We’ll start with the fun part: The Fantasy.
Multiple outlets have reported that a group involving former Mariner Alex Rodriguez is finalizing a deal to purchase the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves for $1.5 billion. Anytime an NBA franchise sale takes place, the reaction in the 206 is, “Does this mean the Sonics might come back?”
It’s an irresistible reaction for a fan base still smarting from the team relocating to Oklahoma City in 2008, and one that was likely amplified by this quote from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski: “Rodriguez’s ties to Seattle and that city’s desire for a return of an NBA franchise could become an issue in the long term.”
If you’re looking for the ultimate redemption story in the Emerald City, this would be it. Upon spurning the Mariners after his first five full seasons and taking a deal with the Rangers, A-Rod unofficially became Seattle’s most-hated athlete — a title that stuck over the next two decades. He was an automatic, enthusiastic boo whenever he came to T-Mobile Park.
But what if, in an instant, he joined the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez as one of the town’s most beloved figures? Bringing the Sonics back would do just that.
On the villain-makes-good front, only LeBron James returning to the Cavs and bringing Cleveland a championship would top it. Rodriguez would go from loathed to loved and would receive an ovation in any venue around in the Puget Sound area. A-Rod would be A-god.
Which brings us to the not-so-fun part: The Reality.
Most of the time Wojnarowski writes a sentence or tweet, it’s considered gospel in the sports world. His reputation among journalists is practically peerless.
But his line about Rodriguez’s Seattle ties potentially prompting him to return a team to a jilted fan base seems purely speculative. Yes, he does have ties here, but Bill Buckner also has ties to Boston. It’s not as though his relationship with Seattle is warm and fuzzy, and it’s no sure thing he has any desire to renovate his Emerald City reputation.
More significantly, Timberwolves team owner Glen Taylor told the Star Tribune that fans have nothing to worry about after the sale — the team is staying put.
“They will keep the team here, yes. We will put it in the agreement,” Taylor told the paper he owns. “At this point, we have a letter of intent, but when we make up the contract we’ll put that in there. That’s no problem. That won’t be a problem.”
Granted, former Sonics owner Howard Schultz expressed similar confidence that the Sonics would stay in Seattle upon selling the team to Clay Bennett. Putting it in writing, however, is a different matter.
And though it’s true that legal experts told the Star-Tribune that a “no move” clause “would be tricky to enforce,” do you see the NBA allowing an ownership group to break the hearts of T-wolves fans the way Schultz and Bennett did the Sonics? Probably not.
The best case for a Sonics return is still expansion. And if there’s a silver lining to the pandemic from a Seattle sports perspective, it’s that the NBA is taking a closer look at expanding to make up for billions in lost revenue.
Said NBA commissioner Adam Silver a few months back: “I think I’ve always said that it’s sort of the manifest destiny of the league that you expand at some point. I’d say (the pandemic has) caused us to maybe dust off some of the analyses on the economic and competitive impacts of expansion. We’ve been putting a little bit more time into it than we were pre-pandemic, but certainly not to the point that expansion is on the front burner.”
In other words, the NBA is closer to expanding than it was a year ago, but it’s a long way from a sure thing.
Estimates are that, if the league does expand, it would add two teams — each coming with a $2.5 billion expansion fee that would be distributed evenly among the other 30 owners. Seattle could potentially land a franchise in this scenario, but so could other hopefuls such as Mexico City, Las Vegas or Kansas City.
It’s a waiting/guessing game that has been ongoing since the Sonics left 13 years ago, and one that may continue for years to come.
In the meantime, it’s fun to fantasize about what someone such as A-Rod might do down the road. But if Seattle sports fans learned anything two decades ago, it’s probably best not to count on him.