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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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July 3, 2008 11:12 AM

Losing a team

Posted by Geoff Baker

One of our regular readers, ScottM, wrote in to ask which was worse, the Sonics leaving Seattle, or my hometown Expos leaving Montreal after the 2004 season. I'd argue they are both the same. Neither city is going to suffer for it in the long-term. Both places, Montreal and Seattle, remain dynamic in their own right and a fine place for which to attract tourists. Cities that define themselves based on their sports franchises...well, let's face it. A lot of you wouldn't want to live there when the teams aren't playing. Hey, the visiting Detroit Tigers are part of a city that gets voted among the best sports towns in the U.S. every year. Want to splurge on a downtown condo right next to Comerica Park? You'll get it pretty cheap. Yeah, I thought so.

What will suffer, from my experience with Montreal, is the lack of a place for fans to put their passion for a sport. Unlike the Sonics situation, the Expos spent roughly eight years threatening to pull out of Montreal. When they finally did, relocating to Washington, the fans there had already been conditioned to expect it. The shock was lessened. What remained was a bit of an empty hole in the hearts of baseball fans. It's one thing to be a fan of a sport. Another to be a fan of a team. With a team, there is a target for the passion. And finding another team to cheer for just isn't the same. I know some people who tried to cheer for the Washington Nationals. Some who tried to find a reason to cheer against the Florida Marlins, whose owner, Jeffrey Loria, used to own the Expos and is seen as Public Enemy No. 1 in Montreal.

Some have even tried to cheer for the Blue Jays, Canada's only remaining team. But Montreal and Toronto hate each other in sports and most other things. In 1992 and 1993, Montreal ball fans cheered mostly for the Braves and Phillies to beat the Blue Jays in the World Series. So, that's a no-go.

The sad truth is, a generation of basketball fans who grew up watching and cheering for the Sonics will have no other team to cheer for as fervently. Older fans who grew up with other favorite squads could revert back to that. But for most, things won't be the same basketball-wise.

Still, there is an upside.

One thing I've noticed about the Montreal situation is that sports fans there have seemed to throw their surplus passion into the other sports in town. I don't think it's a coincidence that since 1996, when the Expos began seriously making noise about leaving the following year (which they did every year the remainder of their existence), world class tennis has thrived. Soccer is now a very popular professional sport there as well. Montreal also played host to the last Presidents Cup golf tournament. As far as city teams, the Canadiens are as popular as ever. The Alouettes of the CFL have grown from an afterthought in 1996 to one of that city's hottest pro sports tickets. Oh yeah, I forgot. Montreal is also a Grand Prix auto racing city. For world class sports, that one's hard to beat.

Yeah, it misses baseball. But life goes on. MLB baseball is one American-based sport in an increasingly global arena. So is the NBA. Basketball has been fighting popularity problems for years now. So, yes, Seattle sports fans will miss it. But they will find other things.

This isn't whistling in the dark. I sat in on the Brazil-Canada soccer match a month ago at Qwest Field. Sat behind the net in the stands. That was fun. The fans were educated about the sport. It was a new experience and -- frankly -- meant a heck of a lot more on the world stage than any NBA regular season game. Ask any folks who sat in a bar watching Spain play Germany for the European championship last weekend and see if they weren't having fun.

Sports change. Teams change. It's the nature of the beast. No passion is ever completely satisfied. That's why it's a passion. But Seattle fans feeling a hole in one area of their sports passion will always have new ones they can turn to. Or old friends, like the Seahawks and...sigh...yes, the Mariners. Both of those teams now have a responsibility, to the city and the fans who pay their freight, to step up their efforts just a little bit more in coming months.

There is a sports vacuum in this city. And it will need to be filled. Who is up to that challenge? We'll see.

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Posted by Markus

11:44 AM, Jul 03, 2008

One of your finer postings Mr. Baker, thank you.
As for the filling of the vacuum, I vote for the Huskies, lets put our money into a renewal of Husky Stadium.
The NBA is a failed business model and will be bankrupt in 10 years if they continue with their ridiculous spending on player salaries and owners who fail to live up to their civic responsibilities to the communities they depend upon for support in an attempt to extort millions of dollars for their own personal benefit. I am sad to lose the Sonics, but not the NBA.
Go M's!

