Playing nice is not the NBA way

Danny Westneat, Seattle Times columnistMay 1, 2013 

The problem with Chris Hansen’s bid to get an NBA team back in Seattle is he’s been going about it all wrong.

Like how he was honest from the start about his intentions. Rookie mistake.

Or how he offered to pay for most of a new arena, rather than soaking taxpayers. Out of line!

Or how he has appealed to good faith. He keeps talking about this signed contract he has to buy the basketball team in Sacramento, calling it a “binding transaction.” A deal’s a deal.

No one in the NBA appears to have heard of such a concept. “Binding transaction?” Perhaps you mean “blinding obfuscation.” Because that’s an NBA specialty.

And so Seattle finds itself scorned by the NBA a second time in five years. D’oh, we’ve been had by NBA Commissioner David Stern again! The question now is: How should we respond?

Well, one way is by asking: Will we ever learn?

I’m as guilty as any of wishful thinking. What can I say, I love basketball. I also stand by the analysis that this is the best sports-arena deal for the public that Seattle has been offered in generations.

But it was my colleague Ron Judd who spotted the real snake in the grass.

Trying to woo the NBA back may make money sense, and it may even be good for the city, but on principle it means getting back into bed with Stern and the rest of a morally bankrupt organization that knows only how to lie, bully and extort, Judd wrote last year.

“Calling Stern a snake is offensive to all things that slither,” Judd opined, presciently. “Seriously, folks. Have you no dignity?”

The question about our self-esteem now cuts more than ever. Do we want to be used by the NBA as an ongoing bargaining chip to extort lavish, publicly financed arena deals for owners in other cities, as just happened with Sacramento? I don’t.

Hansen, too, seems to realize that just being cooperative and well-financed is a snoozer to the NBA. In a snake pit, you don’t get noticed unless you bare some fangs of your own.

His reaction to the news was surprisingly sharp. He declared he’s got a binding contract to buy the Kings team, that the money has been put into escrow already and that “we remain fully committed to seeing this transaction through.” He added he has “numerous options” at his disposal to back that up.

In other words, Stern: Steve Ballmer and I are buying this team anyway. You want to discuss that in court?

Now he may just be using whatever leverage he’s got to try to get his $30 million down payment back. But whatever, the nicey-nice is over. It feels like this is about to get uglier.

As it usually must in the National Blackmail Association.

We would be loaning Hansen some money, so we, the public, are his partners. Personally, I feel good about the way Seattle has conducted itself to date, the barbs about our missing dignity notwithstanding. We said “no,” firmly, when the league tried to extort us. We never lied to Sacramento, as the Oklahomans did to us. That matters.

But let’s face it, it’s also why the NBA finds us so easy to ignore.

If Seattle wants to win, we have to get rougher. Lie, threaten or bamboozle. Or kowtow with more public money. These are the only “principles” the NBA respects.

The problem is that if Hansen and Ballmer get feisty, I doubt Seattle has much stomach for a fight. It’s not that we’re above descending into snake pits. But man, haven’t we had about enough of these particular snakes?

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