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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stern Courting Seattle?

Below are excerpts from an interview with Commish David Stern. A couple of things stand out to me about this. First, Stern didn't have to even address this, he could've walked away. The fact he addressed it at all makes me think he's using this as a way to extend an olive branch to the Seattle media and fans (maybe city leaders) suggesting there is hope for a return of the NBA to Seattle.

That's not to suggest that Seattle is necessarily on the same page as Stern, however.

It's also an obvious lure for Ballmer and his group, keeping them on notice the league like them and their money. It's not a bad thing.

I truly believe Stern would love to be the person who ends his tenure as Commissioner by returning a franchise to Seattle. It's just too good of a finale for him. He gets to mend broken fences, appeal to the fans, penetrate a top 15 market, which the NBA desperately needs, and relocate a failing franchise to a market with a history of success and money. It's a feel good story if he can facilitate it and it's a smart business move - moving a failing franchise to a big market with money and fans. With the economic downturn in full swing, it's likely he needs this for the league. In a game of politics and positioning, this is a good indicator. Stern isn't going to over-play his courtship of Seattle, he'll use a soft touch as he did here, with compliments about the city and praise for Ballmer. He'll test the water to gage reactions.

Stern's willingness to discuss this on the record suggests it's time to move forward. Getting the Coliseum/Seattle Center upgraded is the obvious first step. I imagine the businesses in lower Queen Anne could use the financial jolt the Sonics provided. I imagine the NBA could, too.

Below are some excerpts from the interview.

At courtside of the Thomas and Mack Center, before Griffin's debut with of the Los Angeles Clippers, I asked Stern if I could talk with him for a couple of minutes. Just two minutes for 41 years. Two minutes to talk to Seattle basketball fans. A little respect after showing the ultimate disrespect.

He paused, looked at a member of his public relations staff and said, "OK, two minutes."

He gave me a minute and 43 seconds. I asked him if he would offer some thanks to Seattle for all it did for the league. "It was a great city for the NBA," Stern said, dropping the stridency of last summer. "It supported us very well and we had great teams and great memories. I don't consider it a success that we left Seattle, but a failure of types. And I hope someday, whether on my watch or a successor's watch, that we again have a team in Seattle."

With a public relations staff member tape recording our brief interview, Stern was asked what he thought Seattle should do next.

"The next step is really the right putative owner, who really wants to have a team and is prepared to do what it takes, working together with the city, the state to get an arena and get the job done," he said. "I think ultimately there will be [another team in Seattle]. I really do."

When he was asked if Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, an NBA maven who is part of a group that has offered to make a sizable financial commitment to bring the league back to the city, could be the kind of owner Stern would like to see in Seattle?

"I don't want to put the whammy on him," Stern said, "but he'd be a hell of an owner."

A year ago, when Bennett left town with the team, the idea of even an NBA intrasquad scrimmage coming to Seattle seemed impossible. But in October, the Portland Trail Blazers will play an exhibition game against the Phoenix Suns at KeyArena.

I asked Stern if this could be considered a hopeful sign for those of us who want the league in our town. "I think it's just an attempt by Portland to do the right thing and show fans a good time," Stern said.

He was asked if he was concerned about a possible boycott of that game.

"I think the fans are entitled to do whatever they want to do," he said, beginning to move away. "It is an independent city. It always has been and I hope it always will be."

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