Monday, January 26

Coming To Seattle: Part I

Six months ago, the SuperSonics became an artifact of history, seemingly as relevant to modern Seattle life as a Seattle Pilots pocket schedule.

In the ensuing half-year, discussion about NBA basketball in Seattle has focused upon renovations to KeyArena, motivating area politicians, and the neverending debate as to whether Danny Vranes’ skin was, in fact, so pale that it could be used in lieu of lighthouses on the Washington coastline.

Important machinations aside, little has been spent discussing just which team would inhabit the new arena supporters are intent on building. Commissioner David Stern has left no vocal chord untrembled in his confident assertions that expansion will not happen, leaving Seattle in the unenviable position of waiting for another city to suffer through what it just went through.

Like the family of a potential kidney recipient waiting for a donor, Seattlites are playing a ghoulish waiting game. We study the attendance figures in Memphis, read the tea leaves in New Orleans, and parse the words of Robert Johnson in Charlotte, attempting to decipher if one of those franchises will soon be partaking in David Stern’s perpetual game of musical franchises.

Left out of the conversation – as always – are the fans in those cities. Just as Seattle fans were belittled by the national media as unsupportive, Memphis and Charlotte fans hear the bells beginning to toll for them. Their lack of support for franchises in so much disarray it seems as if they are run by a consortium of schizophrenics has given the green light to speculation about relocation.

How do the fans of those teams feel about these rumors, though? Have they adopted the Nussbaum Style of Ignorance, wherein they ignore the talk and try to focus on the games? Do they believe that any of this is actually going to take place, that their team(s) will leave town, forcing them to engage in the pitiable self-flagellation seen so much from sites like, well, ours?

I decided to talk to those fans to get a feel for what they’re going through. After all, who better than a crusty, bitter old Sonic fan to gauge the feelings of other bitter NBA fans?

NEW ORLEANS

The New Orleans Hornets, more than any team perhaps, embody the vagabond nature of today’s NBA franchises. In the span of a decade the team has resided in no less than three cities, and its owner, George Shinn, shamelessly flirts with other cities like a trophy wife with the club tennis pro.

So it is no surprise to hear Seattle fans aim their sights at the Hornets as a tenant of the prospective new KeyArena. Sure, the Hornets are popular at the moment, but how does that stack up with the Saints, or high school football, or beignets?

“Everybody loves the Hornets,” says Niall Doherty, of Hornets 247. “They have a bunch of likable players, they do lots of good work in the community, Chris Paul can do no wrong, we've got the cheapest ticket prices in the NBA, and there's been plenty of winning since the team came back from [Oklahoma City].”

Doherty’s faith is well placed. With an attendance mark of near capacity, a team living in the penthouse of the Western Conference standings, and a superstar in Paul, the thought that the team is not long for the Crescent City – so prevalent less than 12 months ago – has disappeared more quickly than Mike Brown from George Bush’s rolodex.

Add in the fact that Shinn would have to pay minority owner Gary Chouest close to $100 million if the team moved, and the possibilities of seeing Chris Paul in a Sonics’ jersey grow slimmer still.

“I think the Hornets are New Orleans' team to lose,” Doherty explained. “If anyone in Seattle wants the Hornets, I say do what you gotta do. I can understand the desperation to get another team. I'm sure there were hoop heads in New Orleans licking their chops when the Hornets started wearing out their welcome in Charlotte. But the fate of the franchise is in our hands, not yours.”

NEXT: Charlotte, Memphis, and David Stern’s Brave New World

9 comments:

Hacksaw said...

" . . . the fate of the franchise is in our hands, not yours."

That's gotta be the most naive sentence I've heard since, "Sure I'll sign up for that pay-option mortgage! It's not like the housing market will ever go down. Ever again. Ever."

Good team, young stars, strong fan base . . . sounds like the Sonics in 2004-'05!

Robert M said...

Hacksaw,
Actually, its the Sonics fans that are naive. The franchise is, in fact, in our (New Orleans' fans)hands. When your team looked like it was on its last legs, what did Sonics fans do? They pissed and moaned, and stopped going to games. When the Hornets stay in New Orleans was on its last legs, Hornets fans stepped to the plate. One of only 11 teams this year with over 10,000 full season ticket sales, a 38.6% increase in attendance, and a virtually 100% capacity attendance. And remember, their deadline was the end of 2008-09, meaning they could still leave. But they wont. I hope you get another franchise one day, you guys deserve it. But it took us almost 30 years to get ours back after the Jazz left, so don't hold your breath.

Floyd Q. said...

Seattle didn't have a number to aspire to. In other words, we weren't threatened by the owner with a "fixed" attendance number we had to meet.

In fact, if we had an owner who urged our attendance in order that he might have more reason to stay I have no doubt we would have stepped up.

Unfortunately, the fans were left out of the process since it was always about a new building. Our attendance was a symptom of the situation. If we had filled the arena for a last place team with the worst record in franchise history IT WOULD HAVE MADE NO DIFFERENCE (by the way, comparing attendance with NO's team this year and the Sonics of last year is RIDICULOUS). Clay was intent on taking his team and nothing short of the city holding him to his lease was going to stop him.

It was the leaders of Seattle that let us down. THe mayor and other elected officials really let the fans down.

So Robert, I have to say that you are way off.

MONTANA said...

He's right, Sonics fans showed better than expected considering all the sabotaging that Clay did. Don't be too smug because New Orleans is not safe from another catastrophe and if that happens, no way are the "hive" going back. They may end up in Seattle. I don't wish this but NO's is far from safe.

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