Since Seattle lost its NBA team in 2008, a handful of players are determined to bring pro basketball back to the Emerald City. A charity game, spearheaded by Boston Celtics guard Ray Allen and embraced by a litany of other players with ties to Seattle and the now-defunct SuperSonics, is in the works for this summer.
"I thought it was appropriate to do something for the city, to thank the fans for more than 40 years of support, and to show the NBA that Seattle is still a viable market for the NBA," Allen said.
Allen and former Sonics forward Detlef Schrempf have reached out to a number of players with ties to the Sonics and Seattle to enlist their help in putting on a competitive and entertaining game.
Among those set to appear are Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford, Brandon Roy, Aaron Brooks, while Terry he hopes Hall of Fame coach Lenny Wilkens and either Paul Silas or Fred Brown will serve as coaches.
"I talked to Detlef about it," said the Mavericks guard, who, along with Brooks, went to Franklin High School in Seattle. "It is pretty much going to happen. We just have to get a date. But I am definitely going to go out and play. It'll be fun. The city of Seattle is going to come out; it might sell out just from the fact that we miss basketball up there. The closest I come every year is when we go play Portland. That is fun for me, but it's not the same."
Terry said the game would have to be played at KeyArena -- the centerpiece of the NBA's argument that a team in Seattle could not make it financially because the building did not possess enough money-making opportunities.
The game, and more importantly its location, will bring more than sheer entertainment value to Seattle: It may help Gary Payton's chances of getting his jersey retired, something that was previously impossible because of the franchise's move to Oklahoma City '08.
Even though the Thunder have the rights to the Sonics' history, and Payton, is in their media guide for holding numerous team records, the nine-time All-Star has steadfastly maintained that he will not have his jersey retired in Oklahoma City because he has no ties to that town or that franchise. In fact, all the retired numbers of Sonics players -- Brown, Spencer Haywood, Wilkens, Gus Williams and Nate McMillan -- are in the Museum of History and Industry near the University of Washington.
But Matthew Wade of Athletes Foundations, who helps organize charitable foundations for several Seattle area athletes, said he has spoken in the past with Payton's agent, Aaron Goodwin, about honoring Payton in an event exactly like the one that is being planned.
"It would give Sonics fans some closure with respect to one of the most-popular players to ever wear a Seattle uniform," said Wade. "The game, combined with retiring Gary's number, would be something that the community would definitely embrace."
Wade said he has had preliminary discussions about some of the hurdles that must be overcome for the event to happen. First, because it would involve NBA players, the game must be sanctioned by the league, which would require a $50,000 down payment that would be earmarked for one or multiple charities.
Then the game would require sponsors in a market that still feels some anger toward a league that it feels stole their team despite widespread and consistent support.
And, finally, it would require media partners.
The last item should not be difficult to find. Kevin Calabro was the Sonics' long-time play-by-play announcer who declined to move to Oklahoma City with the franchise because the Northwest had become his home. He has become the de facto voice of support for the strength of the city as an NBA destination, something he regularly articulates on his afternoon radio program. He said he would gladly support the game.
"I think it would be a great event," Calabro said. "I'd be happy to get involved in any way I can. Promote it. Emcee it. Announce it. Whatever it takes. I definitely think Seattle is an NBA town."
The league actually feels the same way, acknowledging that Seattle is a stronger market than many of its current markets, including Sacramento. But a source said Seattle is not going to land a new team until it addresses its arena situation. While the city is vibrant and its support remains strong, KeyArena is an albatross and having it would prohibit any team from ever recouping its $30-million relocation fee because it does not offer enough revenue-generating opportunities.
The idea was recently floated that the league should consider waiving its relocation fee, which is distributed evenly to the other owners, because, in the end, it would make the NBA product stronger. Memphis owner Michael Heisley said he suggested that very thing at the Board of Governors meeting when the Sonics were about to move to Oklahoma City.
"Small market teams have a very difficult time, and to put a $30 million fee on them makes it very hard," Heisley said. "Even though I got $1 million, I was against charging New Orleans. And I was against charging Oklahoma City. But I am only one guy. It never went anywhere."
And so for now, the city of Seattle must connect with the NBA through efforts like a charity game.
1. With the Canadian dollar and U.S. dollar almost equal, Heisley was asked recently if he regrets the move from Vancouver to Memphis, where he has had difficulty filling his beautiful new arena with fans even when the Grizzlies are competitive.
