Candace Buckner: Seattle has reason to hope for NBA return

Commentary: Candace Buckner




I wanted to lead the hate parade down the streets of Seattle’s SoDo district.

On Tuesday, when Seattle mayor Mike McGinn and King County executive Dow Constantine signed the papers that formalized the financing of a new, proposed downtown arena, SuperSonic fans started to believe again that the NBA would soon return to the Emerald City. But as the hope of a fan base ballooned, I wanted to point back with a big, shiny needle.

I thought I needed to be like that one downer at a child’s birthday party, warning party guests about the hidden calories in Junior’s ice cream cake.

Sorry, Seattle. I know you want this whole NBA thing back and all, but take it from me — you’ll have a better chance in resurrecting grunge than getting a team.

Hersey Hawkins is a bit more sensitive. Hawkins, now the player development director with the Portland Trail Blazers, played in Seattle from 1995-1999. He understood the pain when the franchise abandoned the city in 2008.

“To see the fans lose that team, it was heartbreaking,” Hawkins said Thursday. “They’re really deserving of an NBA team. All the support and the history of what Seattle has meant to the NBA. It was a shame when it left, it’s only fitting that they’re getting one back.”

While Hawkins sensed a Sonic revival, I felt compelled to write a column that would caution fans. Call me a hater, or just a realist, but believe me: just because slick corporate executives say the right things and politicians sign bills, it doesn’t mean the NBA will come.

You see, before moving to the Northwest, I spent the last six years of my life deprived in a non-NBA city, Kansas City, Mo.

However, in 2007, the grand opening of the Sprint Center was supposed to welcome a full-time tenant from the NBA and/or the NHL. The Anschutz Entertainment Group, owners and operators of the Sprint Center, teased as much.

“I’m fairly optimistic you’re going to have one or the other, the NHL or the NBA, playing here the day you open your doors,” AEG president Tim Leiweke told Kansas City lawmakers back in 2004 when plans were announced for the construction of the downtown arena.

So, have you heard about the NBA’s Kansas City Monarchs? Yeah, me neither. They never came.

The Sprint Center still dolls up the city skyline with its 2,204 glass-panel structure and continues to thrive with concerts and events. But in the hearts of NBA-loving Kansas Citians, the arena is like the pretty crystal bowl in grandma’s dining room. Nice to look at, but can never touch it.

So, I initially wanted to play the devil’s advocate with Seattle fans but the truth is: Hawkins is right. It’s only fitting that they’re getting one back.

And make no mistake, Seattle will get an NBA team. To the Association, this is all hypothetical.

The NBA has no plans for expansion. No team is set to relocate. Even so, Seattle has several key elements that Kansas City did not.

One, a rich guy. His name is Chris Hansen and he really, really wants the NBA in his hometown. A local buyer is paramount in landing a team, whereas Kansas City only had a man based in Los Angeles selling dreams to a city a thousand miles away.

Also, unlike K.C., Seattle won’t bank on the “build-it-and-they-will-come” theory. If Hansen does not buy a franchise, the arena construction crews stay home.

“Nothing’s going to move forward until he secures an NBA team,” Constantine told me. “We’re very aware of (Kansas City) and we’re not building an arena on spec. We will be making sure that a team is secured and a lease is in place with non-relocation guarantees before we put any public money into the equation.”

Constantine and Hansen and everyone involved in this plan could write a how-to book with all the right moves they’re making while bringing their team back. So, there will be no warning here. Only a welcome, that soon the I-5 rivalry between the Blazers and the Sonics will return. And you can’t hate on that.

Candace Buckner covers the Blazers for The Columbian. She can be reached at 360-735-4528 or email at Her Twitter handle is @blazerbanter.