Tuesday, February 12

Seattle: The Graveyard of NBA Arenas

This plan not only served as a basketball arena, but also an Imperial Shuttle for Darth Vader.

As Seattle and Sacramento both ramp up plans to build new NBA arenas, it's easy to forget how many times we've been down this road before. After all, Seattle is a town lousy with failed dreams and broken promises. From an extended monorail to a refurbished waterfront, we have rarely seen a good plan that wasn't worth killing with fire.

The Sonics have an especially bleak history of unfulfilled plans. During their 41 year residency, the Supes were often basketball vagabonds, couch surfing around the Puget Sound with stops at the old Coliseum, the Kingdome, the Tacoma Dome and even Hec Edmundson Pavilion, an old gym even too small for the University of Washington Huskies.

Fed up with the leaky roof and meager seating of their Seattle Center digs in the late 80s, former owner Barry Ackerley came close to sealing a deal for a new stadium. SeaFirst Arena of Seattle was to be built near the Kingdome and, like the current stadium plan, got the approval of the City Council before getting derailed by a parking dispute with (you guessed it) the Mariners. Ackerley was so frustrated by the lack of progress that he officially filed for relocation in 1990.

Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and Ackerley finally settled for a refurbished Coliseum, sparing us the indignity of watching the Kemp/Payton era unfold with the San Diego Sonics (shudder).

Another forgotten arena aberration took place more recently. In 2008, we were all going a little crazy about our team getting hijacked. And none went crazier than Seattle Supersonics legend Downtown Freddie Brown, who proposed one of the most ambitious/insane/awesome arena plans in the history of anything. This thing had everything. An interchangeable basketball/hockey court, retractable roof, waterfront view and, of yeah, it only cost ONE BILLION DOLLARS!

Sure, this place was total vaporware and had zero chance of ever being built, but can you imagine how awesome it would have been to see Squatch waterskiing in Puget Sound during halftime or Danny Fortson paragliding off a ferry onto the court before every game?

But alas, this was yet another Seattle sports pipe dream. And like Ackerley's arena before it, it serves as a warning to desperate fans in Seattle and Sacramento: don't count your weird, bundt cake-shaped arena before it's built.


  1. HOLY RESEARCH! I mean this in the most complimentary way, but I really thought this was a PN piece. The Star Wars reference in the caption was the only giveaway that it was you.

    Why can't we have these awesome futures we are always promised?! I should be able to use my jetpack to fly to the monorail station where I can catch the mag-lev to the retractable roofed, transforming b-ball/hockey arena! Chris Hansen, are you listening??

  2. I actually might have video footage somewhere of this big preseason preview/infomercial from the late 80s where KC & Bob pitch the SeaFirst Arena like it's some kind of time share condo. I just have to find a VCR first.

  3. And yes, any comparison to Pete is a compliment. Well, unless you're talking about our grasp on modern technology.

  4. Kevin Pelton2/12/2013 10:40 AM

    If you find that and can digitize it, that ad would be a tremendous addition to the Interwebs.

    Nice research -- I had never known that the Sonics actually applied for relocation under Ackerley.

  5. Thanks Kevin--that's quite a compliment coming from you! I guess I'd better go out and search in the Supersonicsoul Archives (my spider-ridden garage). If I don't come back in an hour, please call the National Guard.

  6. Nice work, PM; glad to see someone still has the passion to put up interesting stuff on the site.

    I'll second Kevin's note, that video must be fantastic. Hey, didn't I give a copy of a VHS to Raf or you from the 91 or 92 season? I seem to recall there being an incredible clip of Derrick McKey taking Robert Parish off the dribble in the closing seconds of a Boston-Seattle game that I desperately wanted to upload for the world to see.

  7. Love it, Paul! I'm on the fence as to whether I want the Sonics back at the expense of Sacramento, but I'll always love the Sonics of the past. Keep em coming!

  8. Another reason Ackerley's arena plan didn't end up happening was him double-crossing his NHL partners (see the take 2 section of this article):


  9. That's really interesting Jared--and not too surprising considering who we're talking about. One of the weird stipulations in building the new area apparently was the Coliseum would have to reduce its capacity to 5000 seats so it wouldn't compete.

  10. Great article...and did not know about the Ackerley issue and San Diego....we could've been hating on him instead of Bennett/Stern/Schultz.



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