So Chris Hansen, low-key arena investor turned Sonics saint, can do wrong.
He can do awful, actually, secretly paying $100,000 to help fund the opposition of the Sacramento Kings’ plan for a new arena.
He can do foolish, too, because it’s puzzling why he would take such a risk considering California law mandates the public disclosure of this type of donation.
And he can do dirty and conniving and hypocritical, all of which should elicit two reactions.
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1. Shame on you.
2. It was only a matter of time.
Hansen deserves every degree of the heat he’s taking for his underhanded act in the aftermath of his group’s failed bid to relocate the Kings to Seattle. Many will consider the apologetic, 286-word statement he released Friday an insufficient attempt to save face, and he must live with how difficult it is to make amends in our skeptical society. The amount of damage he did to Seattle’s hopes to lure back the NBA is unknown right now, but it would be naïve to brush off the mistake as a non-factor.
He messed up, big time.
He messed up, for the first time, after 20 months in the limelight without a major hiccup.
But excuse me for stopping the Hansen lashing right there. Excuse me for being neither shocked nor outraged. I’m all for Hansen suffering the consequences of embarrassment, a possible civil penalty of up to $100,000 in California and having to rebuild his previously trustworthy reputation with Seattle citizens and political leaders, the NBA league office and his Sonics arena investors (whom Hansen said weren’t involved with — and weren’t aware of — his poor decision). And I’m sure Sacramento would appreciate it if Hansen kept his promise to, finally, let that city be. However, let’s not get carried away pondering punishment.
Why? Because, sadly, Hansen’s shady move is not unheard of in big-business dealings, and they don’t get much bigger than the NBA, one of the Big 3 American sports leagues. More than anything, it’s shocking that he got caught. Rookie move. The best are far slicker.
“I made a mistake I regret,” Hansen said to begin his statement.
It would’ve been more honest if he had said, “I made a mistake that became public because I don’t have enough practice at this.”
Hansen is a decent man. I’ve dealt with him enough, scrutinized him enough, to know that. He got caught up in the competition, and rich people always think they can solve problems with more money. Rich people don’t like to hear “no.”
Some anti-arena folks want this to be the end of Hansen in Seattle. They want this to inspire city and county leaders to tear apart the memorandum of understanding they have with Hansen to build a new Sodo arena. They want to be sanctimonious and pretend there’s nothing dirty about politics and big business. But they’re thinking more about their agenda than reality.
There’s no defending what Hansen did. But let’s not make him out to be some rare deviant. Consider the past seven years or so in this NBA fight as evidence.
Remember Clay Bennett’s emails with his partners that clearly proved a conspiracy to move the team without honoring their contractual “good-faith, best efforts” to keep the team in Seattle? Remember “I’m a man possessed,” and remember how David Stern essentially shrugged it off? Remember all of the lies Stern has told and the back-room deals he has made throughout this entire saga?
Heck, remember all the hypocritical and borderline inappropriate things the Mariners have tried to do to hinder another sports facility from being built in Sodo?
Yes, Hansen is out of his mind to try to help the Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork’s petition campaign to stop the Kings’ arena momentum. Yes, it makes no sense for someone who worked out a deal to receive $200 million in public funds to help a group oppose the Kings getting public funds. But it’s no crazier than the Mariners trying to protect their heavily public-funded stadium by helping the Port of Seattle’s arena opposition and trying to be an environmental study watchdog.
At least Hansen didn’t try to pull this moral deception on his own city.
The great disappointment is that you hoped Hansen would be different. At times, he seemed impervious to corruption as he tried to bring back the Sonics with great class and pragmatism. Some supporters even told him privately that he would have to get dirty if he wanted to win. He was even referred to as too “Seattle nice” in the media.
Then, as he lost the relocation fight with Sacramento, he got dirty. And he got caught.
Now what? Well, he had better kiss a lot of tail, have a lot of make-good conversations and perhaps do something to support Sacramento to appease the NBA. It might even be best if Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took a permanent lead in dealing with the NBA.
Beyond that, however, this situation is rectifiable. It won’t be easy, but it can be smoothed over.
If NBA owners are being truthful, they know Hansen did something that many of them might’ve done in frustration. Some have done worse, whether they’ve been publicly exposed or not.
Hansen should be ashamed and remorseful, and plenty will let him know that. But there will be some, with big pockets and bigger egos, who will quietly whisper something else when thinking about the once-pristine rich guy who decided to get dirty.
Welcome to the club.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org