It's now out there for full consumption - there is new local money that is burning the hole in the pocket of Steve Ballmer, among other big players, to not only buy the Sonics but give $150 million dollars towards a massive Key Arena renovation. You've seen all the particulars so I'll spare you the further details as to why this thing makes so much sense. But the quick, official breakdown is $150 million from the new ownership group, $75 million from the city that is all but guaranteed at this point, but the sticking point is the last $75 million to come from the stadium tax that's already in place. The plan has been to retire the stadium taxes for the M's by 2012, as it was doing so well it was set to finish 4 years ahead of the original 2016 date. This group is simply asking the state to not retire the tax early, in 2012, but instead let it run it's course as it was originally designed. They would take $75 million of it for the Key, but anything left over in that time period would go to other causes, however the state saw fit.
Seems like a home run. But the resistance looks like this thing is going to be a long-shot to come through.
So far we've had house speaker Frank Chopp cowering in the corner, so unsure of what to say or do that he's actually deferred his comments to his mouthpiece named Jeff Morris from Anacortes. Morris threw cold water on the idea yesterday, saying that it's far too late in the session and that he doesn't see much support for something being introduced so late in the process. Meanwhile, the governor's spokesperson says hey, great. But we're not going to commit to anything for this session and it's unlikely a special session will be called after next week.
Finally, the ultimate fly in the ointment, crap-with-feet-Bennett. The word is he's still partying from Tuesday night's election victory in OKC and is dying to bring "his" Sonics "home". Last night, Bennett's office wouldn't comment, and the NBA flatly said "Mr. Bennett has stated the team is not for sale." Maybe it's just part of the dance, and for now he's got to say it. What, did you expect he'd just bend over and pull up his skirt? Of course not.
So, add it all up? There's a lot of opposition here. Maybe it is too much to overcome in such a short time. Or maybe, just maybe, this power group is so used to getting what they want that they don't know how to take no for an answer?
I mean think about the players in this - Steve Ballmer, the friggin' CEO OF MICROSOFT, the most successful software company in the world. Ballmer's net worth is $15 BILLION. To put that in proper context, he is only about $1 billion behind Paul Allen. That number would easily place Ballmer as the #2 richest owner in pro sports behind only Allen. Even further, everyone brags about Bennett's wealth and his group has billions. Yet Ballmer's net worth is FIVE TIMES that of Bennett's entire ownership clan.
And don't forget the political power of Slade Gorton. He's been talking to the NBA since December about this possibility. He's been in the middle of so many successful things in Seattle and oh yeah, he's going to help defend the city in court in June for the Sonics lawsuit. Remember, Gorton is responsible for the M's, saving them TWICE - once by suing MLB and getting the M's in '77, and then again helping the sale to Nintendo of America and also playing peacemaker between the M's and the state over Safeco Field in '95 - and of course the Seahawks, who actually moved to Anaheim before he got involved with Paul Allen, and ultimately Qwest Field!
I guess the real question for the state to answer is, well, OK, this thing is being unveiled late in the session. It's not ideal because of the timing. But what is the alternative? What if they play politics and throw out resistance-type quotes, and hem and haw about there's not enough time? Well, if that happens and they let this thing go, then the NBA board of governors has a choice to make next month. They have the OKC situation sorted out with their latest upgrade to Ford Center. Then they look at Seattle and see a state legislature opposed to a silver-platter style offer for the arena? That this state can't even bring themselves to consider letting a stadium tax run it's course?? There wouldn't be any public vote on this thing. The usual anti-stadium suspects have already weighed in, saying they are in favor of this plan. They have one of the top-30 richest human beings on the planet with 6.5 billion people as a potential owner of the team, and is a major force in the pacific NW. And the state is thinking of saying no??
If they say no, it's simple - the NBA board will vote to allow the relocation if this thing isn't approved and Seattle has nothing on the table. This deal evaporates in the wind and will never come back. The Sonics court case will play out, and the city will ultimately win. But that will only delay the inevitable. Oh, there will be other, lesser plans floated by the state next legislative session, but it won't matter. It won't come close to what is on the table. As every second goes by, the Sonics are closer to OKC. And then, after the 2009 - 2010 season, the team is gone. The city not only loses a big part of it's culture, but is then stuck with an outdated arena that has debt still unpaid from the last time the renovation happened. And, yes, they lose their major tenant for at least 41 nights from November - April, the dreariest time of the year to exist in Seattle.
We'll see how it plays out, but this next week is going to be a potential roller-coaster. If you've ever wondered if you should contact the powers-that-be, this is the time.