Basketball

John McGrath: No Sonics? Seattle isn’t missing much

Seattle SuperSonics fans Kris "Sonics Guy" Brannon, left, Kenneth Knutsen, center, and Jason Billingsley react to the Seattle City Council's 5-4 no vote against a "street vacation" vacating stretch of road where investor Chris Hansen hopes to eventually build an arena that could house an NBA and NHL team.
Seattle SuperSonics fans Kris "Sonics Guy" Brannon, left, Kenneth Knutsen, center, and Jason Billingsley react to the Seattle City Council's 5-4 no vote against a "street vacation" vacating stretch of road where investor Chris Hansen hopes to eventually build an arena that could house an NBA and NHL team. AP

Eight years ago this summer, the basketball franchise formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics relocated to Oklahoma City. I figured Seattle’s compliant response to the move — there was no lawsuit — would be seen by the NBA as a courtesy worthy of a substantial payback: a replacement team, Sonics II, set to make its debut in 2013.

I was wrong.

The decision to spare majority owner Clay Bennett millions of dollars in legal fees engendered no good will. Taking the high road did nothing but reinforce the suspicion the NBA is no more trustworthy than the flim-flam man who purports to be a government agent on the telephone.

If Chris Hansen had been able to guarantee an actual tenant for the SoDo district arena he envisions, the proposal to sell a small section of Occidental Avenue South is not defeated Monday by a 5-4 vote of the Seattle City Council. But Hansen could only speculate, and politicians interested in reelection tend to be wary of speculation.

So now what?

Because the SoDo blueprints are off the table, Bellevue, Renton, Tukwila and Tacoma are left as arena-site options that probably won’t be realized in the lifetime of anybody who’s grown out of a car seat. Which brings up a question:

Has the eight-year absence of NBA basketball in the Seattle area affected you?

I haven’t missed it, but then, I never thought I’d miss it. I’m a baseball lover who enjoys converting into a football fan in the fall. Football gets me through the winter, and during the six-week gap between the Super Bowl and Opening Day, there are 1.2 billion college basketball games to watch on television.

And yet I understand why those who grew up following the Sonics still pine for the Sonics. They were Seattle’s first team in a big-time professional league and Seattle’s first world champions. You may have accompanied your dad, and perhaps his dad, to a game at the Seattle Center Coliseum. There’s a profound generational connection you want to share with your son and, maybe someday, his son. I get it.

But the Sonics moving to Oklahoma did not leave the Seattle-area sports fan with a void as irreplaceable, say, as the Dodgers did when they ditched Brooklyn for Los Angeles in 1958. Before civic and business leaders rallied for an 11th-hour save three years ago, Sacramento appeared in danger of surrendering the Kings — the city’s only major sports team — to Hansen, who had every intention of putting them in Seattle.

As I recall, there was not a lot of consternation on the local front about the possibility of Seattle poaching a franchise in the same guiltless way Oklahoma City poached the Sonics. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, which is what the NBA wants.

Had the Kings moved to Seattle, it’s certain a hockey team would have followed them. The NHL regards the Puget Sound market as ripe, with ideal demographics (lots of wealthy college graduates) and a natural geographic rival up the highway in Vancouver, B.C.

The premise was exciting — two more teams in Seattle! — but fraught with uncertainty: Can this market fill enough seats to sustain the health of four major sports franchises? Don’t forget the presence of the Washington Huskies and the very popular Sounders, whose crowds for home games typically outdraw the Mariners.

Even wealthy college graduates have an entertainment-dollar budget, and there is no such thing as a cheap seat at an NHL or NBA game. Any forecast regarding co-tenants of a basketball/hockey arena in SoDo was calling for clouds, with a strong chance for a storm.

Again, I have sympathy for my friends who grew up with the Sonics and miss the Sonics. The 5-4 vote Monday that rebuffed Hansen was the equivalent of a basketball game lost by a score of 95-94, when the tip-in of a missed shot is disallowed after a replay review of the game clock.

So close, so far.

In any case, eight years without the NBA have girded me for eight more years without the NBA. I’m content. There’s no sense of emptiness, or longing for the day that the announcement of Sonics II will bring full-circle fulfillment to my life.

Hockey? That’s a different animal. Hockey during the regular season is a fast-paced blur, and when it gets to the playoffs — specifically, overtime in the playoffs — the sport is a spectacle.

The last minute of an NBA game, when a foul shot is preceded by the time out that follows a second foul shot requiring a time out, is a 15-minute ritual of laboriousness. The last minute of an NHL game takes, oh, about 60 seconds.

For those who are uninitiated, you don’t know what you’re missing.

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