Phil Caldwell

Sports Blogging With a Grin

Posts Tagged ‘NBA

Seattle To Get a New Privately-Funded Retractable-Roof Waterfront Arena and Concert venue?

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(Originally published in Bleacher Report on 10/3/2011)

Don’t look now kids, but remember that wild retractable roof basketball arena that Fred Brown proposed?  The one we all forgot about?

Well rumors are flowing that the concept might not be dead after all, and in-fact is very much alive.  There’s a big group of high-powered suited architects with designer haircuts frantically working on conceptual plans to present to the city.  Names known to many but will not be mentioned here.

Back in 2008 during the failed negotiations to save the professional basketball for Seattle, out of the blue came a rather radical vision led by former Sonic Fred Brown and public-relations executive Dave Bean, to build a new privately funded project known as the Emerald City Center.

It would be a $1 billion sports and exposition complex that would include a a retractable roof arena capable of housing both an NBA and NHL franchise.

Once fans across Seattle stopped laughing and listened to the proposal, it wasn’t as crazy as it sounded.  In fact, it was sorta cool.

Especially since Seattle had a popular “Summer Nights on the Pier” concert series located at Pier 62/63 along Alaskan Way, that was sucking in tourists from across the planet.  That was until, the pier deteriorated so badly that the series had to be relocated.

But it was a big hit all summer long when it was going on, with 18-22 concerts played by well-known artists on warm summer nights with private small craft swaying to soft waves midst the setting sun.  Glistening waters of the Puget Sound, seagulls in the night, the Olympics beyond.  The works!

A huge tourist draw, but the venue was too small for the really big acts.

Seven years ago all the sports stations in Seattle were summoned for a new radical idea for a retractable roof basketball arena on the Seattle waterfront.  Fred Brown’s group didn’t have the funding, nor a secure site, nor even a plan, other than a conceptual plastic model on cardboard.  Hardly the kind of fiscal structure necessary to get the project rolling.

Enter Seattle developer and high-end residential consultant Nitze-Stagen & Co, who has been trying to wrest control of the 89 acre Pier 46 site from the Port of Seattle since before 2003, which back then leased it to the agency’s largest shipping customer, Hanjin, for 10 years with an option to extend it another five.

The Port, with their tight lease deals already signed,  has long scoffed at this group of developers, according to Frank Stagen, who claimed back in 2004 that one port official mocked “You don’t own one spoonful of the dirt” when Stagen’s group were probing for planning details and irritating DCLU officials for info.

Things have moved along ever since.

In fact Nitze-Stagen, the same group that just cut dirt on the new North Lot apartment project by Centurylink Field, and is involved with massively redeveloping parts of the Pioneer Square area, has a glitzy website with snazzy schematic drawings bragging about this Pier 46 project.

Entitled “Vision 46,” the debate for the site was between Containers vs Condos.  Nitze-Stagen argues the entire cargo area, which was created from backfill during the 1970s, should today be redeveloped with a mix of high-density urban village activities, such as a major hotel, thousands of housing units and offices, a cruise ship terminal, retail, education and even a trolley line.

Included in residential buildings and commercial space, is…ahem…an anchor arena building right on the water, that looks very similar to what Fred Brown’s group proposed in 2008.  A new basketball/hockey arena, just perfect for concerts and whatever else might want to retract a roof.

It’s the perfect location too.  Located at the south entrance of the new waterfront tunnel project, there’s already existing freeway connections to nearby Safeco Field, the convention center and the football/soccer stadium.

With all the connections already built, it’s a cinch.  Plus it’s close enough to the ferry’s for walkers, and light rail already connects the area too.  What’s not to love?

And with construction gearing up as the viaduct is about to be razed, the timing appears perfect too. Which is why architects are working frantically behind-the-scenes, on drawings and budgets, and why this group just managed to get the Longshoreman union to agree to let someone else use this site.

A big huge deal and reportedly THE major hurdle that was holding everything up.

Rumored to be key in this project is a retractable roof arena design.  And why not? 

On the water, large crowds of 20-25,000 could swoon to summer tunes with a removed roof in the summer.  Shows wouldn’t have to worry about the weather, because any formerly rained-out events could still carry on.

Especially if the venue was open on the water side, with a “U” shaped arena bowl facing fans towards the Olympic Mountain Range.

Imagine a new Sonics team playing Game 7 of the finals under partly cloudy skies with the water in background.  Imagine an NHL team doing the same.  Or a national political convention with sunsets and flying fish.

Not so crazy an idea after all, now is it?  But enough to get city nimrods on board who still look stupid for their comments about how the Sonics offered no cultural value?

This project has something for everyone, and with private developers leading the charge, we might actually be looking at a viable candidate,  in terms of proposed arenas in the Seattle area that have a chance to be built!


