In Sacramento on Monday, Kings executives stood outside the soon-to-be-completed Golden 1 Center under a blazing sun, with a display of guitars on one side, Beatles music playing in the background, as they announced Paul McCartney as the arena’s opening act.
Kings president Chris Granger never stopped smiling. Arena programming director James Rasmussen – who devoted months to securing McCartney, with a constant push from his Beatles-fanatic parents – beamed with satisfaction. Tower Records icon Russ Solomon sat in the front row, surrounded by friends and admirers.
The Kings. Concerts. NCAA tournaments. All sweet music after more than a decade of feuding and futility, of heated rhetoric, and of threats of relocation to Anaheim and Seattle.
Monday was a crusher. While Sacramento played McCartney, Seattle played “Taps.” Billionaire Chris Hansen’s latest attempt to partner with the city and county for construction of an NBA and NHL sports facility went down with a surprising, devastating thump. The City Council was expected to approve the proposal that required selling Hansen a street near Safeco Field, but the measure was voted down 5-4, killing the return of the SuperSonics for the foreseeable future.
“We had an overwhelming coalition of support,” said Adam Brown, producer of the 2009 award-winning “Sonicsgate” documentary. “This vote would have given us the opportunity to go to the NBA and say, ‘We are shovel-ready and have an arena deal ready to go, contingent upon you giving us a team.’ The reality is that if you have an arena in place, it makes you available for any situation that comes up, either expansion or relocation. But this was just crushing. We’re all devastated.”
There is no love lost for Hansen in Sacramento. He’s the culprit who (with Steve Ballmer) attempted to buy the Kings and move them to Seattle in 2013, and when former NBA Commissioner David Stern, Silicon Valley businessman Vivek Ranadive and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson countered with the comeback of all comebacks, secretly donated $100,000 to a local group that tried to kill the deal. Hansen later was fined $50,000 by the California Fair Political Practices Commission for failing to file a campaign statement.
So, OK, he apologized and paid the fine. I still don’t like him. And maybe what is transpiring in Seattle is some sort of cruel cosmic payback, because the civic and political climate there has turned far uglier than the mood here even in the most discouraging of times, which is so sad on so many fronts.
Seattle deserves an NBA team. It never should have lost the Sonics, so thanks again to Starbucks founder and former Sonics owner Howard Schultz for bailing after five years. And to Ballmer for doing the one-foot-in, one-foot-out dance when Stern pleaded with him to buy the team before Schultz sold to an out-of-state buyer. And to the civic and political leaders who failed to collaborate on a public-partnership when Clay Bennett bought the franchise 10 years ago and, two years later, hustled them to his hometown and renamed them the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Three years after failing to buy the Kings, Ballmer owns the Los Angeles Clippers and Hansen refuses to concede defeat in Seattle. The Save the Sonics grassroots movement is impassioned and relentless, and forever hopeful. They also realize another proposed renovation of Key Arena is a non-starter. The NBA is not interested – not today, not tomorrow, not ever.
The latest proposal for a state-of-the-art facility included $290 million in private funding and $200 million in public bonds and was touted by proponents as sound enough to overcome traffic concerns and opposition from the Port of Seattle, local labor unions and the Mariners.
Yet the proposal lost by a single vote, and it followed gender lines: The five no votes were cast by women, the four yes votes by men.
If the outcome was stunning – and, according to “Sonicsgate” director Jason Reid, many in the crowd gasped when the vote was cast – the reaction on social media has been vile and misogynistic. “Let It Be” isn’t exactly dominating the airwaves. The women council members have been insulted in the crudest of terms and, according to the Seattle Times, physically threatened by a local attorney.
Hansen, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the “Sonicsgate” documentarians condemned the gender-based attacks and encouraged a return to civil discourse and intelligent debate.
“There are always people on the Internet who make us look bad,” Brown said Wednesday. “What we’re seeing is the lowest form of human communication. There is a lot of frustration on both sides, and some people are not taught how to handle it. We’re trying to lead the way with our messaging and by never resorting to name-calling. We battled with Sacramento, but we have a lot of friends there now. We’re actually glad Sac kept the team.”