Time to expand for Seattle basketball

May 1, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

Where is Seattle basketball going now?

On Monday, an NBA committee unanimously recommended against Seattle’s bid to relocate the Sacramento Kings to the Emerald City. The committee was composed of seven team owners, and since the Seattle group needs 23 out of 30 owners’ votes in order to purchase the team, Seattle’s chances of getting the Kings are almost zero. The clock has not struck midnight on Seattle basketball, but the dream is living on borrowed time.

Recently, I penned a column in this space arguing for this very thing to happen — for Sacramento, one of the best fanbases in sports, to keep its only professional sports team.

However, that doesn’t mean that I like what I see right now.

There are no good guys or bad guys in this struggle. Seattle deserves a team every bit as much as Sacramento does.

Seattle lost the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City because the city government in Seattle refused to pay half a billion dollars for a new arena. The specious argument has been thrown around that if Seattle fans wanted to keep their team, they should have elected officials that would have made appeasing the Sonics their first priority. But if Seattle residents had voted for politicians because of pro basketball, that wouldn’t have said much for the democratic process. Seattle’s politicians did not step up to the plate, but that is not the fault of the fans.

Admittedly, half a billion dollars is a staggering amount of money, but that is the price of doing business these days, and Seattle is ready to pay that price. $500 million spread out among the Seattle metropolitan area’s 3.5 million residents, works out to approximately seven dollars a year over 20 years.

Just as important is the idea of pro basketball in Seattle. The city is well known for being a hotbed of basketball talent and is easily a top-ten producer of NBA players. Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer’s bidding group has both the money and the will to bring a team to Seattle. Plans for the new basketball arena have already been established. Land has been secured. And before the NBA committee’s decision, the Kings’ owners had already agreed to a deal.

The Seattle group overstepped; they thought they had won the race when in reality they still had a lap to go. Sacramento put together a competing offer, complete with an expensive new arena, in record time, and proved that they deserved to keep the Kings.

Still, not having an NBA team in Seattle — a city that Nielsen estimates is the 12th-largest TV market in the United States — makes about as much sense as not having an NFL team in Los Angeles.

As with Los Angeles and football, Seattle will continue playing basketball and producing NBA talent. The game is part of the lifeblood of the city. But the Kings represented Seattle’s best chance to get a basketball team in a long time — a chance that may be the last for the foreseeable future. At this point, most NBA teams are quite firmly entrenched in their home cities, and it was shocking that the Kings were even available to the Seattle bidding group in the first place.

Where does Seattle go now?

There are two things that the NBA could do. It could move a different team from a saturated market to Seattle, but there is very little overlap between NBA fanbases. The Kings were considered a candidate for relocation in part because Sacramento is fairly close to Oakland and the Warriors, but Sacramento and the Bay Area are miles apart. The Brooklyn Nets probably shouldn’t pack up and move yet again two years after relocating from New Jersey. The Clippers are a prime candidate to move, although that is up to Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who has shown no interest in either selling or moving the team in the past.

In any case, Seattle should not have to choose between ripping a fanbase’s heart out — basically, what Oklahoma City’s owners did to Sonics fans — and going without a team. The irony of the Kings situation was already palpable. There are not too many Clippers fans, but those that exist would likely give up on the NBA rather than cheer for the Lakers.

It seems as though the only way to go from here is expansion.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has not agreed to giving Seattle an expansion team, but on Monday he hinted that once he retires in February 2014, he will leave that question up to his successor, Adam Silver.

While I would prefer Seattle to get a team as soon as possible, what truly matters is that Seattle gets a team, period. If it falls to Adam Silver to manage that change, I am all for it.

If Seattle doesn’t get a team in the next three years, Winston Shi is going to send Shannon Turley to teach the NBA’s owners a lesson or two. If you think the Charlotte “Black Eye” Bobcats or the Phoenix “Swollen Jaw” Suns would have better luck playing under the shadow of the Space Needle, send Winston a detailed description of your favorite taekwondo moves at wshi94 “at” stanford.edu.

Winston Shi was the Managing Editor of Opinions for Volume 245 (February-June 2014). He also served as an opinions and sports columnist, a senior staff writer, and a member of the Editorial Board. A native of Thousand Oaks, California (the one place on the planet with better weather than Stanford), he graduated from Stanford in June 2016 with bachelor's and master's degrees in history. He is currently attending law school, where he preaches the greatness of Stanford football to anybody who will listen, and other people who won't.

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