In an exclusive Q&A, Peter Nordstrom explains why he wants to bring the NBA back to Seattle and his frustration about the Sonics leaving.
His father once wrote that owning the Seahawks was a lot of fun and a pretty good financial investment, even if the NFL franchise did bring its own set of challenges.
An enthusiasm for sports-team ownership must run in the family, because Peter Nordstrom, president of merchandising at Seattle-based retailer Nordstrom, now wants to help bring an NBA franchise back to Seattle.
Along with his younger brother, Erik, he’s part of a group led by San Francisco hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen that’s trying to build a Seattle arena in the Sodo District for an NBA franchise. Also part of the investor group is Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
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In a telephone interview Tuesday from Park City, Utah, where he’s attending a Nordstrom board of directors meeting, Peter Nordstrom described himself as a longtime basketball fan who was heartbroken by the Sonics’ move to Oklahoma City four years ago.
He owned a “very small piece” of the club when Howard Schultz sold it to an investment group headed by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett in 2006.
“There were 57, 58 people in that ownership group, but I was one of a nine-member board of directors,” he recalled. “It was a very close vote. And while I opposed the sale, we didn’t have a clear path to success.”
The Nordstrom family owned the Seahawks from 1976 to 1988. In his 2007 memoir, “Leave It Better Than You Found It,” Peter’s father, Bruce, wrote that team ownership wasn’t “always roses” and even affected the family business.
“We’d have cases of people closing their charge accounts when we’d lose a game,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of that, but there was enough to make you cringe.”
Peter Nordstrom, who would not give details of the ownership structure, talked Tuesday about his concerns, as well as his reasons for getting involved. Here’s an edited transcript of that conversation:
Q: What’s your interest in bringing an NBA team back to Seattle?
Nordstrom: I think it’s two things. It’s a personal interest in the subject. I’m a fan. It was pretty heartbreaking to me when the team left. And it makes me feel badly that the team left while I was involved in it.
If I could be in a position to bring it back, that’s something I’m interested in. Beyond that, it just seems like it would be a really good community asset.
Q: Did you consider stepping up to buy the team before its move to Oklahoma City?
Nordstrom: I couldn’t afford that. There wasn’t a faction within our group that was going to step up and buy it. And there weren’t any other local owners who were going to step up and buy it.
Q: What’s your association with Steve Ballmer and Chris Hansen? Do you go way back? Is there a backstory Seattleites might be interested in?
Nordstrom: No backstory. I just met Chris a few months ago, through (former Sonics exec) Wally Walker. I was already aware he was interested in pursuing a team and an arena. Chris was talking to Steve on a parallel track. It came together relatively quickly.
Q: Was this also a lifetime dream of yours?
Nordstrom: I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to be involved in. Before, there was no clear path to success. That’s why the team got sold. I was just hoping to buy time until some sort of solution came forward. I wanted to hear what (Hansen’s) plan was.
The fact that I’d been through this before enabled me to ask some constructive questions.
Q: Hansen has been the public face of the arena proposal. Will you be taking a more visible leadership role?
Nordstrom: I don’t think so. I’m not real comfortable being front and center on this. Chris does a fantastic job at this, and he’s very knowledgeable. We just want to support him to make this work.
Q: Does the arena have to be in Sodo to win your support? Would a Bellevue arena be a deal-breaker?
Nordstrom: Chris actually looked at all the different scenarios. They all have challenges. Considering all factors, we believe this to be the best location. From everything that’s been studied … this is the solution.
Q: Do you worry about any blowback to the Nordstrom business if things don’t work out?
Nordstrom: Yes. As I told Chris, Steve, Erik and I all are in the same boat. We have too much to lose if this is a big controversial lightning rod. It doesn’t make any sense to get attached to anything that’s controversial and divisive. If that’s what it deteriorates to, then I don’t think any of us would be involved. It’s intended to be a completely separate thing from our business.
Q: What will this do for Seattle?
Nordstrom: I think there are a lot of civic benefits. It’s an economic catalyst for the city in terms of creating jobs and revenue.
Q: Have you thought of a name for the team?
Nordstrom: We haven’t gotten all the way there. The naming rights of the Sonics stayed with the city of Seattle. I think our going-in approach is that it would be the Sonics. But we haven’t talked about that.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: We have a lot of confidence in Chris. We think he’s got a great plan. We’re flattered to be a part of it. And we hope we can enable it to happen. We’re anxious to be part of a positive solution for the community.
Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or firstname.lastname@example.org