In 1992, the Seattle-area publisher Positively for Kids released a book co-authored by Mariners star Edgar Martinez about his journey entitled Patience Pays. Long-time Seattle sports fans will know the title was appropriate for two reasons. Not only was Martinez known for his patient approach at the plate, he also willingly suffered through an extended run at AAA during the early part of his career that may ultimately have kept him from putting up the statistics necessary to reach the Hall of Fame.
For two decades, Martinez has stood as the paragon of patience in Seattle sports. That changes today, when the Seattle City Council is expected to announce agreement on a revised Memorandum of Understanding approving the financing for a new NBA/NHL arena to be built when a tenant for the building is found. The final deal is the result of the immense patience with the political process shown by Chris Hansen, the leader, driving force and public face of the group of investors that plan to build the arena and bring an NBA team back to Seattle.
While the deal came together quickly in the context of our local political scene, where replacing doomed and decaying roadways can take years if not decades, it was the product of months of negotiations. At first, Hansen worked with Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine to produce a Memorandum of Understanding that was in satisfactory condition to take public in February.
Over the last seven months, the arena plan was subject to public scrutiny that turned contentious at times. In the face of opposition from the Port of Seattle, the Seattle Mariners and anti-arena groups, among others, Hansen stood strong and patiently reiterated the unique nature of this deal and the value of bringing back the Sonics. When the City Council expressed its unwillingness to pass the MOU in its original form, Hansen was flexible enough to agree to changes that left all parties satisfied.
Now is not the time to dredge up past mistakes, but it’s worth noting how refreshing Hansen’s calm demeanor was in contrast to the way previous Sonics ownership groups negotiated in public and took offense when politicians did not simply acquiesce to demands much higher than the ones Hansen’s group made. At many points during the process, Hansen would have been justified in considering the conclusion that bringing the NBA back to Seattle was not worth the trouble. Instead, he stuck with his plan and has been rewarded with a completed deal where others failed time and again.
Of course, Hansen isn’t the only one who has been patient. The members of the former Sonics ownership group that have joined Hansen also put aside the bitter disappointment of the way the team left. The hidden hero in this entire process was former Sonics president and CEO Wally Walker, who advised Hansen behind the scenes and was responsible for introducing him to the influential local businessmen who lent his investment group credibility. Walker, who voted against the sale of the team to the Oklahoma City group as a member of the board in 2006, has since worked tirelessly to help bring back the Sonics. That, not any of his decisions as general manager, should be his enduring legacy in Seattle.
No group has been more patient than the fans. More than four years after the franchise moved to Oklahoma City, the Sonics have become arguably Seattle’s most popular sports team. Led by ArenaSolution.com’s Brian Robinson and Adam Brown and Jason Reid, the creative forces behind Sonicsgate, fans refused to let the team die. They kept sporting Sonics gear and showing up at public events.
Without the vocal, passionate support of fans, Hansen might never have tried to bring the Sonics back, and their role in the political process cannot be overstated. Fans from all walks of life and of all ages turned out in numbers too big to ignore at the public hearings held by both the King County and Seattle City Councils to explain to elected officials what the Sonics meant—and still mean—to them.
Realistically, this is still a time for patience. Aside from an Environmental Impact Study, the final hurdle to bringing the Sonics back—securing a team—is the most challenging. Everyone involved must be prepared to potentially wait years for a team to be forced to move. As unstable as the NBA’s landscape might feel, there has been just one move—the Sonics to Oklahoma City—since 2002. Relocation simply does not happen that frequently. The important thing is that Seattle is now ready and in position to take advantage should an opportunity arise rather than watch helplessly as a team moves to a city with no history of supporting NBA basketball and no built-in fan base.
I’ll be honest. There were dark moments, even within the last few months, where I never imagined we would get to this point until decades had passed since the Sonics’ departure. Had the City Council rejected Hansen’s offer, unprecedented in the history of Seattle sports facilities, I’m not sure any deal would have been possible in the current political climate. That is why, though this is a step in the process and certainly not the destination, today is a day well worth celebrating. We’re that much closer to returning the Sonics to their rightful home.
- Kevin PeltonSep112012
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