For the past year or so, fans of the Seattle SuperSonics have been dreading the last week or so. It is only in the last week that Clay Bennett and his band of merry men officially and permanently removed (stole?) the Sonics from Seattle. The final dollar amount was $75 million. That seems like a lot of cash but in the context of a professional sports team, it really isn't. Witness the fact that that $75 million would only cover three-quarters of the Knicks payroll. Back to Bennett and his merry men.
It should be clear by now that Bennett never intended to keep the Sonics in Seattle. That should have been obvious to everyone from the beginning but some insisted on burying their heads in the sand, especially the governments of the city of Seattle and the state of Washington. I don't think they took Bennett's threats seriously. Nor did they realize that David Stern and Clay Bennett are friends from way back. As a result, both sides sat looking at each other, except Bennett had Stern's backing to move the team from the beginning. Co-owner Aubrey McClendon's interview should have been proof enough of that. And still Stern let the sale go through. Why? Because he wanted the team to move. He wanted to have an owner - Bennett - who was both his friend and the source of lots and lots of money. Former owner Howard Schultz, the guy who owns Starbuck's, cried poor and sold it to the first person who offered an acceptable amount. For knowing full well what would happen, Schultz needs to share the blame, too.
But, what's done is done. It's not a birthright to have an NBA team in your city. I had to wait until 1995 for one in mine. And, yes, it's a business, which, because of the capitalist ethos, means the team should make money. But what most sports owners don't realize is that modern sports teams generally don't turn a profit. There are exceptions, of course, but the real money is made in the buying and selling of teams. Consider the example of the Sonics. Schultz bought the team for about $200 million in 2001 and sold it for $350 million 5 years later (figures from the linked article). So although Schultz claimed to lose $60 million during his tenure, he ended up clearing about $90 million. Not bad for 5 years work, I'd say. So the Sonics move as Bennett searches for profit. Which he won't find because he's moving from a place with a per capita income of $41,634 to a place with a per capita income of $30,449. Logic dictates that to make money, esp. with something that relies on discretionary spending, one needs to be located in a place where people have money to spend. Seattle, on the whole, has more money to spend. But, it's Bennett's team and he can do what he want.
What he can't do, in my opinion, is take the Sonics' history with him. TrueHoop's Henry Abbott outlines the settlement in great detail but one part sticks out. He writes, "For me, as a basketball fan, I don't care much about the stuff. But I know those banners and retired jerseys are potent symbols for a lot of people." I don't see how one can be a basketball fan and not care about a team's history. Retired jerseys and championship banners are integral parts of that history. As a fan, you talk about your team's history and debate its future while enjoying/hating the present. Where would the Cubs be without their history? If somebody moved them to, say, Oklahoma City and decided to take their history with them, how would Chicagoans feel? I'll tell you: they'd be right mad. A more concrete example: ask Cleveland Browns fans about the importance of a team's name, colors, and history. I don't see how Abbott can condone Bennett's taking the Sonics' history with him. His team in Oklahoma City is starting over; therefore he doesn't have a right to the history created in Seattle. The Sonics name, colors, retired jerseys, banners and everything else should stay in Seattle.
Bennett has already stomped on Seattle enough. The weak-kneed city leaders caved to his demands, esp. those regarding the team's history, because they want to preserve their chance of getting another NBA team sometime in the future. The least they could've done was stick to their principals.