Editor’s note: This is a guest post from a friend of SpreeGoogs who happens to be a Sonics fan, offering thoughts on the NBA’s recent decision to keep the Sacramento Kings in, you guessed it, Sacramento.
If you’ve attended a pro or college game, you’ve certainly seen a fan noise meter. This is my favorite version; it’s the Washington Wizards.
I’m not a psychiatrist, but I know, especially since the Pierre McGee trade, that the Wizards’ games are not INSANE!!! For me, these meters always work the opposite effect: I refuse to cheer. I look down on the people who cheer while the meter is “testing,” thinking that their cheering will matter to the meter.
When the NBA relocation committee voted to recommend the Kings remain in Sacramento, I was reminded of those meters. I kept asking myself was I drawing the right cause and effect from the previous 5-year history of the NBA in-and-not-so-in Seattle? Or was I just blindly clapping, oblivious to what is really going on and unable to see past emotion?
After reading most of the articles written from Seattle and a few from Sacramento, I know this much.
First, I know basketball does have cultural value. In 2006, a Seattle City Councilmember, in comments he later regretted, said that the Sonics provide close to no cultural value. Wrong. After the recent vote, Prometheus Brown, aka Geo, a member of the Blue Scholars, tweeted it best:
real shit the sonics was one of the few things a kid from an immigrant family like me had in common w ppl who I otherwise couldn't relate to—
Prometheus Brown (@prometheusbrown) April 30, 2013
Five years before, Sherman Alexie wrote in Sonics Death Watch: Vol. IX (a series that extended to Vol. XXVI) this: “Once, in Key Arena, after a big Sonics win, I hugged a stranger and he hugged me back. We were men crying in each other’s arms.” And that’s the cultural value—the ability find common ground with strangers.
But we all know this. We’ve all talked to a stranger about our favorite sport—and maybe hugged him or her too. Second, I know the way you play the game counts. Tom Ziller of SBNation’s Sactown Royalty wrote that Chris Hansen did “things the proper way.” It’s one of the reasons I was rooting not just for the return of the Sonics, but also for Hansen to succeed. If the Kings had relocated, there simply wouldn’t have been the same asterisk as a franchise moved through bad faith negotiations with the city and secret emails. But we all know this too. We remember cheaters.
Lastly, I know that sports are a business. We all know this as well–you hear fans saying this to the losing city’s fans when their team moves. What you also hear, though, when the losing city’s politicians reject public subsidies, that the city simply didn’t support the team; something I frequently heard in 2008. That’s wrong, however, because that’s a fan’s perspective of a business decision. And most of these fans are the same ones who on an individual level laugh at buying courtside tickets to see their team when the Bobcats or Pelicans are in town in February, let alone consider buying season courtside tickets; and the same ones who would never mortgage their house, skip a doctor’s appointment, or demand cuts to their kid’s school to prioritize their team over these basic needs.
So just knowing that sports are a business isn’t enough; you need weigh that against your role as a citizen.
Backed by fans, politicians in Sacramento chose this: A 58% public subsidy for the arena, which is a subsidy worth approximately $258 million, and which is a subsidy that potentially places the general revenue of Sacramento at risk, according to Field of Schemes. And these politicians also chose to give up potentially another $76 million in free parking spaces and billboards.
That might work for Sacramento. Not here. There is no lottery pick for tanking city finances. This doesn’t mean I’m not a fan; it just means I understand that resources are limited; that’s the nature of business. On the other hand, Hansen’s proposal was praised by Field of Schemes, according to King5. It was the right plan for Seattle, even if it wasn’t for the NBA.
And remember this is what Sacramento agreed to pay for:
With the added possibility the team can win championships in the future, a possibility that has existed since the franchise won its first and only championship—the 1951 Rochester Royals.
This sports-as-business also means we can’t allow the business of the NBA through Stern, and soon Silver, to play kingmaker with local politicians. Their main concern isn’t the well-being of our cities. Elected officials are not towel boys for pro sports. The thought of the “NBA’s mayor” makes me as ill as the thought of cleaning Robert Swift’s foreclosed home or collecting Danny Fortson’s compression shorts.
Voters need to base their votes on the economy, housing, schools, infrastructure, the environment, and crime first.
Simply put: if professional sports operates as a for profit business, we need to take off the foam fingers before we sign contracts and vote.
And none of this is fun. We look to sports often as an escape from responsibility—not to understand the basic details of injunctions, subsidies, and environmental surveys.
But it is what is required if we’re going to be the fans that cheer for the great box out, Oooooh in unison at the crossover, rise and talk about defensive positioning. Those are smart fans.
Otherwise, we’re just dumbly cheering at a noise meter, as pro sports plays us.
So while as a Sonics fan, I am heartbroken that the Sonics won’t be returning for next season. As a citizen, though, I’ll continue to root for the Hansen method of transparency and private financing, and I’ll remain proud that we didn’t show feudal loyalty to the NBA, and that in many ways the NBA rejected Seattle because we’ve said to their terms, “No. Not in our House.”