"There were two major factors in Canada," Heisley explained. "No. 1, we had a very, very successful hockey team in Canada until the previous owner went out and bought an NBA team to fill up vacant dates on his calendar. What people forget is there are only so many people willing to pay to buy season tickets to sporting events. Especially when you are not talking about the NFL, when you are talking about [eight] home games. In basketball and hockey, there are almost 45 home games a year. You've got only a certain number of people who are going to buy that number of tickets. When you put a hockey team right on top of it, you've got people who want to buy both, and that is 90 dates right there, which wipes out almost half their year -- some people do it, but it is a big commitment, and a big financial commitment -- or you split the market right in half.
"If you look what happened there, we got to the point where we were selling the same number of tickets as the Canucks were selling. The reality was that we couldn't get any more people coming to the games that we already had.
"The other thing is that we were selling tickets in Canadian dollars, but we were paying salaries in American dollars and the Canadian dollar was trading at 67 cents on the dollar. So we were losing quite a bit of money on the currency exchange. Now you can argue that it would have gone back. But I am not a currency speculator. And the reality is I would have had to suffer three more years of horrendous losses. So I made the switch.
"And guess what happened to the Canucks? After we left, they went back to selling out games again. Once we moved, he had the whole market and they basically flourished. And I think the people in Vancouver are better off that I left."
How, then, do the Toronto Raptors survive since they have both the Maple Leafs and the currency issue?
"They are the fifth-largest city in North America, after Mexico City, New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago. So they have all of Canada, and they have all the television rights for Canada. And all the country's corporate headquarters are in Toronto and Montreal."
2. If Larry Ellison purchases the Golden State Warriors and hires Hall of Famer Jerry West to run the franchise, another person to consider rejoining the organization is Andy Dolich, who is serving as a consultant for the San Francisco 49ers after Jed York removed him as COO.
Dolich was the president of business operations for the Grizzlies during the time that West was Heisley's president. Dolich has long ties to the Bay Area, including 15 years with the Oakland A's when they won their World Series title and one year with the Warriors.
Heisley said he has no doubts that West would do a fantastic job running the Warriors. However, he also wonders whether West, at 71, should undertake the challenge.
"He is such a competitor," Heisley said. "I got to tell you, you can't imagine how much he suffers when he was in it. I have no question why he was such a great NBA basketball player because I never knew a man who hated losing more than Jerry West. He died.
"One time, we were playing L.A. early in the Pyramid and Jerry was our president. The Lakers had Shaq and Kobe, but we were having a great night. So it got down to two or three minutes left in the fourth quarter and we are hanging onto this lead, and I just could not stand it.
"I'm not proud of myself, but I said I had to get out of here. So I walk up to the concourse, and I am walking along and there is nobody there. And all I can hear is [somebody cursing] coming in the other direction. And it's Jerry West as he turns the corner. He told me one time that every time he shot the ball he knew it was going in. Mr. Clutch. But watching somebody else shoot it is a different story. That is a long way of saying the years he was in Memphis took a toll on him. He could do it again, but I don't know if it is best for him as he gets older."
3. There were many people who thought that Phoenix Suns forward Amar'eStoudemire would falter once the trade deadline passed with him still in a Suns uniform.
Why play your hardest for a team that no longer wants you and does not want to pay you, after all?
Instead, Stoudemire has flourished, including 30 points, 17 rebounds, three assists and a block in the Suns' victory over Minnesota, it's league-best seventh straight. The Suns have won 21 of their past 26 and are only 1 ½ games out of second place in the Western Conference standings.
"One of the biggest reasons is that we were never making the calls," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "Plenty of people were calling us, but we were never making calls about trading Amare. I think that is the lost end of this whole thing. We weren't making calls, and we weren't giving him away. If we thought it was something that was good for our team, than we probably would have done it. But we didn't see anything out there that was good for our team."
4. Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson rarely talks about other teams or other players. So he raised some eyebrows the other night when he said he didn't think the Los Angeles Lakers were as dominant this season as they were last year, when they won the championship.
"As powerful as everybody seems to think they are, I haven't seen the power that they had last year," Nelson said. "They have to rely on Kobe too much down the stretch to win games for them, from what I've seen."
Nelson went on to say that all of the West's top teams have some deficiencies.
"I think they're all vulnerable, from what I've seen," Nelson said. "There's nobody there that's so dominant that you feel as an opponent that you can go in and ... not beat them. The difference in the playoffs is you got to beat that team four times to advance. So in a one-game situation, maybe it's a little different.
"But I think it's up for grabs, personally. I don't think we're a very strong team, and yet we've been in games against all these so-called powerhouses. And that's surprising."