SEATTLE — Oct. 31 has come and gone. Same for Nov. 1. Now what? Will Clay Bennett file for relocation in the coming days? What will it mean if he does? The team is tied up in a federal court case that could keep them in Seattle until 2010 no matter what. Answers are likely to come soon. Let’s hope so. I spent my Thursday trying to get a feel for the mood of Seattle Sonics fans. It was a rat race of a day, between navigating an unfamiliar city, setting up and trying to keep interview appointments and getting my story in by deadline, which given the time zone difference is always a tall task in and of itself whenever out west. I met many interesting people along the way, though, and have gained a deeper and greater respect and understanding of the Seattle people. I ran into a lot of fans who couldn’t care less about the Sonics anymore and just as many who’d give their left arm to keep them in town. What linked them all together is their knowledge. This is a very knowledgeable sports town and one that deserves to keep its oldest sports team. For as much as we in the media have made about this potentially being a lame-duck season, the announced attendance was a sellout crowd of 17,072. Still, think there isn’t passion for basketball in this state? Yes, there are 40 more home games remaining. And yes, the Bobcats, Hawks and Wolves will come to town, too, not always the high octane Phoenix Suns. But give Seattle credit for supporting this team despite all the uncertainty.
Several times throughout Thursday’s game I thought about the very strange scene playing out before me. I was 2,000 miles from home watching a team that I might be covering next season — in Oklahoma. While I don’t think that will happen, I can only imagine what the fans were thinking Thursday, especially those who’ve invested 10, 20, 30 years of their lives, forget money, into the Seattle SuperSonics.
That said, the Sonics need a new arena. All the talk about $100 million for renovations is nonsense. No amount of renovations will fix that place. Again, great place to watch a game. Too small to make big money. Problem is, a new arena will never be built as long as Clay Bennett and his partners own the team. Won’t happen. The damage has been done. The politicians feel insulted. Bennett feels mistreated. Like he never was given a fair shake. I see this whole situation ending favorably for Seattle. I think Bennett and his group eventually will sell the team to local owners. I think, just like the Seahawks situation, the city will pony up a good chunk of change (not all) for a new arena to satisfy local businessmen who they know will keep the team in town. Oklahoma City will one day get a team (and no, it won’t be the Hornets). Hopefully it will be an expansion team and not this city’s most storied franchise.