By David J. Cohen
The Sonics were just sold by the city of Seattle for $75 million. Seattle fans are devastated about the loss of their 41 year long basketball stronghold. Many NBA experts and reporters will tell you Seattle is a basketball town that loves their Sonics. And while attendance was among the worst in the NBA last year they were packing the house competitively in most years before that. There was even an organization formed, called Save Our Sonics, that ultimately failed in its efforts to keep the team in Seattle. It’s been a great run but now Sonics fans will forever go sleepless in Seattle.
Or will they?
The Sonics are gone but could easily be on the way back. If former Sonics owner Howard Schultz is truly committed to having an NBA team in Seattle and the Save Our Sonics organization can use its resources to find willing partners to resurrect the Sonics, it’s possible Seattle will have its team back more sooner than later. Basically if KeyArena is renovated to a sufficient level in the near future, the Sonics should return.
But there is a structural problem outside of the building. Right now the NBA is in perfect balance. There are 15 teams in each conference in 3 divisions. Putting another team in the West is going to give the Eastern Conference a competitive advantage as far as the playoffs are concerned by giving 15 teams a shot at 8 spots versus 16 for 8 in the west. Also there would be a division with 6 teams, which gives all the other divisions a competitive advantage. Now I’m sure Seattle fans could care less but the rest of the league might take umbrage with this.
So what’s the solution?
Schultz can put his money where his mouth is. He is the chairman and CEO of Starbucks so he has money and good business sense. He will now have a community yearning for a basketball team. That means that with good marketing the returning Sonics in a newly renovated arena will draw great attendance. He sold the Sonics for $350 million and good business men reinvest their sales. The money from the sale should be worth close to $400 million today. Now all he needs is a team to buy. His opportunity to purchase is right now.
The Memphis Grizzlies are currently for sale. They have been around for just 13 years. They are a team whose entire history involves their search for a belonging. They started in Vancouver but couldn’t develop a fan base. Now in Memphis they’re facing the same problem. The attendance in Memphis has been consistently well below the league average. Memphis is as much of a basketball town as Vancouver was. The Grizzlies have never enjoyed a strong following. I’m not positive about this but the value of the Grizzlies is probably less then what Schultz sold the Sonics for. Schultz could buy the Grizzlies with the intent of moving them to Seattle and reviving the Sonics. Then this maligned franchise would have a devoted following and Seattle would have a team again. It’s a win-win situation.
That’s the simple but expensive solution. Even the logistics work out. If Memphis were to end up back in Seattle they would switch from the Southwest division to the Northwest division. They would switch places with Oklahoma City. This would geographically put Oklahoma City in the right division. It would also give David Stern a convenient way out of the Seattle problem. There won’t be much of a clamoring from Memphis to replace a team they barely know exists.
Seattle can’t say that. They’ve been invested in the NBA for over 4 decades. And it should stay that way.