Its difficult to imagine a figure more loathsome to sports-minded Seattleites than Clay Bennett, the unscrupulous knave who poached the Seattle SuperSonics in 2008 and spirited them to Oklahoma City. With the NBA’s blessing, Bennett instantly re-packaged 41 years worth of Sonics history, records and memories under the nickname Thunder.
When then-owner Howard Schultz placed the Sonics up for sale, Bennett came to Seattle with the express intent of relocating the franchise to Oklahoma City. Although he lied repeatedly about his scheme, as a spate of e-mails with his business partners subsequently showed, many of us fell for his “commitment to Seattle” drivel until he issued his ultimatum that we build him a new arena, or else.
Having created a hoop through which he knew Seattle taxpayers could not, or would not, jump, Bennett was freed to move the team to OKC, his aim all along. Even though we should have known better, we hated getting poached like that.
Things might have turned out differently if we hadnt had a weak-kneed mayor (Greg Nickels), or deeper community pockets, or more time. All we had was the common sense not to invest $500 million of taxpayer money on a new arena. Although the cost of that decision was the loss of the franchise, at least we kept our dignity.
Now, with momentum intensifying for a mostly privately funded basketball/hockey facility south of Safeco Field, the question becomes: How do we pluck Sacramentos franchise (or anyone elses) without appearing to pull a Clay Bennett on the NBA fans of that city?
Further, how do we monitor developments in Sacramento, which must have its financing plan in place by March 1, or make plans for the Kings’ arrival as soon as next fall, without appearing to be lurking with talons out?
Really cant be done. The Seattle City Council is already mulling over and commenting publicly on how an arena deal might be structured — which assumes a wounded franchise will become available — with the softest possible hit on taxpayers.
In addition, several local on-line polls are asking readers which of several teams is most likely to relocate to Seattle. A few of these polls are generating thousands of responses, indicating a passionate interest in a franchise raid. Sacramento leads every list, with New Orleans at No. 2 and Memphis No. 3.
Since no NBA expansion is imminent (contraction is more likely), the only way Seattle can acquire a team is by feasting on another citys misfortune.
Most of us are not adverse to a good poach, deftly executed. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago many — at least all UW football fans stood in awe of coach Steve Sarkisian for the adroit manner in which he poached the football staff at Cal, facing budgetary constraints, for a couple of prized assistants, and came away with a five-star recruit, Shaquille Thompson, in the bargain.
We just dont want to appear as unseemly as Clay Bennett, or as two-faced as Howard Schultz, or as double-dealing as NBA Commissioner David Stern when we commence the hijack. We want our poaches clean and classy.
Besides, this has really become a Sacramento issue. It can fend off a poach if it chooses, and right now the Sacramento story seems headed down a particularly pathetic path.
Phenomenal to watch are the lengths Sacramento is apparently willing to go to keep the Kings and retain its status as a major league city. In a creative display of ankle grabbing, Sacramento has come up with a plan to fork over the citys parking revenues for the next 30 years in order to fund a downtown playpen for the Kings at a time when Sacramento, as with many California cities, is desperate for tax revenues and has a soaring unemployment rate.
The Sacramento City Council has already approved several preliminary measures to make this happen, mainly by asking companies interested in leasing the city’s downtown parking operations to come forward. Upfront revenue from a parking deal could provide $200 million to put toward a proposed $406 million arena.
Stern must be roaring in amazement that the Sacramento City Council has been reduced to such utter desperation, especially over such a dubious economic product as an NBA franchise.
All Seattle needs to do now, assuming that an arena can be built south of Safeco with private funds, is stand back and watch the Sacramento story play out, or unravel.
If Sacramento gets a financial arena package together by March 1, enabling the Kings to remain, well just wait for the next franchise to wash up on the beach. If Sacramento cant or wont — pay the freight for a new arena, then it will find itself without a team, just as Seattle did, and well be ready to strike.
Well just poach with a little more finesse than Clay Bennett showed.