Friday, April 11, 2008

Clay Bennett, Swift Boat Veteran for Basketball: Seattle Supersonics on the way to Oklahoma City?

I have written about this story before. Again, it’s a local Seattle sports and political story, and not that many people are probably interested. Actually, I am not that into the NBA myself. I hate it, truth be told. I hate how fouls are so arbitrary and apparently given without a large consideration of how big the star is first. I hate that traveling is a non-call. I hate the 24-second shot clock, where the team gets it across half court and then only has about 15 seconds to get a shot off. And I absolutely detest the carnival atmosphere. The game itself has become almost secondary. Boring…

However, the reason I am writing about this story again is because of its connection to the overall trend in America that so upsets me and I continually write about here. To whit, lying is acceptable as long as you don’t get caught. Politics, sports, it doesn’t matter. Personal integrity is a thing of the past, an ancient relic (like the “quaint” Geneva Convention accords) that is something that is more likely to invoke a smirk of distain rather than any real introspection.

However, as I noted previously, Clay Bennett is ALSO someone who was part of the “Swift Boat Vets for Truth” group that we all know held Truth is such high esteem. Given that, I don’t find this behavior too surprising.

I won’t go into great detail here on the background of the story. See my previous post, or maybe follow these links to these Seattle Times stories. But here is a quick summary.

The Sonics have kind of sucked for the last seven or eight years. Their heyday, besides their single championship (1979?), were the Gary Payton and Shaun Kemp days. Since then, they have been very mediocre. Everyone knows that teams that don't win much don't draw much of a crowd. They were sold last year to a group from Oklahoma City, which has been hosting the New Orleans Hornets when their own home got trashed during Hurricane Katrina. The Hornets moved back to N.O., but OKC still wants a team. Everyone KNEW that this group was going to pack their bags, with the team, and move to OKC as soon as they possibly could. No one believed the platitudes being spouted by the group. To ensure that the Sonics had very little backing, the new ownership group shipped off its two established stars. Yes, the Sonics have some good young talent, but a lack of established stars and even role players meant a terrible team was in the offing. Yep, their record is one of the worst in the NBA right now. Even less reason for local groups to be enthusiasitc about saving the Sonics!

As my previous post on this documented, last year, one of the new co-owners was slapped with a quarter million dollar fine for saying, in public to a newspaper in Oklahoma, about how they didn’t buy a team to stay in Seattle and of course they were going to move to OKC. Duh. Everyone knew that. However, the primary owner was “outraged” and said that wasn’t true at all. David Stern, his royal highness of the NBA, gave the guy a fine. Right. We all believed that.

Well, now it comes out during the court hearings about the group breaking the lease to Key Arena, where the Sonics currently play, that there are e-mails that went between the members of the ownership group that confirms that the group intended to move the team all the time. They lied to the public, they lied to the Governor of Washington state, and they lied to David Stern, NBA commissioner.

From the Seattle P-I:

Included in the motion were e-mails obtained by the city showing communications between Stern and Bennett on Aug. 17, 2007, in which Bennett insisted he'd never spoken to his partners about moving the team out of Seattle.

But that claim contradicted an April 17 e-mail exchange between Bennett and Sonics co-owners Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward in which the three gleefully talked about getting the team to Oklahoma City as quickly as possible.

"You are just one of my favorite people on earth and I so cherish our relationship, Sonics business aside," Bennett wrote Stern in August after McClendon told an Oklahoma newspaper that the group had never intended to keep the team in Seattle. "I would never breach your trust. As absolutely remarkable as it may seem, Aubrey and I have NEVER discussed moving the Sonics to Oklahoma City, nor have I discussed it with ANY other member of our ownership group. I have been passionately committed to our process in Seattle, and have worked my ass off.

"The deal for me has NEVER changed: We will do all we can in one year time frame (actually 15 months) to affect the development of a successor venue to KeyArena," Bennett wrote. "If we are unsuccessful at the end of the timeframe, October 31, 2007, we will then evaluate our options. I have never wavered and will not."

Stern replied to Bennett on Aug. 18, saying, "You and I are fine; I have been acting on the premise that everything you say about Aubrey and your efforts is true -- well before you said them. It pains me to see the situation you are in and I have difficulty conjuring a happy ending in Seattle, but I appreciate your efforts and very greaty (sic) value our friendship."

Well, well. It looks as if someone really got caught with their hands in the cookie jar.


