Photo courtesy of Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
For the first time since the SuperSonics franchise moved to Oklahoma City a decade ago, Seattle will soon get a brief, yet spicy, taste of NBA action. On October 5th, the Warriors will return to Seattle for the first time since the SuperSonics left. Their pre-season contest against the Sacramento Kings will be the last event ever held at Seattle’s KeyArena before it undergoes demolition and massive renovations.
Warriors forward and Seattle’s former favorite son, Kevin Durant, was certainly excited about the opportunity to return to the city where his professional basketball career started. “I mean, the fans of Seattle definitely deserve basketball, and that would be amazing,” Durant said last February, when the preseason game was still being planned. “So, I’m looking forward to that.”
The city’s response has been enormous, according to Kevin Shockey. KeyArena sold over 12,000 tickets within the first hour they became available on August 7, which amounts to about 70% of the arena’s total capacity. Basketball is still a major part of Seattle. They host the WNBA Seattle Storm, currently owners of the best record in the league.
The Mariners and Seahawks are mainstays in Seattle. Even the Sounders, an MLS team that ranks second in league attendance, are beloved. The NHL is already in advanced talks with the city of Seattle to bring a hockey franchise aboard. The NBA should also look to tap into the city’s dedicated fan base like every other profession
The SuperSonics’ time in Seattle came to a bitter end when, amid a myriad of legal issues and resistance from local fans, the franchise successfully relocated to Oklahoma City by the start of the 2008-09 season. The biggest issue between the franchise and the city was a series of unsuccessful efforts from ownership to convince the state and local government to fund upgrades for KeyArena or a brand-new stadium altogether. Their arena problems are still in flux, as plans for the demolition and reconstruction of a new KeyArena are expected to be approved this month.
Bringing a franchise back to Seattle would be an obvious benefit the fans, but the NBA could end up being an even bigger winner overall. At this point, there is a higher possibility of a league expansion than a team relocating; so why not expand the league to 32 or 34 teams. Other possible expansion team candidates include Las Vegas, Kansas City, Vancouver, and obviously Seattle. Why not kill two birds with a single stone?
Currently, we are seeing the most talent ever assembled at the same time in the league. Adding two or four extra teams gives more players a shot at NBA stardom. It is an absolute shame to see so many highly skilled and immensely talented players get cut after a single ten-day contract or relegated to the G-League just because teams do not have enough roster spots. Most players just need a chance to take the next step in their careers. Why not provide more opportunities to increase the quality of the product possibly?
Also, expanding the league could help mitigate the super team issue. Cities with as much fan support as Seattle or a market as big as Vegas would be enticing destinations that could shake up free agency. Would Durant return to the Sonics if they were awarded a team? Wouldn’t Isaiah Thomas love to suit up for his home state squad? Expansion teams usually start slowly, but they would have ample salary cap space – something very few teams can say – and can always try to lure star free agents away from other teams with certain narratives or financial incentives.
If the NBA decides to expand the league and award the city of Seattle a franchise, there certainly is no shortage of businessmen and suitors interested in being involved in the project. One of them is former NFL player and Football Hall of Famer Walter Jones.
Speaking to The Hype Magazine’s Landon Buford, Jones mentioned the possibility of becoming a minority owner of a Seattle basketball franchise. “If someone came and asked me to be a part of it, I would be interested,” Jones said. “We must get an arena first, and a couple of years ago we thought it was going to happen with the Kings coming, but Seattle is my home now. I hope to still be around to see another NBA team come here.” And he’s not the only one that’s enthusiastic about more professional basketball in Seattle.
In a Q&A with Bloomberg’s Joel Webber Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade also spoke about possibly being part of a Seattle ownership group and how former players like Grant Hill and Shaquille O’Neal have followed a similar path with other teams. When asked about which ownership team he would like to be a part of, Wade responded assertively. “Seattle. I want Seattle’s team, the Sonics, to come back. I think Seattle is a great basketball town.”
This looks like a plan, right? There is fan interest, plans for a new arena, investors ready to start the team; heck, give the city a hip-hop radio station, and it is all set! The big drawback, however, is how busy league
representatives currently are. Between discussions with the NCAA and USA Basketball about new rules for high school players, the legalization of sports gambling, playoff seeding issues, social and political matters, and finding new ways to prevent the super team epidemic from spreading, the NBA does not have time to think about an expansion.
But it certainly would be interesting if somebody happened to bring up the topic in a league meeting. As we have learned over the history of the league, anything can happen in the NBA; it is where amazing happens.
You can follow Jorge on Twitter @CantuNBA