Seattle Becoming its Own Worst Enemy in Quest to bring the NBA back to its Fans

During the NBA’s preseason, Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors faced the Sacramento Kings in an exhibition game, that, in most cases, would have been just another tune-up for the regular season. However, this game was special for both Durant and the fans in attendance, as it signified a return to professional basketball in Seattle for the first time in a decade. Fans showed up in droves for the game to declare their immense dedication and love for the game of basketball, in hopes that it would send a message that they deserve to be the home of an NBA franchise once again.

In 2008, the Seattle SuperSonics left the basketball-hungry city of Seattle and relocated/rebranded to become the Oklahoma City Thunder. After the franchise was sold to the Professional Basketball Club LLC, headed by businessman Clay Bennett, the organization could not find public funding to build a new arena in the Seattle area. Therefore, the team was forced to move to Oklahoma City prior to the 2008-09 season after reaching a $45 million settlement with the City of Seattle in order to pay off the existing lease at the Key Arena at Seattle Center.

Since the move in 2008, the City and its fans have been clamoring for the return of a professional basketball team to the Seattle area, and the constant swirling of rumors has done little to stymie this. In July of 2017, after the first season of a nine-year, $24 billion television deal, Commissioner Adam Silver addressed the expansion question. Silver stated: “I don’t want to put a precise timeline on it, but it’s inevitable at some point we’ll start looking at growth of franchises,” and then specifically mentioned Seattle as being on a “shortlist” of cities that the League would look at. The League undoubtedly feels some regret over the way that the SuperSonics franchise was ripped from Seattle fans seemingly overnight, so it makes sense that it was prioritizing the City as a possible destination for expansion.

However, the conversation regarding Seattle and its possible reintegration has taken a turn recently. Despite Seattle’s plans for a $564 million renovation of Key Arena, and the fact that Seattle’s media market ranks 14th in the nation, there is a glaring issue that is putting a damper on its chances to regain a professional basketball team: the City’s intent to make the arena a shared venue. Although shared arenas are sometimes common in sports (i.e. KeyBank Center, United Center, Madison Square Garden, etc.), there is a trend in the NBA away from these shared sites.  According to a recent report via ESPN’s Brian Windhorst: “Owners are shifting their focus to getting venues that would be used exclusively for NBA games, or team-related events. The Warriors and Clippers were cited as the two leaders of this new strategy.” This trend is contrary to what Seattle intends to do with its new arena, as Windhorst went on to explain that: “Seattle is building an arena in the image of what’s now being seen as the old model of stadium-sharing,” as it wants the new arena to be shared among two professional teams and Live Nation premium concerts. This difference in vision may well be an insurmountable obstacle to the City’s chances of getting an NBA team.

Clearly, there are other avenues that Seattle could take to try and achieve its dream of having a basketball team. As has been noted, there would still be the option for Seattle to either gain a team through the relocation of another franchise (the Memphis Grizzlies have been discussed as a possibility), or the construction of a second new arena to house the NBA team as the main tenant. However, this would require an astronomical amount of extra resources and time and would force Seattle to outbid several other markets that would also be looking to attract a team. Undertaking these extra costs would be very difficult while the City is also renovating the Key Arena and would extend the timeline for Seattle to get the team much further than its fans would like. Having been home to a franchise before, the City of Seattle should be well aware that the NBA is in the business of making expansion processes as smooth as possible. If the League has to choose between waiting for Seattle to completely fund and construct a second arena, it is very likely that it would just choose to go in a different direction, such as Mexico City or Las Vegas.

Seattle has seen an outpouring of support from its fans, but maybe more importantly, from its former players. From Kevin Durant, to Detlef Schrempf, to countless others, players that once played for the proud Seattle franchise have strongly supported the return of NBA basketball to the Seattle area, and that could ultimately strengthen the City’s chances of getting a franchise again. But if Seattle realistically wants to be home to a team again, it is going to have to consider changing its plans for Key Arena. The preferred utilization of arenas in the NBA has clearly changed, and Seattle needs to change with it. A strong love of the game and public support is no longer enough; it is time for Seattle to get savvy from a business standpoint and do whatever it takes to prove to the NBA that it is willing to evolve and adapt into a modern NBA franchise.

With Seattle’s history as one of the richest basketball cultures in America, its fans still believe that it is more than possible to get the job done. For now, they must continue to play the waiting game. Updates on this story to come as both the League and Seattle work to strengthen their position in the world of professional basketball!

-Will Hython

Photo Credit: Mark Medina (Mercury News); Richard Head Sports

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