BY Art Thiel 08:00AM 07/08/2013

Thiel: Stern, Bettman offer thanks for Seattle

After going 0 for 2 in pursuit of sports teams for this winter, the Seattle imagination wanders to how it came to be, and how it might continue to be.

NBA Commissioner David Stern may not like Seattle, which does not mean it isn’t useful to him. / Wiki Commons

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman phones his former boss/mentor, NBA Commissioner David Stern.

Stern: Good to hear your voice. Did you get away for the holiday weekend?

Bettman: Yeah, but not what I wanted to do. I had to fly out to Phoenix to personally shake down the Glendale City Council. The politicians were close to rejecting the tax subsidy we arranged to keep the Coyotes there.

Stern: I saw the news. Congratulations. They weren’t going let the team go, you knew that.  You took my advice.

Bettman: Don’t I always? As you said, Seattle was a big help. If Glendale hadn’t seen the desperation in Seattle to get the Kings, they might have stood up to us.

Stern: Remember when I told you that an empty Seattle market was a commissioner’s best friend? Our colleagues in the NFL have proven the concept many times with Los Angeles.

Bettman: Now I see the Rams were told to drop dead by the politicians in St. Louis after the Rams demanded $700 million in upgrades to the domed stadium. People are already writing that the Rams should be relocated back to LA after the lease expires in 2014.

Stern: Sometimes it’s too easy. We don’t even have to say anything. The media does the heavy lifting for us.

Bettman: Well, it wasn’t easy in Glendale. The economy is still hurting, there’s not much development near the arena, the city is already are behind on payments to the team, politicians were elected on no-subsidy —

Stern: Blah, blah, blah. They always cave. You’re a monopoly operator, Gary — just like me. Act like it.

Bettman: Seattle didn’t cave in ’08.

Stern: You always need an exception to prove the rule. Seattle wouldn’t pay to subsidize a new arena, so the town paid for it by losing the Sonics, and now look at them — creating an arena deal that’s mostly private, making a ridiculous offer for one of our weakest franchises that drove up all franchise values, then bidding against themselves when Sacramento’s plan wasn’t even close to Seattle’s. Then Sacramento sold out to us with an arena proposal it could hardly afford, but just like Glendale, was neurotic enough to feel  that losing the team would be a PR disaster. Once Seattle demonstrated its desperation for our last free-agent franchise, it set our agenda for every current and future market.

Bettman: That gets me around to why I called. I saw a story in the Houston Chronicle last month that quoted you as saying you kept a “little green book” that had a list of cities besides Seattle that could respond pretty quickly to an offer of expansion. You said there’s all kinds of stuff going on in Pittsburgh, Columbus, Louisville, Virginia Beach, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Mexico City, Kansas City.

Are you serious?

Stern: Of course not, with the exception that some public official in each of the those towns has talked up the idea of seeking an expansion team. Once Seattle’s bid was voted down, it pulled the lid off the expansion idea. All it takes is a well-planted rumor to make a competitive market. Forcing the conversation to expansion — which always came from them, never us —  means other cities, which know any league prefers tandem teams for scheduling purposes, are on alert to be the second team. Not only will these cities knock themselves out competing with each other to be the second team, they’ll keep the pressure on Seattle not to go backward on the arena deal. And the empty market keeps the pressure on existing NBA cities to knuckle under or they’ll be the next Seattle.

Bettman: So you’re getting a second use out of Seattle.

Stern: Exactly. And it doesn’t have to stop with two uses. But beyond that will be Adam Silver’s goal. As long as Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer remain ambitious and engaged — their deal with the city and county was for five years — they have set the bar for what every market must do to secure an expansion team.

Bettman: Isn’t that a little blatant?

Stern: Sure, but so what? Most fans don’t get it; they just want a team. And if after five years, Hansen and Ballmer say the hell with it, big deal. The NBA has gotten along just fine in the five years without Seattle in the league, and secured better deals for the Kings and any other franchise that that might have lease trouble. Plus, Hansen and Ballmer helped us get rid of the Maloofs.

Bettman: And people say you hate Seattle.

Stern: Heh-heh. I love Seattle.

Bettman: Well, now that each of us has a new collective-bargaining agreement we can work with, and we finally have a new owner and a new lease in Phoenix and will move the Islanders to Brooklyn, I don’t think either of us has a team in a city where profitability is so unlikely that relocation is viable.

