Phil Caldwell

Sports Blogging With a Grin

Posts Tagged ‘Seattle NBA Arena

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

David Stern and the NBA Shoot Themselves in the Other Foot Too!

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Sonicjerseyandkevindurant_crop_340x234This past weekend, snippets of Seattle Supersonic fans were on national TV, behind the Oklahoma City Thunder bench, fervently rooting for the Denver Nuggets, as a reminder that Sonic fans are not about to forgive the NBA for what they did to one of their most historic franchises.

In 2008, the NBA and the new owner of the Sonics, one Clayton Flat-topped Bennett, uprooted the Seattle Supersonics from four decades of loyal fan support in the Puget Sound area, and moved it across the country to a market a fraction the size.

Critics screamed that it was a callous payback favor from the commissioner to one of his favored friends.

Included in the dirty dealing, was the NBA sending a pack of corporate lawyers to Seattle to break the lease the league had used as leverage to get Key Arena built in 1994.

In the process, David Stern claimed on national tv,  incorrect build dates for that facility of three decades prior, claiming the City of Seattle had ignored the NBA in favor of facilities for professional football and baseball.

Fans and city leaders in Seattle were absolutely livid.  It was not the truth, but nobody was reporting on the false information.

What is the truth, is that the Seattle Coliseum was built in 1962, not Key Arena.


The Seattle Coliseum had been completely torn down and gutted in 1994, with the lower portion of the arena lowered some 30 feet, new luxury suits added, and a complete interior rebuilt with new rest rooms and food vendor locations added throughout.

The only thing “saved” from the old project was four rafters and the upper bowl concrete.

Seattle had this weird idea about saving the traditional look of the original Coliseum, but beyond that, it was an entirely new facility.  Even the roof had been replaced, contrary to what Stern and Bennett were claiming as reasons to justify moving the team.

Thus Stern’s 2008 proclamation that Key Arena was built in 1962, is complete fiction.

Seattle had done exactly the opposite of what David Stern claimed in that press conference.   The city built the NBA it’s facility first, as the priority project.

David Stern obviously knew this, thus every fan in Seattle was stunned to learn the lengths that the commissioner of the NBA would go, to justify a franchise move, when it was he, the commissioner, that was supposed to be policing against this kind of franchise owner deviousness.

As the Thunder plow their way through the NBA playoffs this month, fans in Seattle are feeling especially backstabbed.   The success of today’s OKC “Thunder” team is a direct result of what Clay Bennett was doing to Seattle in the years leading up to the move.


The team was stripped bare of talent, with beloved stars traded away for high draft picks in effort to erode fan support.  Players were kept away from local talk shows and media outlets, and the team went out of it’s way to alienate Seattle fans.

Insults to the community were thus not only common, but as it turned out from emails that were discovered later, part of Clay Bennett’s strategy.  Once the fan base was destroyed, then the claim was made that Seattle didn’t support the team.

An absolute absurd claim, considering how the Seattle Supersonics took on near religious cult status, following the team’s two finals appearances in the 1978 & 1979.

Once the the Sonics won the title in 1979, the team relocated to the now imploded Kingdome, where crowds of 35-45,000 people for regular season games were the norm.

Seattle simply could not get enough of their Supersonics.

A decade of mediocrity later,  the team went through a second re-morph sis in the early 1990’s.   Tickets were impossible to find, fan fervor was at an all-time high, and the Sonics re-emerged as a league leader in wins, for seven straight seasons.

The NBA was king of the hill in the State of Washington.

So much so that in 1992, talk rumbled about how the old Seattle Coliseum needed replaced with a new facility.  Thus the Sonics spent one full season playing their home games at the Tacoma Dome 45 miles south of Seattle, and Seattle Coliseum was completely torn down and rebuilt into what it is today.

113145758_crop_340x234Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Members of the Seattle community involved with all of this, insist David Stern himself was intimately involved with both the planning and approval of that new facility back in the early 1990s.  And yet a mere seven years later, here was the same David Stern arguing on behalf of the Sonics about how dilapidated and inadequate both the arena and the lease were, demanding to renegotiate.

Which brings up the colossal bedufflement wreaked upon the inhabitants of the Puget Sound, and entire country as it turns out in 2008.  The lease that the NBA and the Thunder franchise ultimately were successful in breaking.

Back in 1993, the Sonics and the NBA agreed to a lease that would fund this new facility called Key Arena, which got the building built.

But when the team had been sold a decade later, the new owner, Clay Bennett, was determined to move the team to his home state.  So he attacked that lease.

Seattle responded by suing to enforce the lease, and the NBA responded by sending a team of corporate lawyers expert at breaking leases.  In the end, the City of Seattle, unsure about how the case would turn out, chose to settle.

Now why is that relevant to anyone outside of Seattle?

