This past weekend, snippets of Seattle Supersonic fans were on national TV, behind the Oklahoma City Thunder bench, fervently rooting for the Denver Nuggets, as a reminder that Sonic fans are not about to forgive the NBA for what they did to one of their most historic franchises.
In 2008, the NBA and the new owner of the Sonics, one Clayton Flat-topped Bennett, uprooted the Seattle Supersonics from four decades of loyal fan support in the Puget Sound area, and moved it across the country to a market a fraction the size.
Critics screamed that it was a callous payback favor from the commissioner to one of his favored friends.
Included in the dirty dealing, was the NBA sending a pack of corporate lawyers to Seattle to break the lease the league had used as leverage to get Key Arena built in 1994.
In the process, David Stern claimed on national tv, incorrect build dates for that facility of three decades prior, claiming the City of Seattle had ignored the NBA in favor of facilities for professional football and baseball.
Fans and city leaders in Seattle were absolutely livid. It was not the truth, but nobody was reporting on the false information.
What is the truth, is that the Seattle Coliseum was built in 1962, not Key Arena.
The Seattle Coliseum had been completely torn down and gutted in 1994, with the lower portion of the arena lowered some 30 feet, new luxury suits added, and a complete interior rebuilt with new rest rooms and food vendor locations added throughout.
The only thing "saved" from the old project was four rafters and the upper bowl concrete.
Seattle had this weird idea about saving the traditional look of the original Coliseum, but beyond that, it was an entirely new facility. Even the roof had been replaced, contrary to what Stern and Bennett were claiming as reasons to justify moving the team.
Thus Stern’s 2008 proclamation that Key Arena was built in 1962, is complete fiction.
Seattle had done exactly the opposite of what David Stern claimed in that press conference. The city built the NBA it’s facility first, as the priority project.
David Stern obviously knew this, thus every fan in Seattle was stunned to learn the lengths that the commissioner of the NBA would go, to justify a franchise move, when it was he, the commissioner, that was supposed to be policing against this kind of franchise owner deviousness.
As the Thunder plow their way through the NBA playoffs this month, fans in Seattle are feeling especially backstabbed. The success of today's OKC “Thunder” team is a direct result of what Clay Bennett was doing to Seattle in the years leading up to the move.
The team was stripped bare of talent, with beloved stars traded away for high draft picks in effort to erode fan support. Players were kept away from local talk shows and media outlets, and the team went out of it’s way to alienate Seattle fans.
Insults to the community were thus not only common, but as it turned out from emails that were discovered later, part of Clay Bennett’s strategy. Once the fan base was destroyed, then the claim was made that Seattle didn’t support the team.
An absolute absurd claim, considering how the Seattle Supersonics took on near religious cult status, following the team’s two finals appearances in the 1978 & 1979.
Once the the Sonics won the title in 1979, the team relocated to the now imploded Kingdome, where crowds of 35-45,000 people for regular season games were the norm.
Seattle simply could not get enough of their Supersonics.
A decade of mediocrity later, the team went through a second re-morph sis in the early 1990’s. Tickets were impossible to find, fan fervor was at an all-time high, and the Sonics re-emerged as a league leader in wins, for seven straight seasons.
The NBA was king of the hill in the State of Washington.
So much so that in 1992, talk rumbled about how the old Seattle Coliseum needed replaced with a new facility. Thus the Sonics spent one full season playing their home games at the Tacoma Dome 45 miles south of Seattle, and Seattle Coliseum was completely torn down and rebuilt into what it is today.
Members of the Seattle community involved with all of this, insist David Stern himself was intimately involved with both the planning and approval of that new facility back in the early 1990s. And yet a mere seven years later, here was the same David Stern arguing on behalf of the Sonics about how dilapidated and inadequate both the arena and the lease were, demanding to renegotiate.
Which brings up the colossal bedufflement wreaked upon the inhabitants of the Puget Sound, and entire country as it turns out in 2008. The lease that the NBA and the Thunder franchise ultimately were successful in breaking.
Back in 1993, the Sonics and the NBA agreed to a lease that would fund this new facility called Key Arena, which got the building built.
But when the team had been sold a decade later, the new owner, Clay Bennett, was determined to move the team to his home state. So he attacked that lease.
Seattle responded by suing to enforce the lease, and the NBA responded by sending a team of corporate lawyers expert at breaking leases. In the end, the City of Seattle, unsure about how the case would turn out, chose to settle.
Now why is that relevant to anyone outside of Seattle?
Because it set a new precedent that is catastrophic to professional sports leagues, that reaches far beyond the Seattle situation, and it affects every single professional sport dependent on stadiums or arenas.
Any time the NBA, or NFL, NHL, MLB, MLS, feels they want to break a lease, for any reason whatsoever, just or unjust, apparently all they need to do is send in their team of expert lease-law lawyers to break the lease. Cities have little defense, since most cities don't have the money for huge expensive legal teams, and are thus represented by low rent nerds wearing JC Penny leisure suits.
So in the Seattle case, as one would expect, the NBA essentially got everything they wanted. But in reality, it may have been more like winning a battle but losing the war. It is hard to measure how much damage all of this caused future NBA efforts to get new facilities built.
Say, for example, the same City of Seattle builds the NBA a new arena to lure a team back, as David Stern is demanding. What would keep the NBA from doing exactly the same thing they just did? If you're a Seattle City councilperson, would YOU vote for an arena, knowing what the NBA did you last time?
Seven years. A mere seven years after it opened, Sonic team owners and David Stern were whining about how bad they had it, with their lease. Seven years.
Five years after that, they moved the team, lying about how it was a stadium and fan support issue.
Why, therefore, would Seattle, or any other city council, trust the NBA with a billion dollars of taxpayer money?!
It would be foolheartedness to trust owners of professional sports teams, after this. And the scary part is that the original owner who signed the lease, was long gone by the time all of this went down.
A historic team was sold for an over-inflated price, in a major league market, but was allowed to move to a minor league market solely because the owner wanted to do this. That was ONLY reason.
Contrary to what was said by the commissioner of basketball, it had nothing to do with Seattle's support of the team, or the stadium, or anything else.
Rumors still persist that David Stern wanted to make an example of Seattle, as to what happens when a league city resists NBA demands, and he certainly succeeded at doing that.
But his example has backfired.
Since cities obviously cannot trust the NBA to live up to the leases they sign, they should probably plan on financing their own buildings in the future.
This isn't speculation either. This is documented history. This is what they did.
All the opposition (in ANY city) needs to do from here on out, is point to the Seattle situation as reason why that community cannot and should not, trust wealthy billionaires with community tax money.
And then if that wasn't damning enough for future NBA efforts, two weeks ago they put Clay Bennett in charge of franchise locations, to end any doubt at all about remorse.
Apparently not only are they proud of what they did in Seattle, but are deliberately taunting those they did this to.
Like one shot foot wasn't enough, they decided to shoot the other foot too.
Absolutely amazing PR stupidity on the NBA's part!
View the terrific documentary on the Sonic's move to Oklahoma City at http://www.sonicsgate.org/
Read more from the same author at: Ghost of Supersonics Hovers over NBA, Kings Move http://bleacherreport.com/articles/667824-seattle-supersonic-situation-haunts-david-stern-clay-bennett-and-the-nba-today