Posted by Oly Mike

11:47 AM, Jul 03, 2008

At least the Mariners and Seahwks got a "Plug" from Mayor Nickelsand will be staying around no matter how awful they are. Here is what I wrote to to the Seattle Times and PI concerning the Sonics and Mayor Nickels:

Sonics Ain’t Worth A Plug from Nickels

Well the Sonics couldn’t get support (a plug) from Mayor Nickels. You could just see Mayor "Plug" on TV salivating at the thought of getting his greasy palms on that $45 million dollars The Sonics never had a chance of remaining in Seattle with that much cash involved. I wonder how much other cash passed under the table into Plug’s over size pockets. It was just like the proposed Seattle Monorail once Plug put his weight against that project it was gone, even though the citizens of Seattle publicly voted for it twice. Now what do they have? Well it is the South Lake Union Trolley (SLUT)! A most appropriate name with Plug involved. The South Lake Union Streetcar or SLUS as it is now called to protect the names of the guilty is more intrusive (at-grade), less service and approaching the same initial cost as the Monorail. Lookout! Alaskan Way Viaduct we might get slutted or “Plugged” to the highest bidder and get something that we don't want and watch Plug Nickels speechify again on why he sold us out and how he is planning the best thing for Seattle!

Maybe Mayor Plug should tell Mariner Management what they need to do and something would happen.

Posted by Insider

11:49 AM, Jul 03, 2008

I just think the way the whole Sonic situation went down, all parties involed, was really unbelievable. I'm definetly not the biggest Sonic fan, but too see them leave the way they did is pretty maddening.

Posted by scrapiron

11:49 AM, Jul 03, 2008

The Mariners almost moved to St.Petersburg, the Seahawks almost moved to Los Angeles. Now the Sonics have moved to Oklahoma City. It's a sad day.

Seattle is now the equivalent sports town as San Diego (Clippers) and Kansas City (Kings). Both lost their NBA teams, and never got another one back.

I remember when all there was in town was the Sonics in the winter and hydro races in the summer. It was pretty bleak around here. Now there will be a void between baseball and football season.

Posted by Elliott

11:50 AM, Jul 03, 2008

Go Sounders!

Posted by gohuskies898

11:56 AM, Jul 03, 2008

Geoff - Excellent post. I agree with most of what you said. Those sports dollars spent here will go to another activity. It will be interesting to see what else pops up here. My guess is that we will see more of those one time sporting events (e.g., races, tennis, whatever) then we do today.

Heck maybe even an NHL team. I can say though that I think it is a race between the NBA and the NHL. The one who comes in second in that race will lose because I don't think the city is big enough to support both of those at one time.

We'll see.

Posted by Elect Dino

11:57 AM, Jul 03, 2008

At least one good thing will come out of the fiasco: Gregoire will be thrown out of office come November. But the other negligent officials (Nickels, Chopp, Licata) will survive because this is what most of the denizens within the city limits of Seattle want--no public money for sports.

Will Seattle survive and thrive? Of course. Is it worse off? Absolutely. We are a two-horse town now, just like Cincy or KC.

Posted by Chris in pdx

12:06 PM, Jul 03, 2008

Geoff.Why is it that Americans dismiss`s the most populer sport in the world and to say it suck`s because you don`t understand it comes across as arrogent.I don`t get it yet,but that`s because I have to learn about the sport.I had a great time watching the Spain/Germany game and would rather see that than a bunch of overpayed asse`s who could give a crap about the regular season.NBA is a pretencious,"me first/look at me league.Loved the 79 sonic`s but alot has changed since then.Good ridence

Posted by Samurai I Am Awry

12:20 PM, Jul 03, 2008

The Huskies will never leave town

Posted by Bill

12:30 PM, Jul 03, 2008

I'm not a basketball fan but the Sonics leaving Seattle is terrible. The people we elect to be political leaders showed absolutely no leadership and should be voted out of office.

I could easily become a soccer fan if I wanted to but I would love to see the NHL come to Seattle.