OKC Thunder: Oklahoma Fans Enjoy Fruits of Dirty Deeds Done While in Seattle

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Remodelofkeyarena_crop_340x234As the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder were motoring through the playoffs before finally losing to Dallasin the Western Conference finals last night, rumblings in Seattle suggest fans are still cranky about all of this.

At halftime of Game 5, Sonicgate folks were rolling out another videodesigned to remind the nation that Oklahoma’s success was at the expense of what went down in Seattle five years prior.

Meanwhile, fan forums in Oklahoma City and many other NBA cities suggest David Stern’s media campaign of lying and distorting the truth, done prior to the move, was effective in deceiving the national public about Seattle’s commitment to it’s team.

But the  war of words continues, as Seattle’s basketball fans will not drop the issue.

On a newspaper forum in Oklahoma City, “Danny,” a hallucinogenic fan writing as if he represented the average person in Seattle, claimed that folks in the Pacific Northwest did not care about any of this, and were  apathetic about their Sonics basketball team.

This, he claimed, was the true reason that the team  left after 41 years.  A message seen frequently in fan comments in Oklahoma City, as if the Thunder faithful wrestle with guilt at their new-found fortune.

Yet in Seattle, outspoken but powerless fan groups seem to be gaining momentum. Just last week the Washington State legislature assembled a task force to explore building a new NBA/NHL arena in the Seattle area.


Seattle fans have always been the most  passionate and loyal in the country. During the early 1980s following the team’s 1978-79 NBA championship season, 35,000-45,000 Seattle fans routinely jammed the rafters of the Kingdome for regular season games.

While the NBA was packing their bags, a rival professional sports league, soccer’s MLS, discovered that its most successful and best-supported franchise in league history, was surprisingly located in the very same market the NBA abandoned. Teams have since been added in  Vancouver and Portland, creating crazed rivalries between the three Northwest communities.

Five years earlier, basketball fans in Seattle were put in the awkward situation of how to respond to new out-of-town owner Clay Bennett’s devious deeds. Bennett, whose emails have since confirmed, was attempting to make the Sonics as terrible as possible to justify moving the team to his hometown.

Players were kept far away from local media interviews, fan favorites like  Ray Allenwere dealt for draft picks that wouldn’t be productive until years in the future and the team rolled out its worst record in franchise history during its last in Seattle.

Seattle fans had to choose between boycotting games to punish the person trying to move their team or attending games and thereby enabling him to get away with it. Either way, the fans would lose in the end.

Following their appearance in the NBA  Finals 1995-96, Seattle had endured what it considered an inept general manager, Wally Walker, making terrible basketball decisions. These included the firing of popular coach George Karl, who had led Seattle to seven straight years of 60-win seasons, plus puzzling free agent signings of mediocre centers, none of whom worked out.

Newkeyarena_crop_340x234New Key Arena with, entire interior rebuilt and luxury suites added, opening for the 1995-96 season

All this was tolerated by an inept owner, Howard Schultz, who eventually traded all-NBA defensive star Gary Payton in a power dispute. The team continued a downward trend, highlighted by the stunning announcement in 2006, that Oklahoman Clay Bennett had purchased the team for $75 million more than it was worth.

But the situation started a decade prior, when then-owner Barry Ackerley demanded a new arena to replace the dilapidated Seattle Coliseum, which was built for the World’s Fair in 1962.

Plans for a new NBA/NHL stadium were rolled out that would be located where today’s Safeco Field now stands, but those plans were discarded when Ackerley picked the option designed specifically to keep the NHL out of Seattle.

Key Arena was built large enough for the best sight lines in the league but small enough to keep it ever from being attractive to professional hockey. The existing hockey floor can only be viewed by half the patrons, running under the west end of the seating area.

Still, the arena was brand-new in 1995, not the remodeled retread that commissioner David Stern claimed in his now infamous New York press conference in April of 2008.

If you remember, during the tug-of-war with Oklahoma City, the NBA Commissioner claimed that Seattle hadn’t built the NBA an  arena since 1962 and scolded reporters when they tried to correct him. The truth was the paint hadn’t dried on Key Arena before the Sonics and the NBA were back demanding another new arena.

Originalcoliseum_crop_340x234Original Seattle arena prior to complete rebuild in 1995, including floor being lowered 35ft and luxury suites added

Contrary to what Stern claimed, Seattle had actually built the Sonics the first new professional sports stadium, prioritizing the team over the NFL and MLB. The city didn’t ignore the demands of the Sonics like Stern claimed, and David Stern and the NBA not only approved the plans for the new 1995 arena, but also enthusiastically endorsed it after it was built—on  video too.

Five years later the same David Stern was infuriated when, facing the Washington State legislature while begging for more public funds, representatives like Frank Chopp reminded Mr. Stern in very terse and direct language that they had just built the Sonics a new arena.