Because it set a new precedent that is catastrophic to professional sports leagues, that reaches far beyond the Seattle situation, and it affects every single professional sport dependent on stadiums or arenas.

113132960_crop_340x234Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Any time the NBA, or NFL, NHL, MLB, MLS,  feels they want to break a lease, for any reason whatsoever, just or unjust, apparently all they need to do is send in their team of expert lease-law lawyers to break the lease. Cities have little defense, since most cities don’t have the money for huge expensive legal teams, and are thus represented by low rent nerds wearing JC Penny leisure suits.

So in the Seattle case, as one would expect, the NBA essentially got everything they wanted. But in reality, it may have been more like winning a battle but losing the war.  It is hard to measure how much damage all of this caused future NBA efforts to get new facilities built.

Say, for example, the same City of Seattle builds the NBA a new arena to lure a team back, as David Stern is demanding.  What would keep the NBA from doing exactly the same thing they just did?  If you’re a Seattle City councilperson, would YOU vote for an arena, knowing what the NBA did you last time?

Seven years.  A mere seven years after it opened, Sonic team owners and David Stern were whining about how bad they had it, with their lease.  Seven years.

Five years after that, they moved the team, lying about how it was a stadium and fan support issue.

Why, therefore, would Seattle, or any other city council, trust the NBA with a billion dollars of taxpayer money?!

It would be foolheartedness to trust owners of professional sports teams, after this. And the scary part is that the original owner who signed the lease, was long gone by the time all of this went down.

A historic team was sold for an over-inflated price, in a major league market, but was allowed to move to a minor league market solely because the owner wanted to do this. That was ONLY reason.

Contrary to what was said by the commissioner of basketball, it had nothing to do with Seattle’s support of the team, or the stadium, or anything else.

Rumors still persist that David Stern wanted to make an example of Seattle, as to what happens when a league city resists NBA demands, and he certainly succeeded at doing that.

But his example has backfired.

Since cities obviously cannot trust the NBA to live up to the leases they sign, they should probably plan on financing their own buildings in the future.

This isn’t speculation either. This is documented history. This is what they did.

All the opposition (in ANY city) needs to do from here on out, is point to the Seattle situation as reason why that community cannot and should not, trust wealthy billionaires with community tax money.

And then if that wasn’t damning enough for future NBA efforts, two weeks ago they put Clay Bennett in charge of franchise locations, to end any doubt at all about remorse.

Apparently not only are they proud of what they did in Seattle, but are deliberately taunting those they did this to.

Like one shot foot wasn’t enough, they decided to shoot the other foot too.

Absolutely amazing PR stupidity on the NBA’s part!

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

Read more from the same author at:  Ghost of Supersonics Hovers over NBA, Kings Move

Written by PhilCaldwell

April 25, 2011 at 3:17 pm

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

Seattle Sonics vs Rep Tina Orwall’s Bill – Childlike Approach to Adult Problem!

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Howardandclay_crop_340x234Representative Tina Orwall, a Democrat from Des Moines,Washington, introduced legislation in Olympia that would extend the “Sports Tax” that paid for Seattle sports stadiums, to become a permanent tax for “Arts and Culture.”

This is the same tax that lawmakers promised voters would only be temporary until all the sports facilities were paid off, thus Orwall’s bill makes many of us cranky on several fronts.

The below is from the article in the Seattle Times, written by Molly Rosbach on the arts and culture bill:,

“The taxes outlined in the House bill are currently going toward paying off the Kingdome, Safeco Field and Qwest Field. The Safeco Field debt is expected to be paid within the year. The House bill extends the 0.5 percent restaurant tax until 2015, even if the Safeco debt is paid off.

“Under the measure, the 3 percent car rental tax and 2 percent hotel tax are extended indefinitely to raise revenue for an expansion of the Washington State Convention Center, affordable housing and Pioneer Square-International District revitalization projects in Seattle.”

Being your basic politician that could fill up several hot air balloons with used car sales rhetoric, Representative Ross Hunter, a Democrat from Medina, claimed:

“It is important to point out that this bill will result in 4,500 new construction jobs and 3,000 long-term jobs in hospitality, and that it is important to have that growth in King County.”  


If jobs are the goal, then why were politicians with Hunter’s concerns so hostile to the Seattle Supersonics while they were in town, since they too created thousands of jobs for the poor suffering mass of unemployed?

Instead we had a legislature that was fairly hostile to the changing business climate of the Sonics, while this area was still in control of the team.

We all understand why. The city built what we all thought was a state-of-the-art arena, and then a decade later we were told the arena was dilapidated and inadequate before the paint had dried.  If the Mariners and Seahawks tried that same approach today, they’d probably receive a similar reaction.

But is it the NBA we should be blaming?

Aren’t the real villans those who sold the Key Arena project to the community in the first place?

