SIDELINES: Is NBA in Seattle just a pipe dream?

Seattle hasn’t had an NBA team since 2008, when owner Clay Bennett moved the Sonics to Oklahoma City and renamed them the Thunder. - Courtesy photo
Seattle hasn’t had an NBA team since 2008, when owner Clay Bennett moved the Sonics to Oklahoma City and renamed them the Thunder.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

I’ve heard plenty of pipe dreams about a National Basketball Association team returning to Seattle. Heck, I’ve floated a few of them out there myself.

But this time around, it seems the dream of bringing an NBA team back to the Pacific Northwest actually has some weight to it. A plan was made public earlier this week regarding the NBA, and potentially a National Hockey League franchise, coming to Seattle.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and his office have been working with multimillionaire Christopher Hansen, a Seattle native who now manages a hedge fund in San Francisco, on the possibility of constructing a new basketball/hockey arena south of Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field.

The Seattle Times obtained documents under a public-disclosure request that stated McGinn’s office and Hansen have been working behind the scenes for eight months to build an arena and could bring an NBA team to Seattle as early as next season.

“A lot of things have to align for this to work, and I can’t predict whether everything will align or not,” McGinn told 710 ESPN Seattle radio.

According to the documents, Hansen has a real interest in relocating the Sacramento Kings to Seattle. The Kings have a March 1 NBA deadline to produce a viable plan for a new arena. Sacramento is under intense pressure to construct a new basketball arena to keep the team in the California capital.

“I really appreciate it and look forward to making this happen in Seattle. I genuinely mean that and am confident that with a little effort and creativity, we can find a solution that meets our needs and the city’s/state’s desire to get a team back to Seattle without a large public outlay,” Hansen wrote in a June 16 email to Julie McCoy, chief of staff to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, and Ethan Raup, the mayor’s director of policy and operations.

Seattle hasn’t had an NBA team since 2008, when now-hated owner Clay Bennett moved the Sonics to Oklahoma City and renamed them the Thunder.

The NHL has expressed an interest in placing a team in Seattle, leading to speculation about the Phoenix Coyotes. The Coyotes were taken over by the NHL after financial struggles. But Seattle would have to build a suitable arena before the possibility of moving Phoenix to the Pacific Northwest, the NHL has said.

And that’s where the problem could possibly lie. The people of Seattle and the rest of King County have said time and time again that they don’t want to pay for another stadium through public funds.

In 2006, Seattle voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative that says the city must make a profit on any investment it makes in a sports arena.

“We have to protect our budget,” McGinn said. “We’re not necessarily going to go out and create some entirely new tax to pay for something. We have to try to figure out how to pay for it in a way that protects us. If things go well, we’ll be able to go to voters and say, here’s the financing proposal.”

But Hansen reportedly already owns a block of land south of Safeco Field, which is a big-time asset in his attempt to build a new arena, making him a very viable option.

“I think it’s fair to say that what we have is a serious and committed investor in Chris Hansen, who’s doing his analysis of what it would take to make it work for him,” McGinn said. “And you have a city that — as you can see, we’ve taken it very seriously about what we take to work from our side. So that makes it a lot different from just, say, rumor and speculation. You actually have people taking the time to try to figure it out. Again, will everything align? Will we get to a finish line? I can’t make that prediction, but both sides are taking it very seriously. And that’s different than what we’ve seen over the past few years.”

Even one of the most hated men within the Seattle basketball community, NBA Commissioner David Stern, has said he’s open to the league coming back. Stern admitted to meeting with Hansen.

“We had heard reports of some interest in Seattle and the name of the person who’s associated with it is not totally unknown to me,” Stern said in an interview Monday with The Salt Lake Tribune. “I think he came in and I met with him, it must be a year ago. Just a general conversation; he was brought in by a mutual friend. We know nothing of the specifics.”

Stern also told The Tribune, which covers the Utah Jazz, that Seattle would be “a great city for us, or it was.”

“And everyone says to us, ‘Well, would you consider going back?’ Of course, if they have a building. And so that’s where it’s left. We have no involvement. But we certainly are — if anyone asks us, we tell them what we know and we’re happy to talk to them,” Stern said.

In conclusion, it’s still a pipe dream to get the Sonics back. But that buzz is starting to wear off a little bit, reality is setting in and things are looking pretty good.

Let’s just wait and see.


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