Still, that didn’t stop new owner Clay Bennett from demanding a new $500 million arena in 2007—funded entirely by taxpayers, of course—to justify moving the team when the community refused.

This while  stripping the team of talent and accumulating draft picks for the future.

Consequently, today’s Thunder team is winning as a direct result of all the deliberate losing in Seattle. The team includes a handful of top-five lottery picks, all attained from losing seasons in Seattle and trading off Sonic veterans.

Most infuriating to fans of Seattle today is that the team has been in Oklahoma for a mere three years but has already enjoyed two years of playoffs, with the latest deep into the Western Conference finals. Clearly Bennett’s plans have worked well, but at the expense of Seattle.

Fanstryingtosaveteam_crop_340x234Desperate Seattle Fans attempt to save team in 2008

Meanwhile, in other cities, players are teaming up in major markets like typical playground bullies, leaving smaller markets like Cleveland in disarray.

But what the NBA wasn’t counting on were the same abandoned fans in Seattle taking matters into their own hands while educating the masses.

Grassroots organizations continue to show up at games and on national TV, embarrassing the efforts of David Stern and Clay Bennett to sweep all of this under the carpet.

Locating Sonicsgate founders behind the players bench in Denver certainly didn’t help and reminded the powers that be that today’s media options make the Seattle situation impossible to ignore.

As the league moves towards an impending lockout, the last thing David Stern needs are cranky Seattle fans embarrassing the NBA while reminding the country of the corruption that removed a storied pillar team from the Pacific Northwest for what most consider a buddy payback!

Read “Seattle’s Lost Supersonics and The Ironic Message Sent By The NBA” by the same author at

Ghost of the Seattle Supersonics Hovers Over NBA, Kings Move

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LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 19:  NBA Commissioner David Stern addresses the media before the start of NBA All-Star Saturday Night at Staples Center on February 19, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)

If comedic press releases are the new goal for NBA commissioner David Stern and his pack of used car salesmen running the league, yesterday was indeed a banner day.

First, we have the dishonorable Clay Bennett installed as “head of the franchise relocation committee,” which gnashes the teeth of every single Seattle Supersonic fan at home and abroad.  Apparently the NBA has no remorse for what they did in Seattle, and are actually proud of their behaviour.

Secondly, we have former Sonic owner Howard Schultz, an equally ethically-challenged individual, mouthing off about his former Hall of Fame all-NBA defensive guard Gary Payton, for allegedly not being a “team player.”   This from the guy who back-stabbed his own city for profit.

And now this morning we read and hear words from beloved NBA commissioner David Stern himself, reassuring soon-to-be-jilted Sacramento fans that all is not lost.

The city really should trust the NBA and their group of highly ethical owners.

No, really.  They would never ever pull a fast one on your community like they did to Seattle.  This is precisely why Clay Bennett was named as the head of the franchise relocation committee.

You remember our flat-topped pal down in Oklahoma, right?  While declaring his love and devotion to keep his newly purchased franchise in Seattle, where it had been for four decades surrounded by crazed Sonic fans selling out Key Arena when they actually had an owner trying to win, he was shooting off emails to his buddies back home declaring exactly the opposite of what he was saying publicly in Washington State.


Apparently David Stern, the recipient of several of these Oakie fib-missives himself, was so impressed that he deemed this as qualification for a position where other cities are to trust the head of the NBA relocation committee.

What these two nimrods aren’t saying, is that even if Sacramento steps up and builds a sparkling new building that impresses his highness David Stern, and is state-of-the-art for NBA standards in 2011, it will be the NBA (and not the community) who will decide if the lease deserves to be honored in the future.

The very near future if Seattle is any indication.  All it took was seven years before the NBA was whining about how inadequate Key Arena was, and five years more to bail out of the lease they signed with the city.  Other teams negotiated better leases, so somehow that was seen as justification to break this lease.

Keep in mind that this was the document the NBA used to motivate the city of Seattle and state of Washington, midst many NBA promises and a hesitant legislature, to do this project in the first place.

If the community refused, then surely some other unsuspecting community would offer the team better terms. Because remember, it’s not the size of a community or the longevity of a loyal fan base that matters to NBA owners.



It’s how much money the NBA can leverage from your city.

Ironically, in Seattle, building a new arena gave the team MORE leverage over the city, because it made the city fiscally desperate. Seattle didn’t want an expensive building empty and unpaid for, so they caved in to the demands of Clay Bennett.  If Seattle had forced the Sonics to fund their own palace back in 1994, none of this happens in 2008.

The point being that caving into the NBA makes a city LESS secure in the long run.  It gives the NBA even more leverage over your city.

In Sacramento, we’re seeing the same strategy once again. Sacramento knows how it turned out in Seattle 15 years later.

How stupid does David Stern think city and state bureaucrats are?

