As All-Star weekend hits its stride Saturday and Sunday, the question looms large -- will Seattle as a city again get to experience this?
HOUSTON — The smile has been pasted on Isaiah Thomas’ face since he arrived Thursday for his first NBA All-Star weekend.
“I mean, not everybody gets to experience this,” said Thomas, the former Washington and Curtis High School guard who played Friday night in the Rising Stars Challenge.
And as All-Star weekend hits its stride Saturday and Sunday, the question looms large — will Seattle as a city again get to experience this?
The reality is that while there is much discussion of that topic here, the answers won’t come until April, when the NBA Board of Governors meets in New York. It is the board that will vote on whether to approve the sale of the Sacramento Kings to a group led by Chris Hansen that would move them to Seattle for the 2013-14 season.
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Undoubtedly, though, the future of the Kings and of basketball in Sacramento and Seattle will be one of the hot topics when NBA commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver, who will become commissioner when Stern retires Feb. 1, 2014, hold their annual news conference Saturday. The news conference generally serves as an NBA state of the union address, and everything Stern says will be parsed endlessly by people in each city looking for clues.
Stern, however, has already tipped his hand to not expect much clarity during a couple of impromptu media appearances the past two days. Stern has answered most questions with intentional vagueness, mostly sending the message that the process has yet to play out.
Typical was his response in a brief press gathering Thursday that it would be a good idea if an NBA team returned to Seattle and it would “not be a good one” for an NBA team to leave Sacramento.
Certain to have a more forceful stance is Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, who arrived Friday intending to lobby as many NBA owners and other league officials on behalf of keeping the Kings in Sacramento.
“First of all, they know I’m not going to give up,” he said, according to CBS-13 in Sacramento.
It’s the second straight year Johnson has attended the All-Star Game, attempting to keep the Kings in town. Last year, he was trying to hammer out an arena deal with the current owners, the Maloofs — a deal agreed to before the Maloof family killed it later in the spring.
Now he’s hoping to put together an ownership group that can make an offer similar to that produced by the Seattle group, while also assembling a viable plan for a new arena.
“Done this dance,” Johnson said. “Been part of this rodeo.”
Johnson had hoped to come here having already announced the names of the key figures in the ownership group and the details of the arena plan. Earlier this week, though, he explained that the deal is “complicated” and needed a bit more time. He said that shouldn’t be taken as Sacramento having issues putting a deal together, though, saying it will get done by March 1.
That, he said, was the message he would give to those he talks to, that Sacramento is continuing the fight.
Among the owners Johnson figures to encounter is Clay Bennett, who bought the Sonics in 2006 and moved them to Oklahoma City in 2008 and now is the head of the NBA’s relocation committee. Bennett told the Sacramento Bee the combined relocation and finance committee is “engaged” in the issue.
Before Bennett led the Sonics out of town after 41 years, Seattle hosted two All-Star Games, events that illustrated greatly the changes in the league in that time.
The first came in 1974 and was held on a Tuesday night, players arriving with little fanfare and leaving shortly afterward. A crowd of 14,360 watched the West beat the East 134-123.
The second came in 1987 at the beginning of the game turning into a multiday event. Michael Jordan won his first slam-dunk contest on the Saturday before the game at what was then known as the Seattle Center Coliseum. A crowd of 34,275 packed the Kingdome the next day to watch Seattle’s Tom Chambers score 34 points to win the MVP award as the West beat the East 154-149 in overtime.
Now, the game has evolved into almost a weeklong celebration of the game — the NBA’s version of Super Bowl week — one that pays off handsomely for the host city.
Estimates are visitors will spend from $60 million to $100 million this weekend. Roughly 50,000 visitors are expected along with three days of activities. An NBA Jam Session filled with games and other activities will draw thousands to a nearby convention center.
Maybe the best indicator of the kind of crowd the weekend attracts? One media report said Houston has roughly 1,600 luxury vehicles for rent — and all are spoken for this weekend.
Next year’s NBA All-Star Game will be held in New Orleans.
While Sacramento is doing what it can to bar the door, Seattle hopes by then it will again be an invited guest.
For now, the wait for resolution continues.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @bcondotta