TACOMA -- Traction is gaining for an arena that will ensure the return of the NBA to Seattle.
It's possible an NHL team could serve as a co-tenant.
As somebody who writes about sports for a living -- and is really, really tired of Peyton Manning, whose health issues have become a pain in the neck for both of us -- I believe the influx of two winter-sports franchises into the region is very good news. But I also understand if you're skeptical.
I may not be able to feel your pain, but I can hear your questions.
After the debacle that concluded with Clay Bennett's league-approved relocation of the Sonics to Oklahoma City in 2008, how many fans around here still have an appetite for the NBA?
More than enough to fill an 18,000-seat building 41 times a season.
Jilted fans like to talk tough -- it's their right -- but jilted fans are less capable of sustaining a grudge than an Irish setter deprived a morning walk.
Consider what happened after the Baltimore Colts took their midnight express to Indianapolis: Baltimore eventually ended up with the Cleveland Browns, whose name was changed to the Baltimore Ravens. They were embraced in a heartbeat. Cleveland, meanwhile, was placated by an expansion franchise called -- of all things -- the Browns. In both cases, life went on.
Which has to do with us ... how?
Whichever struggling NBA franchise ends up in Seattle -- Sacramento, facing a March 1 deadline to resolve a longstanding arena conundrum of its own, is an obvious candidate -- will be accepted sooner or later.
If the team is rechristened as the Sonics, and wears the uniform colors of green and gold, I tend to think the acceptance terms will be sooner.
How eager is the NBA to return to Seattle?
Very. Commissioner David Stern is nothing if not vain; he realizes his reputation was tainted by allowing the league, under his watch, to lose the 12th-largest TV market in America.
How eager is the NBA to orchestrate its return to Seattle with an NHL franchise?
Not very. Because hockey doesn't command lucrative local TV contracts -- that darn puck is just too small, and travels too fast, for the sport to be appreciated at home -- ticket prices are steep. If a family of four commits to paying $200 for a hockey game in January, it's going to think twice about paying $100 for a basketball game in February.
But the NBA can't have it both ways. It can't demand a state-of-the-art arena as an absolute precondition for a franchise, and then expect the arena owners to disregard 41 home dates on a hockey schedule.
Arena owners? As in, the public?
Nope. The taxpaying mechanisms responsible for the construction of Safeco Field are, like, so 1995. Five years ago, Seattle voters passed an initiative that forbids the subsidizing of arena costs unless the city is guaranteed a profit.
Chris Hansen, who bought 3 acres of property south of Safeco Field in an attempt to lure the NBA back to his native Seattle, likely knew most of the no-tax parameters when he made his purchase. If there's any parameters Hansen didn't know, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has filled him in during eight months of private discussions.
Chris Hansen? The name rings a bell. Isn't he the Dateline NBC reporter who is a predator's ultimate nightmare?
A different Chris Hansen. The Chris Hansen determined to bring back the NBA to Seattle is a 1986 Roosevelt High grad who became a hedge-fund manager in San Francisco. Unless he's been an NHL fan following Nashville, he won't go after the Predators.
Speaking of the NHL, is the Puget Sound region a viable market?
Seattle and Tacoma once competed in a big-time rivalry in the minor league Pacific Coast Hockey League. More recently, junior hockey has enjoyed success in Everett and Kent.
Portland is proud of its history of the Buckaroos as a farm-system feeder to the NHL, and I presume you've heard about the take-it-to-the-streets passion of hockey fans in Vancouver, B.C.
Depending on traffic, Vancouver is, what, a three-hour drive from Seattle? I can't fathom a sport capable of captivating a city as diverse and sophisticated as Vancouver drawing yawns from fans in Seattle, three hours to the south.
What does the NHL think about Seattle?
If there were an arena awaiting them, the Phoenix Coyotes, a bankrupt franchise whose ownership has been taken over on a temporary basis by the league, would be in Seattle tonight. Quebec City could be another option for the Coyotes, who also might work as a second team in Toronto or as the first major league pro team in Las Vegas.
But Seattle is No. 1 on the Coyotes' potential-destination list.
Who would want to take over ownership of a Phoenix hockey franchise whose $134 million value, estimated by Forbes Magazine, ranks as lowest in the NHL?
Chicago businessman Don Levin, owner of the minor league Chicago Wolves (the Canucks' top minor league team) and a house on Vancouver Island. Levin accrued enough of a fortune to make a serious bid for the Chicago Cubs, sold two years ago for $900 million.
Levin is keen on the NHL in Seattle. He insists KeyArena, with maybe 9,000 unobstructed seats for hockey, could work as an NHL team's temporary home.
For local sports fans who've got no dog in this hunt -- for those who distrust the NBA and dismiss the NHL -- what's there to care about until the beginning of the baseball season ?
Peyton Manning's neck.