David Stern recently said if Seattle lost the Sonics they would not get a new team in the foreseeable future. This is an attempt to increase the pressure on Seattle and the state of Washington to do whatever necessary to keep their team. In the mind of David Stern whatever necessary means the building o a new state of the art arena using tax payer money. The use of public funds for a new arena can be classified as nothing but a rip off. It is the creation of massively expensive infrastructure for the super rich to use to become more super rich. There are times when the surrounding neighborhood may become revitalized but there is no guarantee and before the bonds are paid off most stadiums are considered obsolete, hurting their investment value. But in this case it is possible that something more sinister is happening. This declaration may be more than the game of big money chicken we’ve seen so often in the past. David Stern is good friends with Clay Bennett. Clay Bennett bought the Sonics with the intention of moving them to Oklahoma City. A major hurdle for the move is the promise Bennett made to negotiate in good faith with the city of Seattle. How do you have good faith negotiations if you are actively trying to move? It is shady business. Clay Bennett and company are trying to steal the team from Seattle. This will not play well in the court of public opinion or the court of law when Clay Bennett tries to escape the lease that ties the Sonics to their current stadium.
Enter David Stern. In theory Stern, and the owners he represents, should want the Sonics to stay in Seattle. Seattle is a bigger market and has a large population of high wage earners thanks to all the tech companies in the surrounding area. Also the ideal for an NBA franchise should be stability and the building of history. The SuperSonics have history, having been in the city since 1967. Also of great importance is the bright future of the Sonics after their draft day success. Maybe Seattle is not one of the major markets but it just does not seem right that Kevin Durant might have to move cities so quickly and into a smaller market no less. For the good of NBA basketball Stern should want the Sonics to remain where they are. For good business NBA owners should want a team in Seattle over Oklahoma City.
In practice it seems that Stern is at best ambivalent about Clay Bennett’s desire to skip town. Stern has been notably silent on the subject, letting the face-off between owners and city play out on its own. Normally this would be acceptable because these types of face-offs happen all the time and for the most part are a bunch of bluffs by both sides. However, this case is different, as noted above, because of Bennett’s immediate intention to move the team. For Bennett there is no bluff. In fact he would prefer that Seattle not meet his demands for a new stadium, which is exactly why he’s in trouble. Stern should be actively speaking out against this type of behavior.
Now he has finally spoken. He encouraged Seattle to get approval for a new arena because if they let Clay Bennett steal their team they will not be getting a new one. It would appear that Stern is coming out in favor of the team staying in Seattle, providing a little more incentive for Seattle to come through with an 11th hour deal. However, perhaps what he is really doing is reframing the conflict. Maybe Stern is helping out his friend Bennett by trying to make it look like this squabble over the team could be ended at any time by Seattle. It does not matter that the deal being offered to Seattle is unfair. All that matters is Seattle is being stubborn. They are the ones not negotiating in good faith. By having Stern come out with his comments it moves the focus of the conflict from Bennett to Seattle. It provides Bennett with the cover he needs to get out of town and down to Oklahoma City where he can run a team that will earn less revenue in a smaller market than the one he owns now. David Stern provides the legitimacy in negotiation that Bennett needed.
It is impossible to know what is truly going on behind the scenes in this sports soap opera. The personal relationships are something we cannot see, the financial negotiations are on a scale that is difficult to understand and measuring exactly how much a team means to an area is impossible to quantify. Something sinister is going on in Seattle though. Something is occurring that is not quite right. Maybe it is not a conspiracy. Maybe it is nothing but business. Maybe the move to Oklahoma City is just a ploy, a bluff for an arena. This feels different though. This feels insidious, distasteful, shady, sinister. This should not be happening.