Stern and his pack of NBA corporate nerd lawyers were hauled off to court by the city of Seattle during all of this, merely to enforce the lease the NBA signed to get Key Arena built.  There was nothing else Seattle wanted other than the team to live up to what they agreed to in 1994.  That was it.

What, pray tell, would keep the NBA from doing exactly the same thing to Sacramento, if they were foolish enough to build the Kings a new building?!


Stern surely cannot expect another community to shell out half a billion dollars with only Stern’s word as security?  Can he?  Really, after all of this?!

So the next arena deal is where all this devious Seattle activity comes back to haunt this pack of misfits running the NBA, as we’re seeing in Sacramento.  The city simply does not trust David Stern and the NBA.  Nor should they!

Thus if the Maloof Brothers were to get this new arena from Sacramento, but then in several years found themselves in financial trouble via another business matter, what would keep them from selling to an out-town-buyer like Clay Bennett?  The Maloof’s would have all the leverage, not the city!

In Seattle, it was at that point that the NBA’s legal team kicked into high gear.  And it worked. Seattle’s politicians caved again, Clay Bennett got everything he wanted, and Seattle has no team because of it.

Unless, of course, Seattle agrees to do all of this again.

This is the precedent.  This isn’t speculation.  This is what they did to Seattle.  So David Stern and the NBA surely cannot argue they won’t do this again, because they already did this!

All they can argue is that the community should trust them.  These guys.  This fine group of highly ethical stalwarts, with their dedication to the community, and track record towards all things honest and pure.

Moral of the story?

Build your own damn arena, NBA!  You obviously cannot be trusted if a city finances a building for you, and indeed, the only thing that may keep you from moving franchises, is you having to foot the bill for the arena!

For more on this matter, read the six part series starting at:

Written by PhilCaldwell

April 16, 2011 at 3:03 pm

NBA 2011 Playoffs Start, but Seattle Doesn’t Care!

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Imagescayirihu_crop_340x234Once upon a time, the middle of April had Seattle fans revved up and jostling with excitement, knowing the likes of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp would soon be tomahawk-thrilling us again.

Yet sadly a mere decade and a half later, anything mentioned about theNBA garners about as much excitement in these parts as a four hour lecture on Neutrogena Facial Moisturizers.

Seattle fans are still incensed, still hopping mad, still feeling back-stabbed by a league that once owned their hearts.

During the early 1990s, the dire and depressing world of the typical Seattle sports fan had suddenly sprung to life.  The college football Huskies were national champions, and yet the professional basketball Seattle Supersonics still owned the town.

Following their defeat to their rival Portland squad in 1991, the Sonics had come to life with the hiring of coach George Karl.

The Sonics upset a heavily favored Golden State Warrior team in the first round of the NBA playoffs during the 1991-92 playoffs before being blown out by the Utah Jazz.

But the fuse had been lit.

The team gifted the city of Seattle the following year in 1992-93, with fifty-five wins and a thrilling seven game playoff series against the Houston Rockets, finished with a triple-overtime win.  Followed by a seven game series against the Charles Barkley-ledPhoenix Suns, in which Dan Majerle would hit shots from miles away.


Game Seven of that year still has Sonic fans miffed, grumbling about an alleged NBA conspiracy that suspiciously had officials calling phantom fouls to send that Sunsteam to a date with a television blockbuster against Michael Jordanand the Chicago Bulls at the 1993 NBA finals.

The same Michael Jordan would retire the following year, while the Seattle Sonics and Houston Rockets both raced out to insurmountable 20 wins against a pittance of single-digit losses.

The Sonics put up 63 wins, their best ever at that point during the 1993-94 season, before inexplicably losing in the first round to the upstart Denver Nuggets, midst a now infamous portrait of Dikembe Mutumbo sprawled across the Seattle Coliseum floor.

But again the Sonics would be back, this time reeling off 57 wins in 1994-95 before losing three of four games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round as they played their season at the Tacoma Dome, as their old home was being transformed into a modern NBA arena with “the best sight lines the league has ever seen,” according to one interviewed-on-video David Stern.

Seven years later Stern would change his tune.

Even with the Mariners signing a new hot-headed manager that signified a new era in baseball, the likes of which the city has never seen since, the Sonics in the 1990s were all fans in Seattle wanted to talk about.


In 1995-96, the Sonics put up a franchise best 64 win season that included winning seven of their first eight playoff games.  A three of four rout over Sacramento, was followed by a four game sweep over Houston, before a raucous seven game win over Utah at the brand new Key Arena in Seattle.  The only thing remaining from the former Seattle Center Coliseum was four rafters that held up the roof.

The next season had an NBA Final series against the Chicago Bulls and a recently-returned Michael Jordan from baseball, for the first time since the glory years of the late 1970’s.  There was Nate McMillen, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman in rainbow-colored hair.

