The view from Seattle
One of my counterparts at The Seattle Times does a fun weekly feature on his blog.
This week, he asked me to be a part.
No big surprise — it’s the court case between the City of Seattle and the Sonics’ Oklahoma-based owners.
Here’s the link to Jerry Brewer’s blog, or you can read this week’s edition of the Q&A(rgue) below:
My guest this week is Jenni Carlson, a wonderful sports columnist at The Oklahoman. So, you know what this is about: two sports columnists from dueling cities, fighting till death to protect the places they live.
Well, it won’t be that dramatic.
While Jenni and I have different perspectives on the Sonics situation, we won’t be going to court over them anytime soon. And while we reside in opposing cities, we aren’t shills. I consider it a columnist’s job to write what is in the best interest of his or her city. Sometimes, they are popular opinions. Sometimes, they are not. We go on an issue-by-issue basis.
Enjoy this one. Considering our viewpoints, it should be an enlightening discussion. And, as always, you are welcome to continue the debate on your own in the comments section.
1. Who do you think will win the case over the KeyArena lease? And will that be the right decision?
Brewer: Though I think Sonics attorney Brad Keller has impressed so far by presenting his case more clearly than the Seattle attorneys, I still think the city will win the trial. And, naturally, I think that will be the right decision. When following the trial this week, I have realized how much fat there is around the arguments on both sides, but it still boils down to this for Judge Marsha Pechman: Will she make the Sonics owners obey that vague, one-paragraph “specific performance” clause in the lease? It is a tough call. But I think that Paul Lawrence and Co. have done a good job of showing what the city hoped its lawyers would show: the new owners knew what they were getting into when they bought the team. So, why should they be let off the hook? They understood the KeyArena lease did not run out until 2010. They knew Seattle wanted the team around for the entire lease. There should be no such thing as naivete in mega-million dollar business. A deal is a deal.
Carlson: At the heart of all this craziness, this whole matter is a legal one. The question is, Can the Sonics be held to their lease for two more seasons? And I think if you look at what courts generally do in landlord-tenant cases, you’ll see that they usually rule in favor of the tenant. Basically, the courts aren’t usually in favor of keeping someone somewhere they don’t want to be. That smacks of indentured servitude, not something the courts, or anyone in America, think real highly of. Obviously, though, this is a special case. It’s not like some guy living in a rent house who’s trying to break his lease. It’s a sports franchise that has been in a city for four-plus decades.
At the end of the day, though, I believe the judge will come back to the central question of whether Seattle can hold the Sonics to their lease. And it seems to me that she’ll rule that this tenant cannot be forced to stay.
Will it be the right decision?
In the eyes of the courts and the legal system, probably.
In the eyes of NBA fans, maybe not.
2. Do you buy it when Clay Bennett says his “man possessed” e-mail was about trying to keep the team in Seattle and not moving it to Oklahoma City?
Brewer: Absolutely not. It is ridiculous that he continues to insult our intelligence with this lie. Look at the context of that e-mail. To me, there is no way he could have been referring to Seattle with that phrase. So “I am a man possessed” are words that will remain in Seattle spots ignominy. Perpetuating this myth makes Bennett look like an untrustworthy leader.
Carlson: This is a question I’ve thought a lot about. When I first read the e-mail exchange, I thought he was talking about being a man possessed to move the team to Oklahoma City. But I’ve looked at it the other way, and I could see it being that way, too. E-mail is a funny animal. There is no voice inflection. There is no facial expression. The subtleties of language are often lost in an e-mail. I think everyone out there has written something in an e-mail before that has been misunderstood by the receiver. Maybe you intended something to be funny, and it came across instead as mean. It has
happened to all of us.
That’s why I struggle with the context of that e-mail. I don’t really know what Clay Bennett intended to say in that e-mail, but when it was sent, he was knee-deep in efforts to persuade folks in Seattle and in Washington to get an arena deal done. Perhaps he thought that the other owners knew that and responded in turn. Perhaps not. This is one of those questions that we may never know the true answer.
3. Do you envision any scenario in which the Sonics don’t wind up in Oklahoma eventually? Can pro basketball thrive long term in OKC?
Brewer: The only scenario I can envision is that the team is forced to stay here for two more years and suffers way more than the estimated $30 million per season the Sonics say they will lose if they keep playing in KeyArena. Then the Sonics will have to consider all options to stop the bleeding, and selling the team is something they will have to flirt with. But that’s an incredible long shot. I think the team is gone. The question is whether they will leave now or later.
As far the second question here, I have serious doubts about Oklahoma City’s long-term viability as an NBA market. In the beginning, all will be great. Many Oklahomans will support the team out of novelty and civic pride. But the start is always fun. What happens when the Sonics go 20-62 again? The measure of true fandom is whether you will stay with a team during the rough years. Those years are inevitable in pro sports. We still have so much to learn about this market, so I will remain skeptical until I see otherwise.
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