It’s also impossible to ignore the vast connections the Oak View Group holds in the sports world that greased the paths to the NHL expansion bid. OVG holds those same connections with the NBA, which bodes well for an eventual return of an NBA team.
It’s all over but the Zamboni.
This messy process, always contentious, often ugly, is nearing an end game that once seemed unthinkable.
And now, it’s legitimate to dream about a day when NBA basketball will return as well. I know, many of you have had that dream since 2008, when the Sonics bolted for Oklahoma City, only to see it cruelly dashed so many times.
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But I would say that the prospects of a return of the NBA are brighter than at any time since January 2013, when Chris Hansen’s group reached agreement to buy the Sacramento Kings and relocate them to Seattle. The jubilation and anticipation in these parts was immense.
We all know what happened next – rejection of that sale by the NBA Board of Governors in April 2013, followed by a series of roadblocks in Hansen’s continuing efforts to build a Sodo Arena that would entice another NBA team.
In the middle of all that, not one but two powerful development groups emerged with the seemingly preposterous idea of renovating KeyArena. The city embraced that plan as a way to solve a civic problem on someone else’s dime — $700 million worth of dimes, to be precise.
Eventually, Tim Leiweke’s Oak View Group won out over Seattle Partners (which included Oak View’s rival AEG) in June 2017 on their bid to do the renovation. Which brings us, 15 months and many hurdles later, to Tuesday’s events, and the impending arrival of the NHL.
Oh, it’s not absolutely official, but you can go ahead and celebrate, if you’d like. Raise a toast to Pete Muldoon, coach of the 1917 Stanley Cup champion Seattle Metropolitans. Tip your hat to Hansen, whose indefatigable efforts to bring a basketball team back to Seattle invigorated the entire effort when such a notion was all but dormant.
What’s left now is just window dressing and formalities. The long list of things that could have gone wrong has been systematically eliminated.
When no appeals were filed on the city’s environmental impact statement by the Sept. 13 deadline, leading to unanimous approval by the Seattle City Council on Sept. 24, the Oak View Group was cleared to demolish the existing KeyArena and replace it with a new palace. Gigantic Step One. And on Tuesday in New York, when the NHL’s executive committee voted 9-0 to forward Seattle’s expansion bid to a full board of governor’s vote in December, it made the awarding of a team to Seattle a virtual fait accompli. Gigantic Step Two.
Say what you will about this process and how it appeared tilted from the start against Hansen. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that Leiweke’s group – which now includes his brother, Tod, as team president – has delivered precisely what they said they would, on the timetable they said they would.
It’s also impossible to ignore the vast connections Oak View holds in the sports world that greased the paths to the NHL expansion bid. As Geoff Baker pointed out, just about every member of the NHL’s executive committee had a link to either the Leiwekes or prospective owners David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer. OVG holds those same connections with the NBA, which bodes well for an eventual return of an NBA team.
And that’s still the ultimate goal of the majority of fans, I firmly believe. They will welcome the hockey team, but yearn for the Sonics, or whatever version they can get. That’s why Seattle City Councilwoman Debora Juarez was so off base when, after the Key renovation was approved, she said, “I guess sometimes when I hear people just go on and on about ’08 and their hearts being ripped out, I get a little annoyed because that was 10 years ago, so you kind of gotta let that go.”
Believe it or not, it’s possible to revel in the Seattle Storm’s great success, welcome the NHL, and still feel the deep pain of the Sonics’ departure.
There’s no need to “let it go” or stop living in the past – another Juarez comment. With a tantalizing taste of the NBA coming to KeyArena via Friday’s exhibition game between the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings, in fact, it’s only going to reawaken the NBA nostalgia – and raise the volume of laments over the 10-year void.
Hansen has long been the clear choice of NBA fans as the best hope for bringing a team back. He’s certainly shown single-minded passion for that outcome. But the stark reality is that OVG, with a new arena on the way, appears well-positioned to do that.
Not that it’s a sure thing. There’s the question of whether NBA expansion is on the horizon, whether failing that, there are any teams that are subject to relocation, whether the NBA has qualms about sharing a building with the NHL, and whether they can put aside past issues with KeyArena. And, oh yeah, the whole traffic and parking thing.
But on this day, when one longshot sports dream took a giant step toward becoming reality, it seems appropriate to keep alive the NBA dream. No need whatsoever to “let it go.”