Struggling NBA teams will use Seattle as a threat to get better deals, but that doesn't mean a team will land here any time soon.
Psst! I think I saw Wally Walker in the French Quarter this week, trying to convince New Orleans Hornets owner George Shinn that basketball and Bourbon Street don’t mix.
Psst! Wasn’t that Wally Walker I saw talking to owner Herb Simon, telling him the Pacers should move to Seattle at the end of their new three-year deal with the city of Indianapolis?
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There was a brief cardio-flutter Monday when the story surfaced that former Sonics president Wally Walker met with Sacramento Kings owner George Maloof.
If you were an NBA fan living in Seattle, maybe you got irrational for just a minute. Maybe you thought the Kings really were coming to town.
Maybe, for just that minute, you closed your eyes and dreamed about a new team playing in a new Key.
Was Walker interested in brokering a deal for the Maloofs to sell the team to the same Steve Ballmer-led group that made an 11th-hour bid two years ago to buy the Sonics and help finance the remodeling of KeyArena?
Or was he trying to convince the Kings’ owners that they should keep the team and move to Seattle?
Or was this nothing? A false alarm? A flutter?
Is that the question this city’s NBA fans are reduced to asking?
Could he be in Memphis, telling owner Michael Heisley that Seattle would open its arms to Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo; that this exciting, emerging club would be embraced by a city that is desperately seeking a winner?
From the get-go, the story of Walker’s meeting with Maloof felt a little quixotic.
The truth is, there is no groundswell to bring the NBA back to Seattle. As much as this city needs a first-class arena, as much as Lower Queen Anne needs an economic shot in the arm, there is nobody out there rallying the troops.
There are no politicians promising to return basketball to this town. There is no leader like Ballmer stepping up publicly and convincing people of the positive impact an NBA franchise can have on this city.
There’s no juice for the game.
The Seahawks had Paul Allen pushing for the building that became Qwest Field.
The Mariners had the miracle of 1995 that turned Seattle into a baseball town and got Safeco Field built. They had Lou Piniella, Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson to rally around.
The Sonics had only their fans. They never had that one guy with enough clout, with enough money and enough political leverage who could stand in front of a crowd and say, “I’m here to save this team.”
If basketball ever is to return to this town (and it pains me to say, I don’t see it happening soon) the movement will need powerful leadership.
In the meantime, Seattle in 2010 resembles Tampa in the mid-1990s. It is merely the threat city like Tampa was when former owner Jeff Smulyan was this close to moving the Mariners.
NBA owners can use the illusion of Seattle as bait, telling legislatures and city councils, “If I don’t get a new arena, or new tax breaks, I’m going to Seattle.”
But it will be a hollow threat.
The timing is all wrong.
Rightly or wrongly, people were turned off by the way LeBron James’ “decision” to move to Miami came down. Fans are upset that James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade found a way to beat the system and turn the Miami Heat into the league’s latest super team.
And the threat of a lockout before the 2011-12 season is real. Imagine trying to sell the idea of NBA basketball to legislators in Olympia with a work stoppage looming.
So all we can do is dream and play another game of Where’s Wally?
Is he huddling with Ballmer, putting the final touches on a proposal to buy the Grizzlies?
Is he meeting with Michael Jordan in Charlotte, trying to make MJ believe that Seattle is the Promised Land?
Is he riding, like Don Quixote, tilting at every wobbly windmill of an NBA franchise, looking for the right deal to get a team back in Seattle?
But although there are plenty of foundering franchises in the NBA, it is mere fantasy to believe that one of them soon will be landing in Seattle.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org