in an attempt to fix it. The new CBA has a chance, according to Stern, to allow every team to reach break-even in 2-3 years. You can believe it or not, but had this CBA been in place after the ’99 lockout, the Sonics likely would still be here because the Key wouldn’t have become economically obsolete.

  • Roslyndawg

    If Hansen, et al, want to run a business on their dime, fine. Leave the public out of it! Let them build their own playpen for spoiled showboat millionaires. Exactly what benefit did we all really gain from thash-talking arrogant players like “The Glove?” It was fun, back in the day of Freddie Brown, Lenny Williams, Gus Williams, etc, but I can’t stand what big, ridiculous money did to the sport. Now, I don’t care if someone else wants to pay to go see them, but I vote against public support. Give me the team sport of college ball any day.

    • art thiel

      What part of college ball to do you like best, Roslyn — the part where players get virtually no money for their four years of dangerous labor, or the part where cheating is almost universal in a sport whose reality has nothing to do with the colleges’ missions? Or maybe you like the part where some kids after four years in school are little more educated than when they came in?

      • Roslyndawg

        The part where they get no money. No, seriously, I don’t like it as well as I used to, especially since so many of them are “one and done” (or two years) thereby destroying continuity year to year. I prefer college baseball and football now to basketball.

  • Matt

    It’s possible the increasing price tag will incentivize Hansen/Ballmer to bring in an NHL partner who would share in the risk of the arena, beyond providing the team itself. The NHL probably wants to avoid a situation where its team would merely be a renter in the new arena. An investor who provides equity into the building would be leveraging himself for a higher upside.

    And since that investor would have to be in tune with Hansen/Ballmer, perhaps that’s why we haven’t heard much from Don Levin.

    • I agree t hat the NHL probably does not want a tenant relationship, but it could happen if the circumstances were right. Can you believe the league still owns the PHX Coyotes? But that is happening because of the new bldg in Glendale.

    • art thiel

      Another good point: For this deal to work, an NHL owner is going to have to be part of the Hansen/Ballmer team, however that manifests. He can’t be merely an independent operator renting dates. Ask the folks in Vancouver how that worked out when the Grizzlies were in town with the Canucks.

  • Matt Man

    This article has a lot of factual, logical information to it. This is the laundry list if you’re looking for grounds NOT to bring a team back to Seattle. But there are a few missing components. First, there will be more comparisons to Sacramento. If you waggle the low attendance after Bennett bought the team, the easy retort will start off with “Well, what about the Maloofs…”. The new arena deal may indeed face challenges, but neither will Sacramento pull a new arena out of their hat. Voter sentiment in Sacramento (especially based on the taxes the last proposal would have incurred) is not a sure thing for supporting a new arena or not voting out anyone who does. They’re in the “nostalgia phase” right now, but opponents will wake up as soon as a price tag to keep a team pops up. And do we honestly think that Bennett will consider any of the above? He’s driven by one motivating factor: For Seattle and others to shut up about him stealing the Sonics. Besides the Thunder moving back (not happening), nothing addresses that better than Seattle getting another team. Stern is a little more nuanced, but from interviews it’s clear he’d like to wipe that the blemish of Seattle off of his time as Commissioner. He appears more than willing to throw Sacramento under the bus to achieve that. Agendas and emotions will determine the vote just as much as any of the well-thought out factors above.

    • art thiel

      Some good points, Matt, especially about the ability of Sactown to pull together a fresher arena deal if it includes significant public participation. But maybe Ron Burkle will emulate Hansen and help enable the private side to take most of the burden.

      One disagreement on Bennett: Yes, he’d like to put a fig leaf on his reputation, but his driver is the same as the rest of the cartel’s: Increased franchise value for all. If the sale goes through at $525M, it floats every owner’s boat a little higher.

