Wednesday, July 19, 2006

So Who's to Blame?
By Zach

It's clear that I'm not waking up from my nightmare any time soon. While a few people are trying to find the silver lining, I'm extremely skeptical that the Sonics will remain in Seattle past 2010 at the latest.

So that brings us to the big question: who's to blame for the departure of the Sonics, my favorite team and the only team to win a major championship in Seattle history? I've got a few suspects lined up.

Barry Ackerley: The former owner of the Sonics, he's the guy who agreed to the original terms of the KeyArena lease which are now so unpalatable to Howard Schultz and, presumably, the new ownership. It was also under Ackerley that the team agreed to a half-assed renovation of the Coliseum that would only displace them for one season, as opposed to a larger-scale plan which might have resulted in an arena that was still viable ten years later. At the time, the Sonics owned the city: the Mariners were terrible, the Seahawks were worse, Husky basketball was a non-factor, and Husky football was on probation for recruiting violations under Don James. If ever the city, the legistlature, and the fans were going to come together and pony up the dough (as they'd do for the Mariners and Seahawks, teams with shorter and less glorious histories than the Sonics), that was the time, and Ackerley blew it.

Howard Schultz: The most recent ex-Sonic owner, he's the guy who came in touting a five-year plan to win a championship. Instead, it appears his five-year plan was to sell the Sonics off to the highest bidder. For all of his complaints about the lease and the arena, here's one thing I don't get: those problems existed in 2001, when he bought the team. For a guy who's supposedly a shrewd businessman (he's the founder and owner of Starbucks, after all), it doesn't speak all that highly of his abilities that he got himself in so far over his head. Under his tenure, the Sonics made the playoffs just twice in five years, which ain't too good considering more then half the teams in the league make the playoffs each year. He let his personal feelings towards players impact personnel decisions, and refused to spend money on the team to back up that championship promise. In the end, if the Sonics do move, he'll go down as the man who sold out his city.

The National Basketball Association: Even given all of the above, the financial model for the NBA is broken. While David Stern has done some good in getting player salaries under control, there's a lot more to be done. Too much money is spent on unproven players, something that doesn't really happen in baseball or football (or at least not on nearly the same level). Ticket and merchandise prices have continued to escalate even as the national, and local, economy has stagnated. Plus, he's created an environment where teams can, and do, move around. The league has had to admit it made mistakes with the Vancouver Grizzlies, and then had the whole Hornets debacle, where George Shinn basically forced his way out of Charlotte to New Orleans, which now looks like a really bad idea. Still, it's one thing for teams with a relatively short history, like the Hornets or Grizzlies, or even the Kansas City/Sacramento Kings to move. But the Sonics would be the longest-tenured team (by far) ever to move in the NBA, and that would reflect poorly on the league.

Seattle and Washington State politicians: From seeming disinterested in facilitating a solution to making incindiary quotes like "the Sonics add no cultural value to Seattle," they've been at best neutral, and most of the time an impediment to keeping the Sonics in Seattle. Seattle has nearly lost its other two professional franchises over the last ten years or so, and while the politicians are, for the most part, different, there's still an attitude surrounding the legislature that sports don't matter, and that makes it hard to keep teams. Right or wrong, public money is necessary to build new arenas, and for some reason the legislature and city council have been happy to dump money down the monorail pit but won't spend money to actually do something.

Seattlites: Of course, some of the blame lies with the city and the fan base. While high ticket prices may make it unpaletable to go to games, and while mediocrity is hard to support, it doesn't change the fact that the fanbase has been exceedingly disinterested in supporting the Sonics. Of course, we could have said the same thing about the Seahawks before the last few years, and the same could be said about the Mariners. Like most sports fans, Seattlites will get behind a winner, no matter the sport. But the sad fact is, even when the team was good (like 2004-2005), the fan base was alarmingly apathetic. Maybe people here really don't care about the NBA: considering the state of the league, I can't say I blame them if that's the case.

The truth is that there's going to be plenty of blame to go around. While Schultz will probably be the guy who goes down as the villan, we're all to blame in a way for letting the NBA, and the Sonics, think that we don't care about basketball.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) while schultz screwed up, the one thing i actually believed was that it was the other minority owners of the team pushing him to sell quickly. he could probably afford the losses a few more years, and still would have made a profit on an eventual sale. that said, he clearly didn't try hard enough to keep the ownership local or at least not sell to a group from a city without a franchise.

2) wally walker deserves a high spot on your list. the man consistently put together lackluster teams. his horrible decisions in both the draft & free agency crippled the team's chances for extended success. the playoff run in '04-'05 was so surprising because it was a couple of stars and some spare parts. as we saw this last season, such a combo has a limited shelf-life.

3) yeah, fans here like to support winners, but the m's didn't start to have trouble with attendance until the middle of may this season (and it's recovered decently once fans saw a glimpse of .500). it's extended losing without seeing potential for hope that kills ticket sales. it's even worse for the NBA because attending a game is so expensive.

3) the monorail failed spectacularly because the politicians wanted it to die. bad example to use. outside of licata's moronic statements, though, i haven't seen any evidence that they think sports don't matter. it was the legislature stepping in that got the safeco stadium deal through. the people had rejected it. you were more correct in blaming it on ackerley - massive public expenditures on stadium/arenas, especially with the state's economy only now recovering, don't have support across the board in the current climate.


1:43 PM  
Anonymous Brandon said...

Two words......Jack Sickma

12:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well said about Ackerley cause this idea of Key Arena was not a good idea from the start! And to be fair I also blame the Seattle City Council back in the early 90's for not approving the land for the new arena south of Kingdome. I just get so mad that the Seattle media don't look at the big picture and soley blame Clay Bennett. Sure he's the owner today but what about the owners that got us to this mess 15 - 20 years ago?

1:30 PM  

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