Before I go into the specifics and the celebration that has already commenced across the Twitter/sports universe in Washington state, I want to point out first and foremost that this is not exactly how Seattle sports fans wanted to get a team back. Having gone through the evil leadership of the Clay ownership group, Sonics fans have an acute awareness of how shitty it feels to have your hometown team stripped out from underneath you. So a deep apology out to those in Sacramento who are hearing this news and are heartbroken to lose their only pro franchise. At least in Seattle there were the Seahawks, Mariners, and eventually the Sounders left in the wake of the ex-Thunder's departure. This case is certainly a different story of a town leaving town.
Two big reasons why:
1. The Maloof Brothers suck - at most things
- The Maloof brothers were an incompetent ownership group in every sense unless you are judging them on their ability to milk their franchise for any/every possible ounce of profit. They have taunted the local government in California into striking phenomenal deals that favor them (most recently this). They have bankrupted their team and though they had a strong stretch losing to Shaq and Kobe's Lakers every year, they have zero NBA titles to show for their efforts (Editor's note: Tim Donaghy, we'll be sending you that yearly fruit basket shortly).
- Their family had one serious cash cow--booze. The Maloofs have exclusive distribution rights over Corona, Coors, Guinness, Heineken, and other brews. They sold those rights in 2010 for a boatload of cash. In the middle of a recession. Come on.
- The other ventures started by the brothers (a music company, a skateboarding contest series, a film production company) haven''t turn too much of a profit.
- Clay Bennett was very good at a whole bunch of financial ventures. He is the Chairman of the Dorchest Capital Corporation, a hedge fund giant, and has brought in plenty of jobs and money to Oklahoma City. He made his own empire (though his in-laws are wealthy and used to have a stake in the Texas Rangers).
2. The Maloofs purchased the team with no intention to move
- When Clay Bennett and his ownership group bought the Sonics they said all the right things about wanting to stay in Seattle. At the time they had a recently renovated Key Arena and a fan base supporting a poor on the court product. Then came talk that the team would not be profitable unless it had a brand new arena, one that needed to be financed by Seattle tax payers. The original overtures of wanting to keep the Sonics in Seattle shifted quickly, and less than five years later those hideous blue jerseys were seen for the first time in OKC.
- The Maloofs intended to build a champion off the bat. They purchased top notch players, drafted decently, hired solid coaches, and were legitimate contenders in the West. Their stadium (then ARCO Arena) was reviled by opposing players for its noise and intensity. They certainly were screwed on their timeline as they had to get by Shaq, Kobe, Timmy (and later, the Mavs) to get anywhere in the playoffs. Once the Maloofs got bored with their toy basketball team, it became time to start stripping it for parts and angling for profits from the city of Sacramento and the NBA. They simply didn't have the juice to sustain a long-term vision for their franchise. It's important to note this did not start happening until almost a decade after assuming ownership. Again, not saying its any less hard to stomach, but the Maloofs did not buy the team on a lie, stealing them right out from underneath Sacramento and sending them into the bowels of Oklahoma.
So that brings us to today. The Maloofs get what they want, almost $500 million and a small stake in the new ownership group. In exchange the Balmer/Hansen ownership group gets the opportunity to officially file for relocation in March. The NBA, happy to makeup for the mistake they made in leaving Seattle without a franchise, will certainly make sure the relocation petition is granted.
Under the agreement, the team will play the first two seasons in Seattle at the Key Arena before moving into this pretty new multi-use arena.
The Sonics will once again be a franchise in the upper left-hand corner of the map but this time things should look a little different. Seattle, all too aware of the dangers out of towners can pose to a franchise, have turned to some of their own. Chris Hansen has spearheaded the efforts to bring back the Sonics. Hansen, originally from the Town, made a fortune as a hedge-fund manager and has decided to come back home after a stint in San Fransisco. He envisions both the NBA and the NHL joining the NFL and MLB down in SODO.
Hansen is joined by a familiar face in Steve Balmer. Microsoft's CEO, Balmer has a boatload of money and has helped Hansen with the notoriously difficult Seattle City Council to get approval for their new stadium site. Microsoft is the second largest employer in the city with roughly 40,000 employees. Balmer has happily shown Hansen how to move past the political pressure points that can come from a council that is now very protective over local tax dollars heading to stadium project.
I think the best way to think of this deal is like stealing a bottle of whiskey from your friend and paying him back with a 6-pack of Miller Lite you stole from the grocery store. Nobody wins - but your friend at least gets a buzz.
Will Seattle be a great place for a NBA franchise? Yes, it's always been.
Do Sonics fans feel upset they had to get a team this way? Yes, they understand how it feels to be a Kings fan right now.
Would those same Sonics fans have rejected this deal if they had to ability to? Hell no, the NBA is back baby!