Sacramento and Seattle: A Rant and Plea for Sanity
Before I go any further, I am going to give some background. I was born in raised in Sacramento and grew up watching Mitch Richmond and Olden Polynice lose 50 games a year. When Vlade Divac and Jason “White Chocolate” Williams came to town, the Kings went from background noise to my primary obsession. I have a dog in this fight.
To complicate things, I attended the University of Washington and ended up living with and spending most of my time with hardcore, Stern-hating, soccer-watching Seattleites. I was inundated with “Sonicsgate this” and “Clay Bennett that” and I, like most NBA fans, agree that Seattle got jobbed.
So now I’m back in the friendly territory of Northern California, but I’m torn. I have close friends in Northwest that want nothing more than to take my childhood team and I have high school friends that curse those pale northerners whenever they get a chance.
You know the story: Seattle politicians, a well-known local caffeine dealer, a midwestern energy tycoon, and other forces all converge and a few years later the Oklahoma City Thunder end up being the most exciting young team in basketball while the Emerald City is left reeling. Some local, deep-pocketed messiah figures join forces to bring back hope, eyeing a struggling and horribly-run franchise in a “mid-sized market” (that’s our preferred term) 750 miles down I-5 that has been rumored to be heading out of town every twenty minutes or so for the last few years.
ESPN mentions that a deal has been struck and they move on to other, more important, Manti Teo-related news.
All the while, us locals are blogging and tweeting our heads off, participating in comment wars on newspaper websites and attempting to prove which city deserves the team most. Is it the city that’s clearly a bigger media market in a state with no other NBA teams that just had its heart ripped out, or is it the city that has no other true nationally recognized entity besides a capital building? The result is a storm of words and resentment that leaves both cities on the defensive, feeling the need to argue that their side is more just and worthy of a happy ending
But there is no answer to the question of who deserves a team more. They don’t deserve a team and we don’t deserve a team. The word ‘deserve’ has no merit in this debate. If the story of how the Sonics left taught us anything, it is to view professional sports with cynicism and to understand that community loyalty is not particularly high on many owners’ list of priorities. There’s only one Green Bay Packers; us fans generally don’t have a say in what happens.
That is not to discount the role that fans have played in this saga. Hashtags and radio hosts have arguably saved the Kings once already and the public outcry in Seattle, which has manifested itself in fan projects like Sonicsgate and a rally last summer, helped convince local politicians and billionaires that Seattle is ready to support a team again. But on the macro level, fans aren’t the driving force in ownership decisions – that shouldn’t come as news to anyone.
Of course I understand that fans have an emotional response to something they love being threatened, but reading the same old “Open letter to (insert city whose fans you don’t agree with)” on my favorite forums gets old. I’m just as angry with the Maloofs as anyone but when someone talks about their team being “stolen”, I wonder how we come to believe that we actually have some sort of ownership over a sports franchise.
This phenomenon reflects the inherent power of sports to capture our hearts and make us feel part of something big. Or maybe it’s that we feel that the team represents the people of the community because we live in the same town. Whatever it is, it’s a powerful force and it can cause a lot of heartache and, in times like these, anxiety, sadness, and anger.
I don’t have an answer for the confused basketball fans of the West Coast. I don’t mean to say that fans and people associated with the team shouldn’t feel emotional when their team is leaving. Heck, I regularly watch the video of the Kings broadcast duo break down following the 2010-11 season finale when I’m feeling especially sentimental. But often times I wish that we could just enjoy the entertainment aspect of the game, cheer for our favorite teams and players and avoid the emotional roller coaster. Clearly that’s impossible – and some would argue that very roller coaster is what makes them love being a sports fan, even if it occasionally causes them to act irrationally and project their anger upon equally helpless fans in another city.
Fortunately it may almost be over. The NBA Board of Governors is meeting in a few weeks and will decide between the Hanson-Ballmer and Mastrov-Burkle bids. I just want an answer already, even if it’s bad news. Even if Sacramento loses the team to Seattle, at least then #HereWeStay could turn into #HereWeTryToGetABaseballTeam and we can start to move on with our lives.
We’ve been in an awkward holding pattern, with press conferences, announcements, and “sources close to the situation” yanking us back and forth for years, since the first rumors that the Kings were moving to Anaheim popped up. Even though fans don’t have a say at the end of the day, we deserve some respect as paying customers. So while many moan and groan about the wrongs that have seen and ways to rectify them, I just can’t stand the uncertainty and helplessness. How many times have we thought that an answer was just around the corner only to have the whole cycle repeat?
I can’t help but envision an anticlimactic event will take place, perhaps the NBA will opt for the Sacramento plan but the Maloofs will end up choosing not to sell and we’ll be back to the grind next year. The waiting and powerlessness are what keep me up nights, not the fear of my team leaving or anger at the people of Seattle that have rallied support for their competing cause.
Unlike many Sacramento residents, I don’t think that Seattle fans are hypocrites just because they are hoping for something that they were victims of just a few years ago. This is not a Seattle vs. Sacramento issue; we all want the same thing – an NBA team. The tension between my two cities exists because right now it seems like a zero-sum game. Either they get the team or we do. And while expansion, according to the NBA, isn’t an option now, I firmly believe that both cities will be better off with state-of-the art entertainment and sports complexes, even if they don’t have a basketball team as an anchor tenant.
I assume that my effort to avoid getting caught up in the emotion and instead try to look at this situation as objectively as possible is a coping mechanism; I love Sacramento and the Kings but I’m sympathetic to the pain that Seattle has experienced and the anxiety of uncertainty that they surely feel as well. I identify with both cities and I hope that fans can end the animosity between them over a decision that doesn’t belong to any of us. So for now, while we wait for an answer, I hope that my friends up north and here in California can understand that this whole debate has nothing to do with the fans and we can all remain friends and fellow basketball fans. And when an answer does come down from on high, I truly hope (and highly doubt) that civility will reign.