I was up all night because of rumors swirling around the interwebs right now… This is potentially the equivalent to all the Christmas Eve’s of my lifetime all wrapped up in one… The night before it is announced that Chris Hansen has purchased the Sacramento King’s with the intention of moving the team to Seattle. The night before us grieving, wounded Seattlites are finally made whole again with the return of our team. I am talking about the return of the Seattle SuperSonics!!!!
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports is reporting that the Maloof Brothers, owners of the Sacramento Kings, are very close to a deal selling the team to an ownership group who wants to bring the Kings to Seattle. The Maloofs have a history of being squirrelly, to put it nicely, but AW said that the deal is essentially at 1st and Goal from the 1 yard line… just needs to be punched in. The details are as such: $500 million from the Seattle ownership group, the Maloofs will retain a very small ownership interest in the team, but have no decision making power, and the team will play in Key Arena for two years until construction on the new Seattle NBA arena is complete. UPDATE: There are also reports that the deal is moving along nicely, but the goal is to have it finished by the end of January.
How Did We Get Here?
There is an outstanding documentary on the history of the Seattle Supersonics and the team’s painful divorce with the city it called home for over 40 years – You can view it here at Sonicsgate.com. The cliffnotes version is this:
The Sonics were the heart and soul of the Seattle sports community for 30 plus years. The team gave the city its only professional championship in 1979, and the franchise would have repeated its earlier success in 1996 had it not been forced to face a Chicago Bulls team led by one Michael Jordan that finished with the best record in NBA history. The city was, and still is, in love with guys like Xavier McDaniels, Jack Sikma, Lenny Wilkins, Detlef Schrempf, Spencer Haywood, Downtown Freddie Brown, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Big Smooth Sam Perkins, and countless other Seattle legends. Growing up in the Seattle area during their mid-90s runs, there was not a single kid on the playground that didn’t want to play with the attitude of The Glove, Gary Payton, or pretend to throw down tomahawk jams on Nerf Hoops like Kemp.
Then, in 2001, Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz bought the team, fancying himself as another Mark Cuban – a beloved, involved advocate for his team who would sit courtside and hammer the referees game in and game out. Schultz fell short of Cuban’s prowess though and lacked a key ingredient that Mark Cuban has: Mark Cuban cares about his players, his organization, and winning a championship far more than he cares about money or his own public perception. Unfortunately for Sonics fans, and NBA fans for that matter, Schultz viewed the Sonics as a bad investment once he started losing money and tried to pinch pennies on every level, which as anyone with half a brain knows is not the way to run a successful sports franchise. Schultz’s shortcomings as an owner are well documented here by a former Sonics employee, including a delightful anecdote about Schultz wanting to reward employees with a Starbucks gift card… that was worth just about enough to get a drip coffee ($3.50). After reading this, you may understand why I refuse to support Starbucks anymore.
Ultimately, he sold the team to a group of investors from Oklahoma City led by one Clayton Bennett. Schultz “demanded” that a clause be included in the purchase agreement requiring Bennett and his group to make a good faith effort to build a new arena in Seattle for the team prior to moving the team elsewhere. This was one of those “wink, wink, hush, hush” kind of agreements that we in the legal field like to call illusory promises. Bennett and his group had been itching to get a team to Oklahoma City, and everyone knew it, Schultz most of all, but they all did just enough to cover themselves legally. On July 2, 2008, after a contentious legal battle with the City of Seattle, the new owners reached a settlement with the city that would allow the Sonics to leave for Oklahoma City for a measly $30 million.
Seattle sports fans were devastated. It has taken some people years to forgive the NBA, and many still haven’t. Most still hold quite the grudge towards Clay Bennett, his group, and Oklahoma City – Which is particularly painful because their star players were originally Supersonics AND they are the most fun and exciting young team to watch in the NBA today. The heart had been ripped out of the city, leaving it depressed and bewildered about what to do next.
2008 ended up being the worst year in Seattle sports history – The University of Washington Huskies football team finished 0-12 for the first time in team history, while also gaining the dubious distinction of being the first, and so far, only Pac-12 team to ever do so; The Seattle Seahawks of the NFL went 4-12, tied for 5th worst in the league in their last season under legendary coach Mike Holmgren, ending a run of division championships and playoff appearances that had included a Super Bowl appearance in 2005; and The Seattle Mariners finished an AL-Worst 61-101, falling into a deep pit with no sign of light. We officially bottomed out in 2008. Thankfully, though, things slowly started looking up.
In Part Two of this series, we will examine how we climbed out of that deep, dark hole of irrelevance to find ourselves where we are today.