Seasons of 57 wins and 61 wins would follow, even as a disgruntled Shawn Kemp left town in what turned out to be a terrible trade.

For eight straight years, April was a month that started sixty days of excited anticipation in the State of Washington.  Seattle fans camped out for sold-out playoff games in the midst the hoopala of “rallies in the allies” and festivals of professional basketball glee.  Sports talk hosts went nuts.  TV pundits traveled to cities across the land, and Sonic stories led off newscasts from April to June.

And yet a mere decade and pocket change past, the only excitement April now brings is a creepy video featuring former Sonic owner and now most-hated Seattleite Howard Schultz, cowering behind a counter like a little girl, with brutish Costco security guards chasing off any patron clad in Sonic garb.


The Mariners are in the toilet.  The Seahawks are just awful.  The Sounders, who replaced the Sonics with MLS league-best attendance while embarrassing the empty rhetoric of the now-departed NBA, have too, started out sluggish.

And thus gray clouds and cold showers leave Sonic fans wistfully remembering past Aprils, where nights at this time of year were spent sleepless in anticipation of soon-to-come big playoff games.

It wasn’t that long ago that the NBA dominated the Seattle sports scene.  And yet today, three years later, the mere mention of professional basketball gives most fans diarrhea and stomach cramps.

“Sold out” has a different meaning on this cold and dreary spring in Seattle.

View the terrific documentary on the Sonic’s move to Oklahoma City at

Seattle’s Lost Supersonics and The Ironic Message Sent By The NBA

Written by PhilCaldwell

April 11, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Pro Basketball: Time for a Competing Professional League in North America

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This past week the hated and detested commissioner of professional basketball, one pompous David Joel Stern, mentioned on ESDrjsicover_crop_340x234PN’s Bill Simmon’s radio show that he “had regrets” about how both the VancouverGrizzlies and Seattle Supersonics situation went down.

And yet before any tears wandered down the average fan’s chubby little cheeks, giddy with gratitude, folks in the northwest wondered how the one person who single-handedly ruined the markets of an entire region, could now expect those same people to take him seriously?

It was like listening to a used car salesman try to sell a recently-stiffed customer another dented heap with a bad muffler.

Not to be cruel, but Mr. Stern clearly still does not “get it.”

He still did not admit, for instance, his own blatant lies about Seattle’s support of its team while attempting to justify reasons for moving it. Nor did he mention how theNBA showed no loyalty back whatsoever, towards a fan base with four decades of demonstrated crazed passion.

What should Mr. Stern have said?

Well for starters, he could have apologized for his own inaccurate accusations, where he claimed a city that had just built a brand new NBA palace was somehow in the wrong for refusing to build another new palace less than a decade later!

Or perhaps he could have mentioned the NBA’s attempt to break the lease, that his league used to get the building built in the first place!

So David Stern now has regrets?  Why would any NW NBA fan care about this?

Vancouver’s glittering show last year for the Olympic Winter Games, probably didn’t help Stern’s happy meter either. Multiple packed arenas melted ear drums, by Vancouver fans for foreign teams they hardly knew, as they battled for hockey supremacy.

The same fans that the NBA claimed would not support a basketball franchise, were lining the sidelines of everything from snow skiing to ice curling.  Clearly the commissioner was either lying about this too, or had seriously misunderstood the problems in Vancouver like he did in Seattle.

And to make matters worse, another professional sports league seized the opportunity left wide open in the abandoned Northwest.  Major League Soccer not only recognized the potential rivalry games offered between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, but planted three new expansion franchises with plans to showcase these historical rivalries in nationally televised games.

Seattle has astounded the world soccer community with sold out stadiums, for a second tier sport,  demonstrating that Northwest fans are the best in the nation for supporting their teams!

And all this just months after David Stern and his band of nitwits, moved an established team to the sticks, claiming support issues.


You would think the absurdity of all of this might render the beloved commissioner a bit less arrogant!  And yet here was Mr. Stern on ESPN, scolding the interviewer for asking obvious questions of the esteemed commissioner.

It was enough to make the most devoted NBA fan scowl with mockery. What on earth is wrong with this man!?

And now several years after all of this, with the same cities fighting painful budget cuts for essential services due to a depressed economy, Mr Stern is still arguing that new billion dollar arenas should be built in the very cities the NBA stiffed.

A league with severe fiscal issues due to paying mediocre players like former-Sonic Rashard Lewis over $20 million per season, expects tax payers to bail them out?  Why would liberated cities jump back in bed with an unstable league that did this to them?

Clearly David Stern does not understand how disgusted Northwest fans are with him or his league!

In fact Mr Stern probably aught to be more concerned with the huge opportunity his league left two dozen major markets across the nation. No other major sport has as many open sports facilities without teams, courtesy of a bumbling basketball league.

Arenas already-built, empty and draining city funds, are desperate for new tenants.

