In the absence of baseball stadium debt, some of that Safeco tax money has since been shifted toward funding the arts in Seattle. Without the Sonics at KeyArena, the main attractions at the neighboring Seattle Center -- beyond the Space Needle -- have been Paul Allen's EMP music museum and the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibition hall that opened in 2012 and features the works of Tacoma glass sculptor Dale Chihuly.
Why that brief non sequitur, you ask? Because it shows what the city is capable of when it doesn't have the burden of a team's building hanging over its head. In two years, the Kingdome will be off the books and the city will have that off of its shoulders as well. Why allow the NBA to put your city in a situation where its only intention is to charge the highest price possible for something it already took away? Moreover, why funnel away more tax dollars from a city that already has the costs of waterfront development, transportation improvements and underestimated bridge repairs to deal with? (P.S. The 520 bridge toll is awful and the whispers about tolling I-90 are even worse.)
While writing about his time with the failed Seattle Pilots baseball club during their one season in 1969, Ball Four author Jim Bouton noted that the team's Sicks Stadium was an absolute mess and ill-suited to a team that had to deal with rain for much of its season. Still, he came away with the idea that the city's reluctance to just throw money at a building or franchise displayed a great sense of priorities:
"I enjoyed living in the Great Northwest for most of a season, and I'm sad that Seattle didn't get to keep its franchise. A city that seems to care more for its art museums than its ballpark can't be all bad."
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It's one of the most-referenced quotes about Seattle sports and it remains true to this day. Seattle is a city teeming with culture and surrounded by natural wonders in all directions. It's a town where the Mariners being awful only lets everybody enjoy some rare sun, bike the Burke-Gilman trail, hike Mount Rainier and take ferries out to the islands or the Olympic Peninsula. It doesn't need professional sports, but when teams like the Seahawks and Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders treat it right it embraces them with equal fervor.
Seattle shouldn't have to beg for its Sonics back and definitely shouldn't have to steal them. If the city should have learned anything from the Kings debacle, it's that the NBA doesn't have its interests in mind. The league needs its playing chip more than Super Bowl champion Seattle needs it. It is still the largest television market without an NBA franchise and the only Top 20 Nielsen market without one. The league wants perfect, modern buildings that generate maximum revenue for owners while leaving a minimal return for host cities.
It's why the Sonics moved from the No. 13 market in the country to the 41st: Because the NBA wants its cut from towns it can walk all over. It wants to convince cities that a franchise makes them world class and elevates their profile. It wants cities that are going to bend over backwards for it and tell it that the NBA is the best thing that ever happened to them.
In Seattle, that's not even close. We know Sonics fans are still hurting and that every time Kevin Durant appears on SportsCenter or the Thunder are mentioned as NBA title contenders, it twists the knife a little bit. In an ideal world, that would be Seattle's Durant bringing Seattle a little bit of glory. But it isn't, and Seattle has a lot more going for it than an NBA franchise that didn't want it anymore.
It has its first title since the Sonics' NBA Championship in 1979, but it also has its identity, priorities and money. It shouldn't ever let the NBA deprive it of that in the name of leverage again.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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