SEATTLE – At the end of the fight, the old, vindictive NBA commissioner couldn’t announce the winner without first needling the city he was about to make a loser again.
At the end of a polarizing relocation issue that he once described as “wrenching,” the man who always measures his words couldn’t resist one smug remark directed at Seattle.
At the end of another heartbreaking NBA result, David Stern taunted us.
“This is going to be short for me,” he told reporters in Dallas on Wednesday. “I have a game to get to in Oklahoma City.”
It was a sucker punch followed by a gut punch. First, Stern reminded Seattle that its team is now in Oklahoma City. Then, he announced the NBA was rejecting the city’s bid to get a team back.
“This was not an anti-Seattle vote,” Stern said after the NBA Board of Governors voted 22-8 to deny a group led by Chris Hansen’s attempt to relocate the Sacramento Kings. “This was a pro-Sacramento vote.”
In other words, Seattle lost in the same way that a sparring partner loses to a boxer in training. It wasn’t a real fight, just an exhibition for the benefit of one. Hansen really wasn’t competing for the Kings. Seattle existed solely to be used to make Sacramento better in the NBA’s eyes.
For the past four months, we have been Stern’s pawn. Now, we’re back to being his punch line. No more.
Let’s not play this game anymore. The next time Seattle plays with the NBA, it has to be a fair game that the city is capable of winning. For certain, that means it has to be a game that Stern isn’t overseeing, which will require waiting until Adam Silver takes over in February to engage in talks again.
The Stern/Seattle relationship is too toxic to bother mending, and if there was any doubt about The Commish’s grudge-holding ways, his opening remarks made his Seattle disdain clear.
The league turned down an epic Seattle offer in order to do the right thing, and since when did the NBA start caring about doing the right thing? Seattle’s failed bid doesn’t just affect Sacramento. It gives a clear path for every incumbent NBA city to keep its team. Heck, the past two NBA relocation issues, both involving Seattle, provide a road map of what to do and what not to do.
Stern made an example of Seattle five years ago when the league moved the Sonics to OKC after a contentious, ill-timed fight over building a new arena. Now, Sacramento represents the best-case scenario. It’ll be so easy to go to cities now and lobby for new arenas by saying, “You want to lose your team like Seattle? Or do you want to be like Sacramento?”
Let’s not play the poaching game. Any reconciliation between the NBA and Seattle should be mutual. It can’t just be about Seattle trying to get back on the NBA’s good side. It can’t just be about the NBA threatening other markets by dangling the idea of moving to Seattle.
Which means it likely has to be expansion.
It seems that Silver, who is younger and has fought fewer battles than Stern, is a practical man open to the idea. Some make him out to be Stern’s puppet of a sidekick, but that’s unfair. He will bring a fresh perspective.
Asked Wednesday about Seattle, Silver sent a strong indication that expansion will be considered, likely early in his tenure as commissioner.
“We want to wait and see what happens in our next national television negotiation, but we’re very appreciative of the fans in Seattle,” Silver said. “We’ve regretted having to leave the market the last time, and we fully expect we’ll return there one day.”
Of course, we hope the NBA commissioner-elect understands why we frown upon the notion of “one day.” Five years ago, Stern convinced Mayor Greg Nickels to stand down, drop his lawsuit against Clay Bennett and let the Sonics move to Oklahoma City, partly on the promise of getting a hookup “one day.”
Five years later, “one day” didn’t happen despite a $625 million offer, a $490 million arena deal and a group Stern recently called a “perfect prototype NBA owner.”
The disappointment isn’t about not getting to steal the Kings from Sacramento.
It’s about being locked out of the league without clarity of how to open the door.