It’s another tease. Another brick on the (thus far) mythical road to bringing the Sonics — or at least a new team with that hallowed name — back to Seattle.
Another sign that, if you’re patient enough, it’s really going to happen.
Oh, no one in any position of influence dared to utter that thought on Wednesday when the Kraken hosted a news conference to announce that the NBA would stage a preseason game at Climate Pledge Arena on Oct. 3. The contest — which will be the first NBA game to be played in the new building on the site of the old Sonics home that was deemed inadequate by the league, until the Oak View Group gave it a $1.2 billion sprucing — matches two teams with obvious Seattle ties: the Los Angeles Clippers of Steve Ballmer and the Portland Trail Blazers of Jody Allen.
No one said what everyone was thinking: This was another precursor to the day when the NBA finally decides to expand and adds Seattle back to the league. And there’s a good reason for that, which Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke has expressed multiple times before and did so multiple times on Wednesday:
“We will never get in front of the commissioner.”
In other words, the folks with the Kraken and Oak View Group, who have never hidden their desire to add an NBA team to NHL hockey and WNBA basketball, don’t want to do anything that angers, annoys or otherwise puts off NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
Silver has his own timetable for expansion, which always seems to be some point in the indeterminate future. But there is increasing conviction both nationally and locally that it really is going to happen. And that when it does, the two teams will be in Las Vegas (which is in the process of building a new state-of-the-art arena, constructed by none other than OVG) and Seattle (which has its rich NBA tradition as a calling card, as well as a host of Kraken and OVG officials with intricate ties to Silver and the NBA).
The only question is when — and the Las Vegas arena is scheduled to be done in 2026, which gives us a pretty broad clue. The last thing Leiweke and company want to do is say something that gives Silver the impression they are going rogue. Which is why the news conference consisted mostly of Kraken, Storm and Clippers officials, as well as Mayor Bruce Harrell and Seattle basketball royalty Lenny Wilkens and Jamal Crawford, talking about how great it will be to have the NBA at Climate Pledge for a night in October. Nary a word (almost) about having it here permanently.
“We didn’t talk about it today; we’re not going to talk about it, because we’re never going to get in front of the league,” Leiweke reiterated.
The lone exception was Wilkens, who coached the Sonics to the NBA championship in 1979 and is the namesake of the street outside Climate Pledge. In other words, the most royal of them all.
“I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to be here, talking about the prospects of us having a basketball team again,” Wilkens began his brief address when introduced with Crawford.
That was certainly the subtext. Afterward, I asked Wilkens if it felt like the return of the NBA was closer than ever.
“Well, I think so,” he replied. “Because there’s no more excuses. I mean, we’ve got a beautiful place here to play. You can’t say that we need a new building, or we need this, we need that. So we should be. We should be five steps closer. And I think that what they will see (on Oct. 3) is what a great basketball town this is, and what effect it does have on young people.”
Crawford was once one of the those young people enthralled by the exploits of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. Crawford recalled the highly charged atmosphere in 2018 when the Warriors played the Kings in an exhibition game at KeyArena, the NBA’s first (and only other) return since the Sonics bolted for Oklahoma City in 2008. Virtually every notable sports figure in town showed up, from Sue Bird and Bill Russell to Pete Carroll and Robinson Cano, with a smattering of Seahawks stars and virtually every former Sonic player who settled within a 100-mile radius.
“I was sitting next to Russell Wilson, Cliff Avril, Doug Baldwin and Bobby Wagner,” Crawford recounted, “and they said, ‘This is what NBA basketball is like in the city? This is electric.’ We need this back, and Oct. 3 we’ll be back. … It reignites a whole new generation of kids who need to see this. They need to be able to dream and know it’s real.”
Crawford recalled with a laugh when he used to work at KeyArena during Sonics games as a youth, carrying pretzels and other snacks to the concession stands and vendors.
“I would make a 10-minute trip take 30 minutes,” he said. “I’d do my job, and then just look out and dream.”
On Wednesday, it was again a day for dreaming, another notable tease in the quest for a Sonics return.