An open letter to Clay Bennett

Clayton I. Bennett
Chairman, The Professional Basketball Club LLC
351 Elliot Ave. West, Ste. 500
Seattle, WA 98119

Dear Mr. Bennett --

Now that you've grown exasperated with our Washington government to the point that you've issued a statement saying there is "little hope" of the Sonics and Storm "remaining in the Puget Sound region," I just have one question for you.

What were you thinking?

I mean, really, what in the world would cause you to think that a city and state that's been host to an NBA franchise for the past 40 years -- possessing with it the city's lone world championship -- actually would make a serious attempt to keep it?

I don't know how things are done back in Oklahoma City, where you've never even had an NBA franchise and will desperately do anything to get one, but, frankly, we don't do that kind of stuff up here.

As Chris Van Dyk says, we've just got more important things to worry about. Like how best to waste time arguing about how to rebuild a death trap along the Seattle waterfront. Or how to fix a cute but woefully underused Monorail system that sat inoperable for nearly a year. We're also busy commissioning studies to study studies.

You see, we balk at spending $300 million out of existing tax revenue streams that were specifically created to finance sports stadiums, but don't bat an eyelash at spending $200 million on a voter-approved light rail project for our overcrowded downtown, only to kill the project with another vote two years later.

Did you really expect us to go for extending a tax that will have virtually no personal impact on any of us, since most of the taxes come from hotels and restaurants? No-brainer deals might seem that way in Oklahoma, but up in these parts, well, you can see sometimes we don't use our brains so well.

Besides, we want to know what's in this for us, in addition to all that sentimental sports crap. You'll remember that Seattle's the city that passed Initiative 91, which barred the city from supporting sports teams with tax dollars unless it yielded a 4.75 percent return on the investment, on par with a 30-year U.S. Treasury bond -- even though we're pretty sure things such as the opera, theaters and museums don't yield anything close to that kind of return.

But let's be honest: Comparing something as low brow as a sports team -- which panders to nothing more than the simple enjoyment of the masses -- to the "arts" is like comparing Angus steak to tuna. (Comparing sushi to ground beef probably would be more appropriate for us, but we figured you just wouldn't understand that one, being from Oklahoma and all.) It's futile to try and point to the 7 million or so people that have come through the doors of KeyArena to see the Sonics since it opened in 1995 -- to say nothing of the countless others who have attended concerts and such -- and argue that the team provides "cultural value" for the city. We're talking about basketball, not the ballet.

While we're being honest, we might as well let you in on the worst-kept secret in Seattle: We never really thought you were serious about keeping the team here in the first place. You can thank Ken Behring and Jeff Smulyan for that. With our history, we're just a tad distrustful of out-of-town owners with visions of grandeur.

I'll admit, even I questioned your motives when you said your first option was to keep the team here. Choosing between a sweetheart deal here and moving the team to your hometown (cementing your hero status with the locals) is like being forced to make a choice between Jessica Alba and Jennifer Aniston. One might be a little bit older model, but you can't really go wrong with either one.

But then a funny thing happened. You were genuine and up front with us. You pledged to work with local lawmakers to try and get a deal done to build a new world-class arena, one that would have an impact on the region far beyond the Sonics and Storm. We had hardly finished rolling our eyes when you started spending buckets of your own money to hire an archtecture firm, secure the land and lobby our quirky legislature.

Unfortunately, sometimes we can't get over our cynicism until it's just too late -- it's like paralysis by analysis. Given your good-faith negotiating thus far, we can only come to the conclusion that when you say, "This a staggering and quite likely a debilitating blow to our efforts to develop a world-class arena facility. Clearly at this time the Sonics and Storm have little hope of remaining in the Puget Sound region," that you are not playing the typical negotiating games.

Equally unfortunate is that such threats usually are the only way things ever get done around here. Maybe you already know that. Maybe you're a lot more savvy about the political landscape than we give you credit for. You did leave the door open by saying you'd continue to work with the governer and the legislature, but I believe you when you say there are no other concepts on the table at this time.

Contrary to what you might think at this point, we really do want to keep our teams here. Sometimes it just takes us a little while to get out of our own way long enough to make a good decision. Are you willing to wait around long enough for our elected officials to deem you "committed" enough to our region? It certainly would be your right not to, after the way you've been treated.

But if you do, it might just end up being worth your while.

Jeff Nusser
On behalf of The Good Residents of Western Washington

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nuss, love the letter. I agree 100%. I think I am going to have my manager read it! Having worked with the Sonics for the past month, I have grown to appreciate Bennett's leadership so far. Everybody in the organization is still upbeat and hopeful that something will get resolved. We will see (crossing my fingers!).

I'm excited for this offseason, I think things will be shaken up a bit! Clay's an Oklahoma football fan, so he's not down with having a crappy team! If we can get a top 2 pick... wow!!! We have about a 19% chance of landing the 1 or 2 spot! lol.