Greg Jayne: Sorrow for NBA diehards in Seattle

Greg Jayne: Commentary

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

They didn't deserve this, that's for sure.

The good people of Seattle β€” or at least those who care about bringing the Sonics back to town β€” didn't deserve the stomach punch they received last week from the NBA.

But while the Emerald City's noble and well-planned efforts to pilfer the Sacramento Kings likely were torpedoed, one overriding question remains: Just how much does Seattle care about the NBA?

Sure, there was hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing over the decision of the league's Relocation Committee to recommend the Kings stay in California. Sure, there remains a fan base devoted to the Sonics and whichever franchise might land in town as their bastard offspring.

But for the past three decades, Seattle hasn't exactly been a bastion of NBA fever.

Let's look at the record. During the Sonics' final season in the city, they ranked 28th among 30 NBA teams in attendance. OK, OK, that was a lousy team that played while the franchise was loading up the moving trucks. You can't blame people for not going to games.

But the previous year, Seattle ranked 25th in attendance; the year before that it was 23rd; before that, 21st.

In fact, during the Sonics' final 24 seasons in the Northwest, they ranked below the league average in attendance for 22 of those. The other two times, they were barely above average.

In the mid-1990s, when the Sonics won 63, 57, and 64 games in consecutive seasons, they ranked below the league average in attendance all three years.

Naturally, there are some diehards. As filmmaker Jason Reid told The Seattle Times last week: "I've got to be honest, I have really looked forward to the possibility of it coming to a close and being able to return to being a normal NBA basketball fan who roots for their team."

But with the possible exception of when they won an NBA title in 1979 and for the couple of years following that, the Sonics were an afterthought in Seattle. They ranked behind the Huskies or Seahawks, depending upon who was winning; then the Huskies or Seahawks, depending upon who was losing; then the Mariners.

It's not like the Portland area, where the local NBA team is a crucial part of the region's identity. Portland dies a thousand little deaths every season over the Blazers; Seattle simply ordered another latte if the Sonics were lousy.

Yet despite all that, Seattle didn't deserve this.

Five years ago, David Stern stood watch as Clay Bennett shanked Seattle with a sharpened screwdriver. The city had played hardball by refusing to build a new arena, and Bennett secured his place in the Art Modell Hall of Infamous Owners by moving the franchise to Oklahoma City.

But this time? This time Seattle had a powerhouse ownership group and a deal for a new arena in place, and still the NBA indicated it will keep the Kings right where they are.

The fact that Bennett is the head of the Relocation Committee only served to turn the whole thing into a tragicomedy of Shakespearean proportions.

There's still hope for the city. The arena deal is in place for five years; the Milwaukee Bucks are for sale; NBA expansion remains an option, even if Stern has said it doesn't. The guess here is that Seattle will have an NBA team sometime in the near future, but probably not until after Stern retires nine months from now.

The league will return, and the diehards will care, and a new Sonics team will take the floor. And while all of that is speculative, there is one certainty included in the scenario: Stern won't be invited to opening night.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. Follow him on Twitter: @col_gjayne