Yesterday afternoon, Chris Hansen, the prospective owner of the Sacramento Kings who has every intention to relocate the franchise up north to Seattle, contacted his faithful followers sitting on the internet. Hansen informed the masses that a priority wait-list had been created for those wishing to purchase season tickets for the Seattle Sonics. According to Hansen, “registering your interest” in the waitlist would constitute “a critical step in demonstrating to the NBA and basketball fans around the country the unbelievable passion that exists in the Emerald City” and, of course, help “to BRING BACK OUR SONICS!” The list would become accessible to all on March 14th, at 10 am “SST – Sonics Saving Time.” Hansen took special care to mention that nothing had been decided—the waitlist was a sign of support, not a guarantee of a victory—but that signing your name, and pledging your money, would certainly help the cause.
Unsurprisingly, Sacramentoans keeping up with the proceedings took offense to the assertion that their team was suddenly taking flyers for new season ticket holders in Seattle, and not in California’s capital. Kunal Merchant, the executive director of Think Big Sacramento, a ”regional initiative launched in 2011 focused on promoting transformative job creation and economic development projects across the Sacramento region”—aka, a new publicly-funded arena—took to Twitter, guns blazing. It was offensive that Hansen would ask his followers to start committing hard dollars to a team that still operated in a different city and state; one that was already working hard to show the NBA that it would pay for the privilege of keeping their professional basketball team. ”Today’s news is another indication that Sacramento continues to build the momentum needed to demonstrate our strength as a top NBA market,” he wrote. ”Our track record speaks for itself, as do the millions our community has already pledged in season tickets and corporate sponsorships to ensure the team’s future viability.” In his concluding blast, you could hear panic mixed with taut resolution: “We are focused and playing to win.”
In this race to the bottom, it is hard to support anyone any longer. We’ve discussed the fact that there’s no right way to save your team, and I still believe that. This is a war of dollars and cents, a battle between two ridiculously high bidders who have infiltrated the minds of citizens and the pockets of politicians. This is the way capitalism works; blurring the lines between private investors and public taxpayers, creating strange confluences where entertainment dollars and public revenue meet. This is the modern NBA, where you need an arena funded by millions of tax dollars to host a franchise. This is modern America, where metropolitan worth is directly tied to the number of professional teams you have ensconced within your city’s walls. This is modern activism, where money meant for car repairs, college educations, rising food and energy costs, and dilapidated public programs and institutions instead goes to a huge arena, built special for a horrifically terrible team.
There are no winners in proxy wars, violent engagements where two (or more) superpowers parse out their philosophical, economic and political differences through the vessels of co-opted third party’s. In the war between jilted NBA fans in Seattle and embattled fans in Sacramento, we instead see David Stern and his megalithic National Basketball Association waging war on municipal and state governments, struggling to balance their desire to fund entertainment intelligently with the ongoing demands of a depressed economy and diminished treasury. The combatants have little say in their actions, simply directives from unseen commanders in far-off lands. Pledge money to already-rich billionaires? Aye aye, sir. Purchase luxury boxes for an arena that is more conceptual than concrete? Right away, General. Push aside closed schools, laid off law enforcement, and labor and environmental concerns in the rush to break ground before the other? We shall make it so.
No one knows what will happen before April 18, 2013. The matter belongs totally, fully and completely to the Board of Governors, a committee whose total wealth exceeds the gross domestic product of the vast majority of the world. Their decision will officially complete a win-win scenario for the NBA, an unprecedented fleecing of the middle class. No matter the outcome of this modern-day judgement of Solomon, the NBA will be victorious. No matter the decision, there will be a brand new publicly funded arena in a viable NBA market, and a new billionaire owner to take hard-line stances in future labor stoppages and collective bargaining negotiations. This is a consolidation of power, waged totally through the pocketbooks of the fans and the diminished coffers of cities and states. It is the 1% unhinged, and the 99% is ready to wage war against each other in a race to the bottom.
It is a proxy war. It is a tragic outcome, replete with endless wrongs that will never be made fully right. And all we can do is watch.