You know how I know sports are important to me? Nothing I've been exposed to --and I mean nothing-- recently has gotten a bigger rise of anger out of me than reading Bill Simmons' Save the Sonics Mailbag the other day.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the scenario, here's the deal. Sonics owner Howard Schultz, also boss of Starbucks, has lobbied for years for a new stadium for the team, saying that KeyArena wasn't fit for an NBA franchise. Never mind that it had just been renovated in the late nineties. The people of Seattle, who had already paid for Seahawks and Mariners stadiums in the recent past, didn't want to pay extra taxes for a stadium they didn't need. Schultz, in response, sold the team to David Stern-supported, Oklahoma City-located business mogul Clay Bennett. Bennett, after some transparent "we're doing all we can to stay," lies, announced his intention to move the team to his hometown. Stern stood behind him in support. Just like that, Seattle lost it's basketball franchise. They're out in 2010. It's sickening.
What's frightening about the scenario is how easily it happened. What NBA fan can't envision their team's owner asking for a new stadium, the city opting not to give it to him, and the owner then selling the team to a group intending to move it to a new market? If your team isn't New York, Boston, or L.A, then it's not unmovable. Las Vegas awaits a franchise. David Stern could take the Timberwolves from me, or your favorite team from you, and not even blink. I don't even want to think about it.
Learning about the Sonics fiasco has vaulted "greedy owners extorting cities" past steroids and SpyGate as the number one thing in sports that makes me sick to my stomach. Something needs to be done. An owner of a team can ask for a public lease to build a new stadium and have every single ounce of leverage in the ensuing debate. Pony up, fans, or you'll lose your team! The thing that really makes me want to punch someone is the smug, "if you truly wanted the Sonics to stay, Seattle fans, you'd have paid for the stadium" attitude Stern puts on. Ugh. Give me a second to yank out my teeth with a pliers. I'm clueless about the economics of the situation, but isn't there some way we can make every pro team publicly owned, like the Packers? There's gotta be. Can anybody fill me in on this?
One of the biggest crimes of the deal is this: NBA fans being robbed of the potentially dynamite rivalry between Kevin Durant and Greg Oden. The Blazers and Sonics had an intense little Northwest rivalry going in the mid-90s, and with the arrival of the next two NBA superstars (who happen to be forever linked by their "who should go first overall?" debate, which desperately needs a cool nickname), that could have been rekindled, and been really special. Oden and Durant could have dueled like the guys in The Prestige. But now Durant will be all the way across the country. Say goodbye to that.
Say goodbye to the Sonics. Say goodbye to decency.