The NBA is back in Seattle!
Well … only for a night … for a game that doesn’t count.
On Friday, Oct. 5, the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors will hit the KeyArena court to play a preseason game against the lowly Sacramento Kings. While it probably will be a fun night for fans between gazing at Steph Curry’s warm-up routine and watching the stars get brief court time before the guys on the bench play the majority of the minutes, the game feels like an act of wanton cruelty by the league. Pure and simple: It’s a matchup that highlights the absolute worst aspects of the way the NBA exerts power over cities for its own profit.
It’s clear why the Warriors would be selected to play a game in Seattle: Kevin Durant. For some reason … I just can’t seem to place it … Seattleites carry a strong affection for Durant. Oh, wait, I remember … HE WAS THE SUPERSTAR OF THE TEAM THAT THE LEAGUE ALLOWED TO BE STOLEN FROM SEATTLE. The idea that the NBA would try to play on SuperSonics nostalgia by bringing back the team’s last star is more than a little twisted. You remember this guy you loved who played for your team? Well, here he is in a different uniform while you still have nothing. No one with goodwill would fly in the love of your life (who left you at the altar) and their ultra-successful new partner and expect you to have a fun night out on the town. That’s a move that takes willful ignorance. The thing that made the theft of the Sonics even more unbearable was that because of Durant, the team was poised to be an elite team for years. And that bore out in Oklahoma City, until the franchise botched it all by trading James Harden, and a frustrated Durant finally bolted for greener pastures in California.
The Sonics are the central chapter in the story of how NBA teams exploit taxpayers to get their billionaire owners new stadiums on the public dime. Knowing Seattle voters wouldn’t approve another stadium after the construction of Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field, Clay Bennett was able to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City. This allowed the league to use the threat to move a team to Seattle as an ever-present pawn in the arena grift: Look, we know you don’t want to publicly finance a new arena, but if you don’t, we could move this team to Seattle. Our city has become more valuable to the league as a threat than as a basketball market, and the fans are a zero factor in their decision-making on all ends.
The tactic was used to get the Milwaukee Bucks a new arena that opens this year, but never was it employed so ruthlessly as for the other team playing on Friday night—the Sacramento Kings. Frustrated by the lack of support for a new publicly funded arena at the start of this decade, the Kings openly threatened to move to Seattle. Moving the franchise seemed like such a done deal that the Kings broadcasting team even almost broke down in tears signing off after the last game of the 2010–11 season, assuming it’d be the final home game in the city. It would’ve been especially harsh since there aren’t any other major local teams to rally around in Sacramento. But the Seattle ploy eventually got its desired result. Behind new ownership and $223 million from the City of Sacramento, the Kings avoided relocation to the Emerald City.
It’s worth noting that even the champion Warriors aren’t above some arena controversy, as this will be the last season played in Oakland before moving to a new arena in San Francisco. The team is staying local, but moving from a place with actual character and history to cater to a wealthier tech demographic is a constant, discouraging refrain these days (and one that stings even more for Oakland fans as the NFL’s Raiders are also moving away—in this case to Las Vegas).
Beyond the arena drama, a preseason game is quite frankly beneath Seattle. Look at some of the other cities “blessed” with traveling preseason games this year: Birmingham, Ala., Chapel Hill, N.C., East Lansing, Mich., and Ames, Iowa. We are literally talking about college towns here. (Heck, growing up I went to an NBA preseason game in my hometown of Billings, Mont. I love smaller cities getting those contests, but a basketball metropolis like Seattle shouldn’t be placed on that level.) It’s also a bummer that this NBA preseason tilt will be the final sporting event of KeyArena’s pre-renovation era, rather than the Storm’s victory in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals. Gross.
There’s no shame in checking out the game if you’re a basketball junkie; you’re long overdue for that needed fix even if the product is diluted and you know the dealer has stolen from you in the past. But unless Friday’s game ends with the surprise announcement of a Seattle NBA expansion team (spoiler: It’s not happening), the end result is going to leave us all feeling a little jilted and hollow.