These are confusing, conflicting, and concerning times for Seattle sports fans and politicians.
The news that Seattle basketball savior Chris Hansen secretly donated $100,000 to a Sacramento group which opposed building an arena to keep the Kings in California seems to fall somewhere between troubling and deal breaking for most observers.
This is, without question, a big mistake on Hansen’s part. He knows it and I believe he’s truly regretful that he did it. At issue isn’t so much the contribution. Hansen lives in California and like anyone he’s free to interject his money and his opinion into politics. The bigger gaffe here was trying to keep the donation secret and not acknowledging it once people started snooping around trying to figure where they money came from.
To a certain extent it was unavoidable. Whenever you interject yourself at any level into the pursuit of a sports franchise you plan to move you have jumped into a very dirty sandbox. It’s impossible to stay clean and while some Seattle fans will delude themselves into thinking Hansen and Seattle are somehow more “honorable” in the pursuit of the Kings than the OKC crew was in pursuit of the Sonics the stories are rooted in the exact same place.
One guy bashed me on Twitter Saturday for comparing the two by informing me that “anyone dealing in reality” can tell that what Clay Bennett did was a “million times worse” than what Hansen did.
I’m not sure Sacramento NBA fans feel that way. They’re based in reality and to them Hansen looks very much like Bennett looked to us: an out of town guy trying to take away their NBA team. We can argue the methods but in the end the goal of both guys was the same. I’m not bashing Hansen and I certainly don’t mean to defend Bennett, but the whole concept of franchise removal looks very different depending on your perspective.
In Bennett’s case Seattle fans loathe him for lying to us about his intentions (which he did). But a certain amount of that anger is manufactured because if you’re honest with yourself and you’re dealing in the real world and not the world of Tooth Fairies, Easter Bunnies, and Santa Claus you knew Bennett was NEVER interested in staying in Seattle. The Sonics were as good as gone the second he and The Big Barista shook hands on their deal. Did that give him the right to lie to us? No. But business at this level is seldom as clean and fair as we’d like it to be. To believe otherwise is to fall back into Fantasyland.
That gets me to the bigger point of today’s missive which is the unending series of laughter inducing comments from politicians regarding Hansen’s misstep in Sacramento. The number of elected Seattle officials who expressed surprise and professed offense at the idea that big business tries to influence politics calls to mind a great scene from a great movie
Sorry to inform the Seattle political power base that this is how your business operates. Influence is bought and sold daily (hourly?) at the current market price. Hansen shouldn’t have done what he did but the idea that any of you are surprised by this turn of events makes me shudder at your naivety.
Speaking of naïve thoughts, anyone who thinks this will prevent the NBA from eventually striking a deal with Hansen of some sort for a team to come to Seattle is akin to (quoting the Statler Brothers here) “playing solitaire til dawn, with a deck of 51.”
When the day comes that a team is available and the league is sitting at a table with Hansen, a new arena deal, the 13th largest market, and a stack of $600 million dollars, do you really think someone is going to say “Hey, fellas, I’m a little leery of this guy. He once gave $100,000 to a campaign against an arena”?
And shame on us and our leaders if we allow this admitted mistake to scuttle this deal. If we do we’ll be acknowledging that we’re the backwoods rubes Clay Bennett took us for when he got here to do “business in the Pacific Rim” all those years ago.
One final point…Hansen and his group need to be realistic. There is no way to stay completely clean in any deal that involves a team leaving a city to come to Seattle. I don’t mind getting dirty because that’s how the game is and always has been played. But if anyone involved in the project is really concerned about not being viewed in the light of someone trying to take a team from another city…a team that is loved and cheered for by its hardcore fans just as passionately as we cheered the Sonics…then there is only one solution.
Wait for an expansion team. Otherwise…buy clothes that can be easily laundered. Because as our man Robert Cray reminds us… “we’re gonna come up muddy, muddy, muddy, when we’re playin’ in the dirt.”