On October 5, two NBA teams competed in Seattle for the first time since 2008. The Golden State Warriors beat the Sacramento Kings 122-94 in KeyArena, the former home of the Seattle SuperSonics. The game was only a preseason game, so in the eyes of many, it didn’t really count for anything.
In the hearts of Seattle basketball fans, though, the game meant everything. Thanks to Warriors president Rick Welts, who organized the game, these fans had a chance to show the NBA that there is still a market for a professional men’s basketball team in the city.
This was never really questioned. The Supersonics were relocated to Oklahoma City not because of a decline in fan attendance but because of the failure of the owner and city officials to come to an agreement to renovate the stadium.
Since the relocation, fans and players alike have continued to think of Seattle as a “basketball city.” The Seattle Storm, Seattle’s WNBA team, just won their third championship this year, and fans have been showing their support. The Storm had the fourth highest attendance per game out of all the WNBA teams last season.
The idea of giving Seattle its own NBA team again has always been floating around, but the preseason game earlier this month put it back in the forefront of everyone’s minds. Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant, who won Rookie of the Year while playing for the Sonics in their last season, voiced his support for an NBA return to the city.
“I know it’s been a rough 10 years,” Durant said to the crowd in his pregame speech. “The NBA is back in the city tonight, but hopefully it’s back forever soon.”
He donned a Shawn Kemp SuperSonics jersey as he spoke, fueling the crowd’s love for Durant, the last great player their team had.
There seems to be mostly empathy and support for the Seattle market amongst the NBA owners. There should be. It seems that any team in Seattle would be profitable. The fans are there, and they would certainly show up. They’ve lost their franchise once before and they’re not going to take a second chance for granted.
Besides, the problem that made them leave, the arena renovation, has already been solved. KeyArena is already going to be worked on to allow an incoming NHL expansion team to play in Seattle. All the NBA needs to do is say the word, and the Supersonics can be back, playing in a revamped version of their old home.
How to go about doing this is another question. One option is relocating a team. The Milwaukee Bucks were recently a strong contender to relocate, even considering relocation to Seattle or Las Vegas if Milwaukee didn’t give them enough money to construct a new stadium.
The New Orleans Pelicans are now being considered as a candidate for relocation. Pelicans owner Tom Benson tragically died earlier this year, and his widow, Gayle Benson, is now the owner of the team. She has said she will not sell the team or relocate, but rumors have still floated around that the team could be moving in the foreseeable future.
Other teams like the Sacramento Kings and the Orlando Magic have had their names thrown in the relocation rumors, but the odds of even one of these teams making the move seem relatively low. Despite this, Seattle remains high on the list of destinations if any owner decides his or her city isn’t the right place for the team.
Relocation isn’t a great option anyway. Any team that relocates will leave behind a sad and defeated fan base. Anyone who has been paying attention to the NFL’s recent trends of relocation should have noticed the distraught Chargers and Rams fans who had to watch their teams travel to Los Angeles. Sacramento Kings fans were protesting when rumors of their NBA team leaving began. Relocation, while a great possibility for Sonics fans, is tragic for those left behind. A better option would be adding an expansion team. The situation seems perfect. The NHL has already added an expansion team in Las Vegas and is adding one soon in Seattle. Teams in both of these cities can be added to the NBA’s Western Conference and the NBA, which has already been criticized for the orientation of its Conferences, can simply move one team from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference. This would fix some geographical issues.
There is a precedent for this kind of action. In 1995, the NBA added the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies. In 2004, the Charlotte Bobcats were added. Both times, the NBA held an expansion draft. In an expansion draft, existing teams offer up players that they don’t particularly want, and the new teams are allowed to pick out of the pool offered to them.
The NBA owners have actually considered this option. While they may have been tempted, the owners have decided that an expansion is not one of their priorities until their television contract expires in 2025.
With the current trend of cord-cutting, the owners may have bigger concerns at that time than making new expansion teams.
Despite this, the owners recognize the passion of the Seattle fan base and the opportunity they have to place a team in an arena that already exists. Everything is in place for an expansion to occur, and when it reaches the top of their priorities, the owners will take a long look at the issue. Hopefully, they will decide to restore one of America’s greatest basketball cities to its former glory.