  • This article can’t be true. At least that is what people from Seattle are telling people in Sac. It was all about you guys getting robbed. Had nothing to do with Seattle, King Co. and Washington all telling the NBA to get lost. Personally, it won’t bother me if you guys get the Kings are not, but the article does a good job of pointing out that the history with the NBA is not only about an Okie coming into town and ripping your team away from you. That was opportunity. The story is much deeper than that. I also understand the concern because where the NBA has left and returned, the market has not been as strong as it was during the tenure of the original team: see Charlotte, New Orleans

    • art thiel

      Patrick, thanks for being willing to underscore the obvious — the NBA problems here pre-dated Bennett, and pointing out the second-time effect in Charlotte and Nawlins. Every market and circumstance is different, but some fans in Seattle were permanently put off by the NBA. Nobody knows the number, and maybe they will cave with a new team, but I wouldn’t underestimate the degree of alienation by some.

      • Mike B

        I stopped watching the NBA when the Sonics left, but maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder.

  • Michael Kaiser

    I will say, however, that I enjoyed seeing “hater” used against a segment that probably is made up, in large part, of those who wield the term “hater” like a sword against anyone who does not toe the orthodox, or typically Seattle-like, politically correct line, although my point applies nationally as well. It is just that “Seattle-like” is such a perfect description for a rather out-there body of philosophical underpinnings that describes a substantive segment of the national population.

    • art thiel

      Don’t care for the term “hater” because it discredits dissenters by devaluing their positions. But I’d stay away from sweeping generalizations about Seattleites. Hell, there’s probably 2-3 out there who LIKE you Michael!

  • Huskydwj

    Art – nice summary! It paints the realistic picture.

    • art thiel

      Someone actually gets the idea that impartial information can be useful. Thanks, Husky.

  • Effzee

    “At a commitment of more than $1 billion and growing, is the NBA worth it?”

    Um… no. No, it isn’t. I owned Kemp and Payton jerseys, had Sonics stickers and license plate frames on my cars, and went to lots of regular season and playoff games over the years. I was enormously passionate, but the NBA will never get a cent of my money or an ounce of my support again.

    For me, the biggest factors aren’t even Bennett and Stern, its everything Tim Donaughy revealed. Dude had his legs broken in jail for talking, OK? Every single time any one of us thought we were seeing a game get fixed, we were. Whether it was the Phoenix Barkleys shooting 64 free throws against us in a Game 7, or the Sacramento Kings being shut down by the refs in games 6 and 7 against the Lakers…. Every time we thought something was fishy, it was.

    I remember back in the day on KJR, Dave Grosby used to scream whenever anyone would bring it up: “YOU ARE NOT SEEING WHAT YOU THINK YOU ARE SEEING!” Hey, Dave. Guess what? Yes. Yes, we were seeing exactly what we thought we were seeing.

    Player movement, management movement, game outcomes, the draft lottery…. Everything about the NBA is completely orchestrated. Everything.

    • art thiel

      Well, Effzee, I think you speak for a number of fans alienated by the NBA’s machinations. I have no idea how many share your view, but I get a steady contribution from them to my inbox.

  • LennyLuvsLonnie

    Well-reasoned and readable as usual, Art. And one of the more honest assessments of the perfect storm that sadly led to the Supes departure. However, one of the central data points is crying out for more context: those attendance figures from ’99 to ’06. During that period, the Sonics regularly outdrew nearly 10 other NBA teams, despite the poor product on the floor and a (supposedly) sub-par arena. The fans will come back–we never left.

    In the meantime, might you add that comparative note to the attendance figures? Reason being, folks in other towns are pointing to this piece and falsely concluding that the Supes put fewer butts in seats than similar teams.

  • Kings4ever

    Seattle should never have let the Sonics leave. GO SACRAMENTO! GO KINGS!

  • Kings4ever

    if i was seattle i be concerned about fan support for the Mariners. isn’t there attendance down ? and Seattle want 6 major teams ? really ? Compare Sonic Fans to Kings Fans. 19 Years Kings Arena sellout. 19 years!