Stern: Shh. Don’t say that. The National Security Agency is listening.

Bettman: I’ll leave it to you play the expansion game, which we’re not doing for a long time.

Stern: Expansion? Who said expansion? I’m done Feb. 1. Have a nice summer, Gary.


  • Will


    But first, Seattlites must pay a tax to read how they are gooses cooking themselves for the foxes.

    • art thiel


      Hansen has a tough road to navigate in getting an established team. I think he realized, late, that going nuclear, as Ballmer probably insisted, would close off chances at the only viable option, which is expansion.

  • zigzags

    I’m pretty sure this isn’t a sports column but an actual transcript from a conversation between the two commissioners. I can hear David Stern’s voice saying those exact lines.

    • art thiel

      I’ve known Stern for a long time, watched him operate. He’s a very bright, demanding guy with a wide streak of vindictiveness. He is a man not to be crossed.

      • Will

        Gosh, is Stern the love child of J. Edgar Hoover and Hedda Hopper?

        • art thiel

          Well played, Will. Although there’s a chance only two of us know those names.

          • Three. Given the Hoove’s proclivity for “dressing up,” I might’ve suggested Walter Winchell instead of Hedda Hopper, but that would’ve been biologically impossible.

          • zigzags

            I may not know who this Hedda Hopper person is, but I can recognize a great Leo DiCaprio character when I see one.

  • Derek

    Thank you for pointing out the disaster that is Chris Hansen’s failed bid for the Kings. Yes, we got “this” close to having a team back (if you believe the media). But in the process, Hansen and his group showed that they valued one of the least valuable franchises in the league more than any other team in NBA history had sold for.

    I am still saddened by the Sonics leaving town, but I agreed (and still agree) with the taxpayers’ rationale of “We just paid for two new stadiums, and the Key isn’t all that old with the renovations that are only a dozen years old.” This attempt to bring a franchise back was a disaster, as it will now require that same contribution from Washingtonians to bring a franchise to town that isn’t our beloved Sonics.

    • art thiel

      Because it didn’t work doesn’t mean Hansen’s plan was a disaster. Even in Sacramento, many people didn’t see outside money coming to town to save the Kings. I think many, including Hansen, didn’t perceive how Sacramento’s longtime image as a cowtown was seen as an impediment to California business.

      The Kings were a rare free-agent team, unencumbered by a lease. Hansen would have been foolish if he passed on the opportunity to bring it to Seattle. But Hansen was naive in appreciating any league’s resistance to moving a team where it was supported. And he didn’t know or didn’t believe Stern’s visceral disdain for Seattle from 2006.

  • jafabian

    As Johnny Carson would say. I hope an unclean yak sits on David Stern’s dinner. Ditto for Bettman.

    • art thiel

      Throwback Night at the Improv!

  • Leon Russell

    How did Hansen’s hedge fund do in the 2nd quarter this year?
    That is the important question.

    • art thiel

      I think he’s OK. Thanks for caring.

  • Jeanine Curtis

    Must’ve been really really bored to write this.

    • art thiel

      I thought it was a better way to convey what happened last week, since I was a little out of position at the time. But thanks for staying awake long enough to write.

  • TheDude

    Art, I always enjoy reading your articles. Do you expect any change in the NBA once Stern resigns or would it be a safe bet to assume that Stern has already inebriated Silver with a toxic dose of unholy evilness and will thus be pulling the strings behind the scenes? Thanks.

    • art thiel

      Silver was described to me by someone who has worked with both men as more of a consensus builder and a team player than autocratic tyrant. The source thinks Silver is less inclined to the spotlight. Whether that makes a differencefor Seattle is anyone’s guess, but he doesn’t have the seething resentment.

  • Hey Art…I Love your work and have FOR YEARS…Now,I didn’t know how to reach you re my query,but hopefully you’ll get and read this comment…It has to do with the MVP vote for the 1979 Finals which went to Dennis Johnson…I seem to recall there were seven people who had voters and it went 4-3 for the late,great DJ…I could swear I read in the local paper(s!) back then that one voter had switched his vote from another player to DJ and thus he got the trophy and car from SPORT magazine…Who were the voters? – any local guys like you?…and who,of the Sonics ,got the 3 votes and not the 4 needed to break a tie?..I have an idea,but some guy on a blog has a different storyline…what say you if you can remember ,what 34 years back?…Thanks Art…You,Sir are Thee MAN!