Remember, Key Arena was a compromise project, due to fierce opposition to funding a new building for professional sports.  The same rhetoric we’re hearing today.

If our leaders ignored the needs of the NBA before approving Key Arena, how is it fair to now blame the NBA for the State of Washington building an inadequate facility for long-term use?  We don’t see this problem in Chicago, or other arenas that were built in the mid 1990’s!

The real question is how does it make sense to exclude what potentially could make a project profitable in the long run?

Isn’t there a way to make the convention center project dovetail into an arena project for the NBA and NHL, so that both the sports fan and arts enthusiast win?  Have there been any studies done?  Why not make the two buildings business compatible?

Why does it have to be one or the other?

Basically Tina Orwall, and especially Representative Hasegowa who introduced this silly amendment demanding that no funds could go to professional sports, propose emotional versions of what should be a rational solution. There really is no reason to exclude potential revenue streams, even if it is from the hated NBA!

For more on that angle, let’s take a look at the opinion from Michael Gastineau of KJR950am. Local and beloved radio sports show host, who on Monday 3/7-2011, argued the following during his afternoon gig:

  • “Back in 1995, voters did not reject measures to fund the building of Safeco and Qwest Fields, as so many claim.  They voted down, by a very narrow measure, a referendum to remodel the Kingdome.  Only after legislators realized how strong public support was for keeping the Mariners and Seahawks in town, did they agree to pass legislation to fund Safeco Field.


  • “Gas and his KRJ colleagues broadcast at all hours of the day, for the stadium tax that ultimately did build Safeco Field, plus help pay off the Kingdome.  But it was at great personal cost to himself and his colleagues.


  • “The people that opposed the measure then, are mostly from the same political camp that now proposes to hijack the tax for other issues that have nothing to do with sports, all while specifically writing into this new bill, that future funds can never go towards sports facilities for professional athletes.

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  • “The tax was sold as temporary and would go away.  Thus lawmakers today are making him look bad and his colleagues look bad.


  • “Since the tax has always been referred to as a Sports Tax, and since it has been wildly successful to the point of paying off several stadiums early, long before they were expected to be paid off, wouldn’t it make more sense to use future funds to help with a new facility for the NHL and NBA?


All excellent points that nobody in Olympia is addressing.

As a former Sonics multi-season ticket-holder and one of many jilted Seattle fans, I too am displeased with the commissioner of professional basketball.  In fact if it were up to me, David Stern would be adrift somewhere off the coast of Yemen.

Nor am I, like most of you, pleased with the self-serving actions of one former-Sonics owner Howard Schultz, who shortly after announcing his responsibility to protect the Sonics as a community asset, committed the ultimate act of treason for extra profit to himself.

But I also appreciate that these fine gentlemen, or others like them, are the guys we have to do business with.  So we can either spend the next four decades making ourselves feel good while flipping them all off, or we can get to work on a viable plan that kills many birds with few stones.

When they were built, corners were cut at both the Kingdome and Key Arena.  In both cases that came back to bite us.


Seattle has made the same mistake twice, wasted hundreds of millions of dollars in the process, and in the end lost a professional basketball team.  Lost revenue streams directly linked to the absence of professional hockey and basketball in this city, with outdated facilities going mostly unused.

Rather than continuing on this path, perhaps the legislature in Olympia could come up with long term solutions to both host teams AND generate much-needed revenue?  Perhaps actual business people could work on a plan, instead of politicians who have never run an actual business?

To specifically declare that the “Arts and Culture” tax not be used for an arena, that could potentially host events for arts and culture, makes as much sense as banning automobiles from gas stations. It is not a solution, but rather is more “children throwing dirt clods at other children.”

I would suggest the politicians in this city and state, grow up and behave like adults.

That is not to say that what the NBA did to Seattle is acceptable.  It wasn’t. If we ever do business again with the NBA, the city needs to bring that issue up and beat David Stern over the head with it.  Leases should be for 50 years, not 15 years, with increased and more effective consequences in lease language.

But it’s time to get over what happened.  Learn from it, yes.  Hold grudges, no.  Stop introducing bills that ultimately hurt both sports lovers AND haters alike.  Start thinking realistically and long term.

Like them or not, professional sports are a fundamental ingredient to the culture in this country, and they earn communities millions from taxes and tourists when done correctly.  They are great publicity for cities with teams, and they are dovetailed into the arts of each city.

Effective planning requires co-operation from all involved, and it requires all parties working together to make it happen. When one camp accuses the other camp of bogus motives and goals, it hurts BOTH camps.

So the choice has never been “art & culture” vs sports. The choice is either behaving like adults vs  behaving like little kids.  Sadly Representative Orwall’s bill represents the later!

See the full series of six articles on this topic, beginning with part one at:

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