Rather than threatening cities that already are bitter about how they were treated by the NBA, perhaps a better course would be concern that these same abandoned cities don’t start their own basketball league that would compete with the NBA.

One that is better-behaved, better run, and more fiscally responsible!

FIFA, the world soccer moderator, claims that the best size for a professional sports leagues is from 18-24 teams. More than that is too large. Great news for a new potential basketball conference interested in balanced scheduling!

With all these open markets, a new league could look something like the below:

Western Conference

1)        Vancouver

2)        Seattle

3)        San Jose

4)        Anaheim

5)        Riverside

6)        Long Beach

7)        San Diego

8)        Las Vegas

Central Division

9)       St Louis

10)     Kansas City

11)     Pittsburgh

12)     Baltimore

13)     Lincoln

14)     Montreal

15)     Cincinnati

16)     Kentucky

17)     Chicago (south side)

18)     Chicago (north side)

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Eastern Division

19)     Louisville

20)     Tampa Bay

21)     Jacksonville

22)     Connecticut

23)     New Jersey

24)     Long Island, NY

25)     Buffalo

26)     Edmonton

27)     Birmingham

Obviously these are not the sum total of all the potential open markets, nor are they particularly the best markets. They are merely listed to show the potential of how many markets currently are without teams.

What does this mean?

Simply that the conditions are ripe for a new league. With angry fans vowing they are finished with the NBA, furious over how they have been treated, and cities with empty buildings in a fledgling economy, why not start a new professional league?  It would solve fiscal problems for cities fed up with the NBA.

Most of the potential open markets have long since demonstrated capacity for supporting professional sports. Furthermore, the NBA has proven that moderate markets could work, especially if the league was actally fiscally disciplined with player salaries.

Considering how poorly run the NBA has been over the past 20 years, and considering how out-of-control the NBA’s salary structure is, a new league might very well out-survive the NBA!  It could be the last man standing in a dozen years.

New ideas might make a new league cutting-edge, replacing older leagues with unsolvable problems.

Could cities, or fan bases, own the teams rather than millionaire owners? Could they be structured like the Green Bay Packers, with stock sold and team leaders voted in and out?

With lockouts looming and the NBA threatening contraction, if there was ever a time for a new league with a fresh approach to professional sports, the time is NOW!

For more information, be sure to watch the superb documentary at:

Read part one – Seattle and The Ironic Message Sent By The NBA by Phil Caldwell October 5, 2010, at:

Read part three – NBA’s Financial Situation: David Stern‘s Conflicting Message About the Thunder

David Stern’s Arena Arms Race and How Orlando Raised The Bar

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(Part two of an eight part series on the NBA‘s arena and fiscal strategy, published October & November, 2010) 

When the city of Orlando opened their new $480 million Amway Center earlier this month, it rendered every other arena in the league obsolete.

Magic GM Otis Smith called it “the best building in North America,” according to the Orlando Sentinel, while NBA commissioner David Stern gushed, “There is nothing better than this facility in the world.”

Meanwhile cities like Seattle, Sacramento, Kansas City, St Louis, Milwaukee and Las Vegas wondered how the project got done in this era of blown budgets and a floundering economy?

Contrary to the reception given to Sonic owner Howard Schultz in Washingtonstate while attempting to convince skeptical lawmakers to fund a new facility in spite of Key Arena’s barely-dried paint, in Orlando city leaders were far more receptive.  Plans were being finalized to build a new “events center” that would seat 18,500 people in the new 875,000 square foot facility.

Orlando’s new building is hailed as the most technologically advanced sports arena on the continent.  It boasts seven levels, amenities like bars, restaurants, stores and even a play area for kids.  Each  designed not only to keep fans happy but to improve the bottom line for the team and the city, which share some of the building revenue.

The Orlando Magic’s “Fan Cost Index”—the price of a family of four’s average tickets, food, drink, parking and merchandise as calculated by the industry publication Team Marketing Report—is $234.

That’s among the lowest in the NBA, which has a league average of $289.54.

With more options, Magic execs and city officials hope people will spend more.

Part of downtown’s Master Plan Three, it also involves improvements to the  Citrus Bowl and a new performing arts center in Orlando.

Orlando’s new $480 million Amway Center is over twice the size if their old home, the 367,000 sq ft Amway Arena where the Magic played for over a decade.

Patrons had to climb steps to enter, and were packed into a single concourse while forced to walk up or down more stairs to find their seats.  They wove around long concession lines as they were jammed elbow-to-elbow on the concourse.  After this battle of crowded walkways,  fans eventually made their way to their seats or crowded restrooms.

The old experience was similar to other NBA-deemed inadequate facilities like the 400,000 sq ft Key Arena in Seattle and the 442,000 sq ft Arco Arena in Sacramento.

