When passionate sports fans conflate a step toward building a spec arena with actually having an NBA team, the economy could lose big.

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When the hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen says something about his Sodo arena scheme, many people leap to the conclusion that “the Sonics are coming back!” As in this week’s announcement that Hansen and his partners propose to build the $500 million venue with private funding.

Now if only that nasty Port of Seattle would get out of the way, quit whining about Occidental Avenue and we could get our Sonics back!

And maybe that would happen. Maybe it’s a first step to at least bringing an NHL franchise to Seattle. But I find no convincing evidence that Hansen can bring an NBA team here. For one thing, the big dog who had the means, Steve Ballmer, sailed for LA.

Second, Hansen didn’t make friends at the NBA by anonymously making a $100,000 contribution to an effort to undercut a new arena for the Sacramento Kings (he and two consultants paid a $50,000 fine). The “thinking” being that if Sacramento didn’t build a new palace, the Kings would decamp for Sea-town.

Third, the NBA head shed doesn’t seem to like Seattle anyway — it let the Okies take the franchise to OKC. Maybe minds could be changed, but if the NHL already has a team here, the NBA would take a hard look at the economics. Yes, we’re a rich metro and within the population range of those that can host big four pro sports teams — but that doesn’t account for the popularity of the Sounders.

Finally, a hockey team is not the Sonics, unless we want to use the name for the NHL, which we don’t. And none of these teams are knocking on the door.

Some hedge funds do great harm. They buy companies (or a city’s hopes?) and then “rip, strip and flip,” pocketing huge profits at the expense of what were once great enterprises. Others buy and patiently rebuild distressed companies, adding value and helping the economy. I’ll take Hansen at his word that he loves Seattle and wants to do something great for the city. But the fact remains that the properties he bought in Sodo will appreciate nicely no matter whether an arena gets built or not.

Another fact is that if the City Council takes another vote and vacates Occidental, it will deeply complicate the movement of freight in an out of the port. As part of the Northwest Seaport Alliance, Seattle’s natural deep-water port supports thousands of mostly middle-class jobs and is an essential part of Washington’s export-based economy.

Pro sports are big business, too. But they support a small number of millionaires and a huge number of low-paying, part-time jobs. A billion dollars for an NBA franchise would be better spent on infrastructure, research or quality economic development. No, the two aren’t interchangeable. But consider the largest gift in University of Washington history was $210 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

This won’t be a popular column but it needs to be written. Submarining the port doesn’t guarantee the Sonics will “come back.” And Seattle hardly needs another professional sports franchise to attract major headquarters, world talent and more people.

I want a new Sonics here. I want a pony. What I don’t want to do is put another headwind before the port when it’s holding its own despite a global slowdown in shipping.


Today’s Econ Haiku:

Self-driving semi

Drivers can cry in their beer

Robot good buddy