Teamless in Seattle

David Stern once again gives the Emerald City the finger.

I don’t know what it is. Maybe he doesn’t like coffee or he’s completely devoted to open source and is still ticked the feds settled their anti-trust action against Microsoft.

Or perhaps, like Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler, he just can’t abide Kurt Cobain’s influence on popular music. After all, Nevermind wasn’t that good, was it?

And don’t even get him started on Pearl Jam or Soundgarden, who were just Nirvana wannabes, right? I mean, if we were to rank Cameron Crowe’s movies, Singles would rank somewhere behind We Bought a Zoo.

Perhaps he put big money down on the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, to watch them become the only team in that game’s history to have more yards, more first downs and fewer turnovers than its opponent and still lose.

Or maybe it just comes down to Jack Sikma’s perm, quite possibly the worst hairdo ever to grace the NBA.

Whatever the reason, David Stern clearly holds a grudge against Seattle.

As I noted in my piece last year about LeBron James, Stern allowed Clay Bennet to move the Supersonics out of Seattle after the city refused to pony up for a new stadium.

Now, the league, under Stern’s direction, has blocked the sale of the Sacramento Kings to a group that planned to move the Kings north and rename the team the SuperSonics.

The reason, of course, has less to do with the Commissioner’s lack of appreciation for grunge, than it does with, well, quite simply money. David Stern believes that state and municipal governments should be in the business of subsidizing billionaire owners of NBA franchises. It doesn’t matter that we’re bogged down in a jobless recovery from a recession that’s five years old. No. What’s important is that government spend money on basketball and not on things like, say, education.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who also happens to be former NBA All-Star Kevin Johnson, executor of one of the fiercest dunks in the league’s history, has committed his city, to the tune of $258 million, to help build the Kings a stadium if the team’s new owners pledge not to move it. (Current owners, the Maloof brothers, are now being “encouraged” by the league to sell to a local group of buyers who will keep the team in Sacramento.)

The problems here are myriad. First off, who chairs the league’s relocation committee, which voted unanimously to recommend to the full body of owners that they block the sale of the Kings to Chris Hansen, the investor heading up the Seattle-based group? Why, none other than Clay Bennett, the man who tried to extort some $500 million in financing from the City of Seattle before moving his team to Oklahoma City.

There is also the wild overvaluation of the Kings as a franchise. Hansen’s group had bid up the sale price to $625 million, which anyone who has watched the Kings play over the last couple of seasons knows is inflationary. The Sacramento-based group of buyers had originally matched Hansen’s offer of $525 million before he upped the ante the extra 100 mill. But, with that deal now blocked, the local group has no incentive to match the higher figure. Not to defend the Maloofs, but $100 million is a lot of money to take out of their pockets just because Seattle refused to play the stadium financing game four years ago.

Finally, there is the question of that game itself. As Nick Traverse recently pointed out at The New Yorker, NFL host cities have shelled out nearly $5 billion in financing to build or renovate stadiums since 1997, all under the guise of economic development. But as a Cato Institute study to which Traverse links clearly demonstrates, it doesn’t work. New stadiums rarely generate economic growth and, as the life of a stadium today seems to be growing shorter and shorter, they hardly ever pay for themselves. Note the latest, the new $1 billion stadium Atlanta has agreed to help build for the Falcons, even though the Georgia Dome, where the team currently plays, is only 20 years old, was just renovated in 2007 at the cost of $300 million, and was good enough to host this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, one of the premiere sporting events in the country, perhaps second only to the Super Bowl.

Though if one really wants to see the wreckage of a publicly-financed stadium deal gone bad, one has only to travel south from Atlanta to Miami, where that city helped build baseball’s Marlins a new stadium. The city and its fans then watched as the team’s owner, Jeff Loria, turned around and sold off any player capable of hitting a curve ball better than Serano at the beginning of Major League. The result: attendance is so bad the team has resorted to closing the upper deck during week night games.

All of which brings us back to Commissioner Stern. Seattle was right four years ago when it refused to help foot the bill for a new stadium for the Sonics. What concerns him now is not that Seattle will again reject the idea of a publicly financed stadium, but that Hansen and his group haven’t even asked for one. You see, they want to go it alone, building the stadium themselves the old-fashioned way, which means raising the money privately and both bearing the costs of construction and reaping the gains from receipts. It’s a novel idea, I know, but it’s also a precedent Stern and the league’s other owners would rather not see set, because then they’d have to put their own capital in play and, God forbid, we wouldn’t want that to happen.I wrote earlier this year, when I included Stern in my list of 2013’s worst moments in sports, that his announced retirement (February 2014) couldn’t come soon enough. My guess is that, for folks in Seattle, they’d like it to come even sooner than that.

david stern, basketball, nba, seattleVideo: sikatriz2/YouTube

Photo: Richard Drew/AP

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About Liam Day

Liam Day has been a youth worker, teacher, campaign manager, political pundit, communications director, and professional basketball player. His poems have appeared at Slow Trains Apt, and Wilderness House Literary Review. His op-eds and essays have appeared in Annalemma Stymie, the Boston Globe and Boston Herald. He lives in Boston, where he works as a public health professional. He is the Sports Editor at The Good Men Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @LiamDay7.


  1. wellokaythen says:

    As a former Seattle-ite I have no bad feelings whatsoever. People who wanted to bankrupt the city in order to make money for billionaires didn’t get their way after all. A step in the right direction. One welfare plan for sports billionaires down, two to go.

  2. David Stern is a snake and the most corrupt commissioner in the major pro sports. He turned the NBA from a league where great athletes play the best basketball in the world to a league where celebrities and personalities play awful, league influenced, and star biased basketball.

    I have no doubt the Seattle thing was malicious.

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