At the new Amway Center, fans enter at street level, where they’ll find a fantastic 80-foot lobby atrium. They board express escalators or can choose from 18 separate elevators to take them to one of five concourses.  Their seats are a bit more spacious, some as much as four inches wider with more legroom.

Ironically while Orlando’s new palace was opening, NBA Commissioner David Sternwas in New York threatening potential contraction of fiscally shakey existing teams.  Whether an idle threat or merely the first shot fired over next year’s problematic collective bargaining debate, NBA players are likely to be locked out which might doom the 2011-12 season.

In Orlando, local papers claim the Magic put up anywhere from $50-150 million towards the new facility, depending on which report you believe.

Curiously, that is dangerously close to the same amount each of the surviving NBA franchise would be liable for to fold four existing teams, assuming each franchise is valued at $350–450 million.

Kevin Colabro, the former voice of the now-departed Sonics put it this way: “I think the fact that the league swapped Vancouver for Memphis and Seattle for Oklahoma City speaks volumes. It’s all about which city will give the league a building.”

Certainly that is the correct analysis if recent history is any indication, however it is not a new phenomenon.

In May of 2006 the Seattle PI pointed out, via Kevin Quinn, an economics professor atSt. Norbert College in Wisconsin who has studied the stadium-building phenomenon, that “Some sharpie thinks of another revenue stream that can be captured by the team and the next guy wants it, too. It’s a keeping up with the Joneses. I think of it as an arms race,” he said.  “You have this leapfrogging one-upmanship that’s going on.”

In Orlando, the new building rises 15 stories and features a dramatic glass tower and an outdoor public balcony twice as big as its basketball court.  Which is just wonderful for fans of Orlando, but there is no evidence that it actually helps teams win.

How can cities attempting to attract the next available NBA franchise ever hope to convince state legislatures for public financing,  when state budgets are already overblown from the slumping economy?   Pony up half a billion dollars for a team that does not exist?  In Seattle where fans feel back-stabbed by David Stern and the NBA, it is an even more daunting challenge.

Going back and studying the stay of NBA teams since the league was formed in the 1940’s, simple math shows a league-wide average of only 10.5 years.

The lease the Sonics signed to get Key Arena built was an above-average 15 years, which Clay Bennett broke at 13 years.

The LA Clippers are in the middle of a six-year lease at Staples.

The length teams stay in arenas is disturbingly small, given the price tag of building new arenas.

Think of those numbers in comparison to the settlement Seattle’s Mayor Greg Nickels accepted to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City in terms of dollars.   Nickels agreed to let the franchise leave Seattle two years early for $45 million, concerned that the city would be left paying that much in debt for Key Arena once the franchise left, with no certain revenue stream.

Forty-five million dollars divided by two years equals $22,500 per lease year.

Compare that to Orlando’s cost to build this new facility divided by 11 years, or the average length that NBA teams stay where they are, and that equals $43,636,364 million per lease year, assuming the average length of a lease for NBA teams stays constant to what history shows us they are.

The other new trend is for teams to own the Master Lease of the arena, which gives them revenue from events held that have nothing to do with basketball or the NBA.  Which is great for the teams, but makes it even more difficult for communities that funded the arenas to find revenue to pay for the facilities.

It brings up questions of morality in terms of public economics and interest.   Sports fans are a minority in nearly every city.

How can cities afford to spend this kind of money on a facility to host a franchise that most people do not care about?   And what about the activities that others DO care about that are not sports-related?

Are cities supposed to spend half a billion on their hobbies, too?  How many hobbies are cities supposed to build facilities for?

Add to that the tendency of franchise owners to break leases early, and it seems unlikely that cities can continue to fund these types of projects without far longer leases and more assurance from the NBA to honor those leases.

Especially when owners of these franchises have demonstrated, as they did in Seattle, that they can escape leases early by via smooth talking corporate lawyers.

Lawyers that frankly, are better than the lawyers cities can afford!



Read Phil’s latest article on this subject at:


Read part one – Seattle and The Ironic Message Sent By The NBA by Phil Caldwell October 5, 2010, at:


Read part three – NBA’s Financial Situation: David Stern‘s Conflicting Message About the Thunder

Written by PhilCaldwell

October 30, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Seattle and the message sent by the NBA

with 53 comments

Two years ago the NBA sent every city in America a message.

The NBA allowed the hijacking of the beloved Seattle Sonics and their 41-year history to Oklahoma City.

You would think that with this much time passed, fan anger and the hatred for the parties that did this might have mellowed. But if anything anger has intensified with most Sonic fans insisting they are finished with the NBA and all that it stands for.


Efforts to promote the rival Trailblazers have been met with empty stares and apathy, with fans feeling insulted once again by the league that simply does not, nor has ever, liked or understood the city of Seattle.

Fans still detest the names of David Stern, Clay Bennett and Howard Shultz—more so today than ever. And yet there is nothing that will cause more pain in Seattle than their former team reaching the finals without them. It would be the colossal  “turning the knife” in the hearts of suffering Sonic fans.