What really burns me about this is not really the loss of the local team, although I think Seattle will be a bit less vibrant than before. It is the unfairness of this. These guys just decided they were going to raid another city for a team that looked to be ripe for the picking.

It seems that Seattle, no matter the sport, has always been the target. For years, it appeared that the Mariners were going to move to St. Petersburg. The owner, Jeff Sylmulian (I know I have that spelled wrong, so sue me), was from there. He was quoted as saying that he couldn’t imagine the area WITHOUT major league baseball. If memory serves, there were even T-shirts and hats printed up that said St. Petersburg Mariners. The Mariners were, again, a team that had been a consistent loser and played in a mausoleum called the Kingdome. Well, one magical year (1995), the M’s made a miracle run to win the division after being 19 games out, came back from 0-2 down in a best of 3 series against the Yankees and won their divisional playoff. They lost in the ALCS to Cleveland, but baseball had “hit the radar” in Seattle. A new stadium was built (most expensive one EVER, actually) and the M’s stayed put. (Oh, and I forgot to add that this was all before Tampa Bay was given a MLB franchise. Yes, we all see how well the TB (Devil) Rays have worked out. Very successful franchise.) (Oh, and I also forgot to mention that Seattle had ALREADY been raided for a MLB team. Who remembers the Seattle Pilots? They are now the Milwaukee Brewers. It took a number of years and a lawsuit to get MLB to give Seattle another franchise.)

The Seahawks, under the odious Ken Behring, not only were going to move to L.A., they DID move (at least their office and training equipment) for several weeks. Then, the league, and I believe some courts were involved as well, stepped in and told Behring to knock it off and go back home. One of the richest men in America who tend to live around here stepped in, paid for a new election, and a new stadium was built for the Seahawks.

The Sonics were very unhappy with their digs back in the 90’s. Can’t say that I blame them, as Seattle has the record for having the only indoor basketball game rained out due to leaks in the roof. After a big fight, the Seattle Coliseum (which was actually intended to be a temporary building for the 1960 World’s Fair) was totally gutted, except for the roof, and rebuilt as Key Arena. It is a very nice place. But the problem, for the NBA anyway, is that it doesn’t have the footprint of the Mall of America and doesn’t have room for all the luxury boxes and merchandizing they want. Like selling a beer for 7 bucks isn’t a good enough profit margin. It isn’t about the game and the spectators anymore. Like everything else in America, it is about how much money the owners can make. And, in the case of professional sports teams, they also demand that public money be used for stadiums and arenas so THEY can make the money.

Insane. But I must say that Bennett knew the situation. He KNEW that Seattle was all “stadium’ed out”. After this many fights with this many teams over this many arenas, he accurately gauged that the residents around here are completely fed up with professional sports money grubbers who really are intent on plundering the local government. It was an absolute certainty that no one around here, including the politicians, were going to sit still for another round of blackmail via professional sports.

So, it’s down to this. The Sonics are gone, unless some miracle happens here. Just what David Sterns reaction will be to being publicly lied to by someone who he has supported, against the city of Seattle and the government officials here? He was lied to, and the stories I have linked to make it very, very clear that is what happened. So, is that enough to change people’s minds? To make anyone feel guilty enough to throw up a stop sign on this move?

I seriously doubt it. Lying has become so much the norm here (thank you, George W. Bush and all your cronies) that no one is going to care. It will all blow over in short order. Everyone will forget and move on. Oklahoma City will have its NBA team. Seattle will continue on, a world-class city with just a little less electricity….

I certainly think there are more important issues that must be worked, and very quickly, if we want to maintain our current standard of living. Professional sports, however much fun and entertainment the locals derive from it, are just a diversion. But boy, I still have to admit that lying scumbags who are found out and STILL get away with it (think Karl Rove) really burn my gut.

UPDATE: Well, the saga keeps getting stranger all the time. The Commish, David Stern, says that he really hasn’t read these “incriminating” e-mails, but he still thinks Bennett was operating in good faith and still “fully supports him”. Yeah. And Howard Shultz, CEO of Starbucks and past owner of the Sonics, is suing the OKC ownership group for… something. Lying to him, not bargaining “in good faith”. That phrase is being tossed around a lot these days, “in good faith”. Huh. I have very little confidence that any of this will do anything in the long term, but as Jerry Brewer of the Seattle P-I notes, it sure is fun to see stupid, rich white guys show themselves to be the absolute idiots that they are, in full public view. The only problem is that all these clowns refused to be disgraced and totally ignore the fact that they are acting like arrogant, stupid jerks.

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