Besides fans of any team given the shaft by officials while playing the Miami Heat this post-season, the supporters of the former Seattle SuperSonics are probably some of the most pained fans in the world right now. Having watched their beloved Sonics move southeast and become the Oklahoma City Thunder, they are now watching them play in the NBA finals, a place where the proud franchise had not been since 1996.
But much like the fans of the Cleveland Browns, the folks in Seattle aren’t a group to just sit quietly and wait for a team to land on their shores. They’ve been very vocal in their demands for the NBA to return to Seattle, and several teams – including the Atlanta Hawks – are prime candidates to move there.
The idea of a team relocating to Seattle is much more likely than the league expanding, given the recent work stoppage that was supposedly based on the league being in some sort of dire financial straits. And if you look at teams with ownership issues, and a less than successful run in their current city, the Hawks are right at the top of the list.
In February of this year, it was reported that Christopher Hansen, a wealthy San Francisco businessman, had been working to purchase land in the Sodo neighborhood of Seattle, with the idea of building an arena to bring the NBA and the NHL to the city. Estimated costs for the arena would run between $450 to $500 million and include $200 million in private money going towards the arena. The lease for the Key Arena, where the Sonics formerly resided, was paid off by Thunder ownership group in a $45 million settlement with the City of Seattle prior to its 2010 expiration.
On June 13, 2012, it was announced that Hansen’s ownership team included Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Erik Nordstrom, and Peter Nordstrom.
So the ownership group is set, the land is ready for ground-breaking, and the plans are on the table for an arena. To quote Charlestown Chiefs player-coach Reg Dunlop, “What they’re really lookin’ for is a cheap deal on a team.” Enter, the Atlanta Spirit, LLC. The thorn in the foot of Atlanta basketball and hockey fans. If any ownership group would try to wangle a deal to dump their team, it would be Michael Gearon and company.
Why the Hawks? The team moved from St. Louis to Atlanta in 1968. Since that time they have yet to advance beyond the second round of the playoffs. There have been four different owners/ownership groups, and in 1985 a move to New Orleans was considered so strongly that 12 “home games” were actually played at Lakefront Arena, and paid for by Louisiana sports promoter and legend Barry Mendelson. The principles in the current ownership group have been involved in power struggles and in-fighting since day one. A 2011 sale of the team – which would have likely kept the team in Atlanta – was nullified during this past off-season’s lockout.
Seattle wants a team. The Atlanta Spirit wants to sell a team. And with the ownership group that has been put together in Seattle, basketball fans in Atlanta should probably hold off on buying season tickets for now….or become WNBA fans. Go Atlanta Dream!