There were many that felt this whole ordeal had more to do with the hated commissioner sending a message to other cities for daring to not hand over taxpayer money than it did Seattle’s support for their team. Seattle had paid their penance and funded over a billion dollars for new stadiums, starting with a new Key Arena in 1994, Safeco Field in 1995, and Qwest Field in 1998.

Commissioner David Stern insists Seattle ignored needs of the NBA Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Surely that would be enough to secure team commitments for at least a half-century.

But just over a decade later, commissioner David Stern publicly pouted that ”Seattle funded two new stadiums but not one for the NBA.”


More than any other statement, that one infuriated the state of Washington—from the lowly tax payer clear up to the legislature fighting this battle with the NBA. It was a blatant lie. He knew it and we knew it, but sadly the rest of the country did not.

How had things deteriorated to this level so quickly?

A mere eight years earlier Seattle had basked with pride over the brand new sparkling arena they handed over to the Sonics in 1994. Stern himself gloated one evening to a local reporter about the sight lines and the state-of-the-art facility.

A decade later he was whining about the building, calling it dilapidated and not adequate for our league. He claimed Seattle had cold-shouldered the NBA’s needs and built arenas for the other two leagues while ignoring the NBA. Thus a larger and more expensive venue needed to be built.

Seattle's Nate McMillan during 1996 NBA finals at Key Arena Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Seattle felt betrayed.

Especially when those in favor of spending taxpayer funds in the first place were still paying for it politically, fighting off opponent’s arguments who insisted the money had been inappropriately donated to arrogant unappreciative billionaires.

In fact, the opposition had been so riled up over what happened in the 1990s with taxpayer money that they persuaded Seattle voters to pass measures decreeing no more funds would ever be spent on these kinds of ventures.

Seattle’s leadership argued David Stern’s claims were outrageous and insulting fabrications because the only remaining parts of the original 1962 Seattle Colosseum were four rafters and part of the upper bowl. The rest of the arena had been completely rebuilt from the ground up with a then-staggering $75 million price tag, paid for with taxpayer money that opponents howled should have gone to more important things like schools and roads.

Since Seattle had done their part—and since that had cost some politicians their jobs—fans assumed Commissioner Stern would honor the community sacrifice by ensuring the team stayed where it originated. But less than a decade later here he was with team owners, demanding a new arena again while rolling out legal language maneuvering that would have made Bill Clinton proud.

“Seattle is not supporting their team” he claimed, “the arena is woefully inadequate for NBA standards.” And worse was that frustrated, yet devoted fans of the Sonics were helpless to stop the injustice, especially with a wide-eyed Oklahoma City willing to donate the farm to attract the team.

David Stern, the one person who fans felt responsible for supervising and stopping league shenanigans, was gleefully part of the scam, and this suggested league cronyism at its worst.

The entire Puget Sound community felt back-stabbed and cheated. It was like a young family who saved for years to make a $10,000 deposit on a new house only to have the builder take the money and leave town.

Seattle had met the demands of an obscenely wealthy league and paid millions against their better judgment, but those who signed the deal to get that investment took the money and left, taunting the community as they did so.

Last year the very same David Stern, cornered in Las Vegas for a scant two-minute interview after crossing the path of a Seattle newspaper columnist in an airport, once again grumbled that ”the footprint of Key Arena isn’t big enough.”

It was an argument often heard during the breakup that never made any sense to the average fan.

The only reason to demand a larger footprint would be to allow a hockey arena under the basketball court. Why, Sonic fans wondered, would the NBA demand a hockey arena be under their basketball floor? The argument was particularly absurd since previous Sonic owner Barry Ackerley had demanded Key Arena be built specifically so that no NHL team could ever be hosted by the facility.Since the NBA demands the profits from stores and restaurants and parking, even if another professional team shares the arena, how could this possibly benefit the community?

Sonics vs Lakers during final season in Seattle Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

But more importantly is the very real and disturbing fact that the lease signed in 1994 in Seattle to get Key Arena funded in the first place,  was tossed aside by the NBA the minute other teams managed to negotiate better deals from other cities!

David Stern was determined to use the Seattle situation to teach other cities a lesson, and he did!

“If you resist NBA cash demands, cities, we will move your franchise, and we’re not concerned with how much history your team has in your community.”

Or to put it otherwise:  “Cities are suckers to trust professional sports leagues!”

Especially this one.

Don’t assume wealthy team owners will honor the deals they sign!

Leases that you thought meant long-term security for  your team ……… mean no such thing to franchise owners!  Not when smooth-talking lawyers can break those leases!

You want proof?  Look at what happened in Seattle!

Nice message David.  Funny how victories eventually come back to haunt you!

This article can also been seen posted in BleacherReport at: