Today marks the 11th anniversary that we lost our beloved Seattle SuperSonics. On July 2nd, 2008 the City of Seattle and Mayor Greg Nickels accepted a settlement agreement with Clayton Bennet and the OKC businessmen to break the Sonics’ lease with the city and relocate the franchise to Oklahoma City.
The day goes down as the worst day of my life. When it happened on that day 11 years ago, my friend text me and asked what was going on and what this all meant. I responded with just a few words “I feel dead inside”.
I still feel dead inside, I feel empty, and I feel incomplete. Something that was such a huge part of my life growing up is now gone. Something that I loved more than anything else in this world, that I idolized, that I grew up wanting to be, something that was a significant part of my relationship with my father and some of my friends. Completely gone. Leaving a gigantic void in my life.
And sure, as I got older, I picked up new interests and things to keep me occupied. I still have the Storm and the Seahawks, both of which have won championships since then. But it’s never been the same. It can’t be.
For 12-13 years now I have been fighting to “Save Our Sonics” and now to “Bring Back Our Sonics!” There have been numerous political rallies, Sonics Rallies, attending Seattle and King County Council meetings, trips to Portland, Media Interviews, Arena meetings, etc. that I have attended over the years.
It’s been a long arduous journey. It’s been over a decade now. That’s crazy honestly. We’ve been through so many ups and downs, mostly downs.
Our best chance to get a team back came in 2013 when a group led by Steve Ballmer and Chris Hansen purchased the Sacramento Kings and attempted to relocate the franchise from Sacramento to Seattle to become the NEW Sonics.
For years Sacramento had been struggling and similar to Seattle they hadn’t been able to get an arena approved down there and it looked like what cost Seattle our team was about to cost Sacramento theirs.
But then David Stern stepped in. One last F U to the city of Seattle (before he retired) and he blocked the sale and relocation of the Sacramento Kings to Seattle.
He helped broker a deal with the city of Sacramento and Vivek Ranadive (a minority owner of the Golden State Warriors). Public funding for the arena was approved on May 20th, 2014 and they broke ground October 29, 2014. The Golden 1 Center officially opened September 30th, 2016.
The official address of the Golden 1 Center is 500 David J. Stern Walk. They named a street after David Stern in Sacramento after he saved their team. Let me grab my barf bag!
This was absolutely gut-wrenching. We were so close to having Seattle SuperSonics basketball back in the Emerald City. If that sale had gone through, we would have only been without a team for about five years; while still horrible, it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad as our actual reality.
In some ways, it’s OK though. The Sacramento Kings, while they’ve never been a great team, still have a ton of die-hard fans in that area just like we do in Seattle. They would be mourning the loss of their Kings and there would be plenty of fans in Northern California that would feel hopeless and lost without their team, just as we do in the great northwest.
Seattle would be dealt another major blow when our big money guy (whale) Steve Ballmer would opt to leave Seattle in favor of purchasing the Los Angeles Clippers. In May of 2014, Ballmer placed a $2 Billion bid to purchase the Clippers and on August 12th he was approved to become the new owner of the Clippers.
This had multiple negative effects on Seattle and our efforts to bring the NBA back. First, Chris Hansen lost his major investor and big money man when Ballmer left for LA. Hansen and the SODO Arena plan lost major momentum. To make matters worse, the NBA desperately wanted Steve Ballmer (and his money) as part of their ownership group but didn’t want to immediately put a team back in Seattle. With Ballmer leaving Seattle for Los Angeles, the NBA was able to get all of Ballmer’s money without having to concede a team to Seattle. Lastly, with Ballmer paying $2 Billion for a Clippers team that was probably only worth $700 million, he made purchasing an NBA team significantly more expensive which caused more problems for Chris Hansen.
A year later in 2015, Bill Simmons was pushing the idea that the Milwaukee Bucks were likely headed to Seattle as they were also having massive arena problems. The Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo was a blossoming star in Milwaukee but not the MVP type player he is today. The thought of not only getting a Sonics franchise back here to Seattle, but one that had the Greek Freak was incredibly enticing.
After a few failed attempts to get an arena deal done, Milwaukee finally got their approval on September 22nd, 2015. Groundbreaking and construction began on June 18, 2016 and Fiserv Forum officially opened this past season on August 26th, 2018. The Bucks ended up the #1 overall seed this season, Giannis won the MVP, and the team reached the Eastern Conference Finals before being eliminated by the eventual champions the Toronto Raptors.
Back home in Seattle, we were still lobbying for Chris Hansen’s Sonics’ Arena to be approved and built in Sodo. But the arena deal was seeing significant opposition by the Port of Seattle and the Seattle Mariners. The port complained that the new arena would completely destroy their business operations backed with absolutely no credible facts. The Mariners also backed up these claims and cited several concerns about their own business and traffic congestion.
For whatever reason, whether personal reasons or otherwise, Chris Hansen and the remaining Sonics Arena team sans Steve Ballmer did not do a tremendous amount of lobbying to counter these ridiculous complaints believing that the facts and data would be all they needed. And instead left it up to the fans and grassroots organizations like “Bring Back Our Sonics” to attend the city council meetings and to do all the lobbying for the Sodo Arena.
