The fate of the Kings, who will remain in Sacramento after NBA commissioner David Stern announced Wednesday that a relocation bid to Seattle was voted down by the league's Board of Governors, was always going to be a zero-sum game. Two cities, one team, and no immediate possibility of expansion combined to create an endgame that guaranteed a winning city and a losing city, no matter what.
“I don’t see any scenario in which both cities are happy here,” Stern admitted at All-Star Weekend back in February, immediately upping the anxiety on both sides with the declaration.
There's a difference between being unhappy, being heartbroken and being outraged.
Stern's comments at the Board of Governors meeting in Dallas left folks in Seattle feeling all three of those emotions, and it's difficult to blame them. The outrage -- the feeling of being personally and viciously insulted -- began as soon as Stern opened his mouth, before he even confirmed reports that the Kings would not be headed to Seattle thanks to a 22-8 vote by the league's owners.
"This is going to be short for me," Stern began. "I have a game to get to in Oklahoma City."
For much of the country, the reference to Wednesday's Game 5 between the Thunder and Grizzlies in Chesapeake Energy Arena might sound like an innocuous throw-away, the type of thing a restless traveler can be expected to say when he's rushing to catch a flight. For those who camped out in the hotel lobby for nearly four hours as the owners deliberated, it was likely a little aggravating to hear how precious Stern felt that his time was in relation to that of his patient audience. For fans and observers who have waited months to find out how this colossal soap opera would end, it probably sounded strangely dismissive, at best.
For Seattle folks, the reference to Oklahoma City was a mountain of the purest salt injected straight into the deepest wound. What's the only thing worse than getting one's hopes for the Kings dashed? Being reminded that the original SuperSonics were now doing business as the Thunder in Oklahoma City, where they were in the midst of their fourth straight postseason run since a controversial exit from the Pacific Northwest in 2008.
Few people can match Stern's public speaking experience, and he's as articulate, careful and witty as they come. But he's also a lawyer who keeps score and rarely admits the error of his ways. Was this an out-of-character slip of the mind and tongue after another long day in the series of long days needed to determine the fate of the Kings? Or, was this something worse, one last, cutting shot to a fan base and city that was being left empty-handed again?
At the end of the fight, the old, vindictive NBA commissioner couldn't announce the winner without first needling the city he was about to make a loser again.
At the end of a polarizing relocation issue that he once described as "wrenching," the man who always measures his words couldn't resist one smug remark directed at Seattle.
At the end of another heartbreaking NBA result, David Stern taunted us.
It was a sucker punch followed by a gut punch. First, Stern reminded Seattle that its team is now in Oklahoma City. Then, he announced the NBA was rejecting the city's bid to get a team back.
But in Seattle, an NBA city scorned, the league's newfound appreciation of loyalty doesn't resonate. We hate the NBA business model. And we want back in for selfish reasons and on our terms. This city is too wonderful and too proud to be dismissed like Stern has done.
Two possibilities: The man is congenitally bereft of self-awareness, or he has a sadistic streak so deeply ingrained he no longer realizes how insulting he is.
No, commissioner de Sade, we wouldn’t want you to have to take too much time to explain why the Kings can’t be relocated to Seattle because you had to get to Oklahoma to watch the team that you helped be stolen from Seattle.
Josh Kerns of MyNorthwest.com notes reaction from KIRO radio host Ron Upshaw and SonicsRising.com's Brian Robinson.
"It's one thing for the vote to not go your way. It's another thing for the commissioner of the league to get up and just pour salt in the wound, rub it in with this stupid smirk on your face," Ron said.
"He just comes across as a pompous, condescending a-hole," Ron said.
"That was a snarky comment, it was intentional, he doesn't do those things unintentionally," said Brian Robinson with Sonics Rising.
"It's very clear David Stern remains very personally insulted by the situation in Seattle and it's disappointing as a customer of his that he can't be a bigger man," Robinson said of Stern's animosity towards the city after lawmakers rebuffed his efforts to secure a new Seattle NBA arena in 2007.
That rage is very, very real, whether Stern intended to provoke it or not. Considering the circumstances, the reaction is worthy of his attention now. Expecting Stern to apologize is surely too ambitious, but a clarification of his intention would be a worthwhile olive branch, even if it probably wouldn't be received with open arms, ears and hearts in Seattle.
Meanwhile, the official response to the nixing of the relocation bid provided by Valiant Capital's Chris Hansen, one of the Seattle group's lead investors, was noble and graceful.
While we are obviously extremely disappointed with today’s relocation vote and truly believe we put forth both a significantly better offer and Arena plan, we do thank the league and the owners for their time and consideration and look forward to hearing back on our agreement to join the Maloofs as Limited Partners in the Kings.
But most of all I would like to thank everyone in Seattle who has been a part of our effort and supported our cause. Words simply can’t express how much your support has meant to me personally and to our City. I truly believe we did everything possible to put our best foot forward in this process and you all should be proud and hold your heads high today.
Our day will come ... and when it does it will just be that much sweeter for the struggle.
I love you Seattle!
That's pitch-perfect language and an impressive approach from a man who surely felt the rejection news as deeply as the most frustrated fans and media members. That's magnetic leadership that everyone can respect and appreciate, a worthy opponent for the tireless work and savvy campaigning conducted by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. In this particular zero-sum game, most unbiased observers can agree that Johnson winds up as a classy winner with Hansen ending up as a truly dignified loser. In Seattle, though, Stern is the referee who totally blew a crucial late-game call and then compounded matters by reveling in the boos and turning a deaf ear to the complaints. Nobody likes that guy, and it's easy for non-Seattlites to feel the city's pain on this one.