So I did and those of you that joined me, we did. We gave it our best and on May 2nd, 2016 the Seattle City Council shot down the Sonics Sodo Arena plan, rejecting the proposal 5-4.
It was yet another dark day in this Sonics and Seattle Arena saga. Probably the worst day since we lost the team on July 2nd, 2008. We lost a lot that day. We lost the vote. We lost hope. We lost our unity. We lost some friends in the process.
It took another 18 months before we would have anything to be remotely excited about. On December 4th, 2017, the Seattle City Council approved to go ahead with the Oak View Group’s plan to demolish KeyArena and build a brand-new arena on Seattle Center grounds. But after they selected OVG over AEG as the new arena developer it would take nearly another year before getting final approval on the deal which took place on September 24th, 2018.
Because the Seattle City Council found a developer to tackle the Seattle Arena project and find a solution for the dying KeyArena, the city has expressed zero interest in reviewing the Sodo Arena project. A huge reason the Sodo Arena project was voted down in 2016 was because the city was concerned about the Port’s claims, but also concerned about what would happen with KeyArena as the city was projected to lose considerably more money if the Sodo Arena was built.
With the Seattle Center Arena getting approved and the Sodo Arena project largely ignored, this continued to divide Sonics fans between those who were fiercely loyal to Chris Hansen and those that were loyal to doing whatever it takes to bring the NBA and the Seattle SuperSonics back to Seattle.
Infighting continues to take place to this very day between Sonics fans and the grassroots organizations like Bring Back Our Sonics.
On December 4th, 2018 Seattle got their biggest victory since losing the Sonics ten years prior. The National Hockey League officially approved NHL expansion team to Seattle beginning in the 2021-2022 season.
This is not the victory we’ve been fighting for. But regardless, this is most certainly a victory.
Nothing will ever make up for the loss of our beloved basketball team. But in the long run, if we end up with both the NBA and the NHL in Seattle then that should be considered a victory in the grand scheme.
On December 5th, 2018 we had the official groundbreaking ceremony to demolish KeyArena and make way for Seattle’s brand-new arena.
What I love about this is that we are seeing tangible results right now. It’s not just talks, plans, or proposals. We no longer have to go lobbying to the city council. We are seeing legitimate action with the NHL approving Seattle an expansion team and KeyArena currently being demolished.
This isn’t our end goal, but it’s certainly a major step in the right direction.
Whether right or wrong, the NBA’s business reasoning on why they relocated the Sonics franchise from Seattle to Oklahoma City was that our arena (KeyArena) was no longer acceptable to NBA standards. Finally, after 11 years Seattle is solving that problem. We are eliminating the reason the NBA left Seattle and we are finally providing a solution to that problem.
In theory, the NBA should no longer have an excuse not to have
an NBA team back in Seattle. Previous to
this, they could always harp on the fact that nothing had changed in Seattle
and that we had not done anything about our arena problem, the reason they
justified for the relocation. With that
no longer in the way, it comes down to the league’s willingness to expand or relocate. So where are we with that?
Well the league’s still not where we want them to be. They have been adamant about not wanting to expand. That they need to bring better competitive balance to the 30 existing teams before looking at expansion. But let’s be realistic, the NBA has never been great about competitive balance. Teams like the Celtics, Lakers, Bulls, Spurs, and Warriors have dominated for the past 30+ years. Maybe with the Toronto Raptors winning the title this year and the Warriors getting considerably weaker after losing Kevin Durant to the Brooklyn Nets, the league will start to display more competitive balance and can start considering NBA expansion.
Our other option is relocation, but it’s just our luck that ever since the NBA relocated the Sonics to Oklahoma City they have been vehemently against relocating franchises out of their existing cities. The Sonics leaving Seattle was and should forever remain a huge black eye for the league. It seems they have learned from this horrendous mistake and have done everything they can to keep teams like Sacramento, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Memphis and New Orleans from having to relocate.
There are no obvious choices currently. But it still makes sense to keep an eye on teams like Memphis, New Orleans, and even the Los Angeles Clippers with Steve Ballmer at the helm.
I know for myself and the majority of Sonics fans just hope that the NBA decides to expand to Seattle over relocation. It would be less messy, and we wouldn’t have to put another team’s fan base through the relocation nightmare and despair. My hope is that the league will seriously consider expanding to Seattle after 2021 when Seattle’s new arena is fully operational. But if it ends up being relocation, I will welcome that team as my own.
As we inch closer to 2021 and the opening of Seattle Center’s brand new arena and our new NHL team, we will continue to put pressure on the Oak View Group and the NHL Seattle team that we won’t be 100% satisfied until we bring the Seattle SuperSonics back home.
I thank all of you for your love and support of the Sonics, for your pictures and memories of our team. We’re never going to give up until the NBA rightfully returns to Seattle. Stick with us, help us grow the movement and let’s keep fighting until we Bring Back Our Sonics!