Posted by Jeff C

12:31 PM, Jul 03, 2008

You are right, I used to live in Detroit. It is a total dive. The whole state of Michigan is ugly. When I moved back here 18 years ago, I still remember getting out of the Uhaul at the Idaho/Washington border on the side of the freeway and kissing the ground.

Detroit sucks to live in. We are quite quite fortunate to live in this awesome state.

Posted by Ben

12:33 PM, Jul 03, 2008

Well obviously the mariners are up to that challenge...

Can we get a BJ Upton type here or a Jacoby Ellsbury? you know - a young player with dramatic impact...

A kevin durrant maybe.

I wonder if Seattle will get a TV deal to watch the Blazers team, just like Oregon gets to watch Seahawk and Mariner games. I think that would be a good option - short term hopefully. I can get behind the Trail Blazers - Nate McMillan, Brandon Roy. I hope that happens.

Posted by Saintevil

12:37 PM, Jul 03, 2008

I think we should try for the NHL. I've got $5 on it, anyone else want to chip in?

Posted by Top pick in 09 draft

12:42 PM, Jul 03, 2008

One of the few bright spots with yesterday's news of the Sonic settlements is that more fan attention will be directed at the importance of having good local ownership to a franchise's success. I am very excited by the potential prospect of Mr. Yamauchi realizing it is time to sell his majority ownership in the club to Chris Larson. To get an owner that really is committed to winning would be a wonderful change (not to mention the prospect of honorably retiring old school guys like Lincoln and Armstrong). I look at the Angels continued history of success since Arte Moreno took over ownership from the corporate Disney folks as a perfect example of what could happen here with a potential ownership change.

Posted by crypticsailor

12:53 PM, Jul 03, 2008

Over the years of being away while in teh Navy, my constant connection to home was not just conversations with family and friends but also keeping up and catching up with the 'hometown' teams. The Sonics were alwayts part of that and then the Seahawks and the Mariners. When theMariners were the best Triple A baseball team and the Seahawks were struggling to think of winning, the Sonics were winning championships and consistently going to the play-offs. As the Mariners and Seahawaks improved and the Sonics waned, I continued to watch until the club's seemingly clueless management bungled away not just the best players but eventually the club as well. The '79 Sonics wil live on as will the clubs of the 90's but no matter how good this current crop of players might be, they will never be Sonics to me.

Posted by nicelyproctor

12:59 PM, Jul 03, 2008

I'm sorry, but nothing, absolutely nothing, can or will replace the Sonics in my heart. I was 12 when they beat the Jazz in 1996, and that game still ranks as one of the best and most thrilling moments in my life. It's ridiculous to think that I'm magically going to become a tennis fan, or devote any more of my fanhood to either the Mariners or Seahawks (They both already get plenty). The Sonics' departure has created a void, a hole in my heart that will be filled by nothing. And the suggestion that it could and/or will be fulfilled by something else is downright insulting.

Posted by Lance

1:16 PM, Jul 03, 2008

The Sonics and the NBA lost me a few years back for a variety of reasons, so I'm shedding no tears. The NBA is nothing more, now, than over-hyped street basketball. It's arrogance is only matched by its greed.

Aside from a few supercities, like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, the league by-and-large can't compete in many other metropolitan areas, so it tries to find success in cities where the compitition isn't so great. Portland, Sacremento, Memphis, San Antonio, some others, and now Oklahoma City.

For those who can't live without their NBA, I suggest they get behind the Blazers. Also, I would think the NHL would love to put a team in Seattle, provided a proper venue can be built, probably on the eastside, where most of the money is.

Don't pine for the NBA. Its financial model is absurb. If it thinks it's going to better itself by leaving supportive markets like Seattle and find bliss in much smaller markets like OKC it's sadly mistaken. Just wait when Bennett tries to squeeze them for a half-billion dollar arena. Seattle won't look so bad then.

Posted by Charles

1:26 PM, Jul 03, 2008

I say we reroute our passion to the Huskies! I think the NBA will come back to Seattle eventually. It is too big of a market for the greedy Stern to ignore forever.

Also, enough with the soccer and NHL comments from the California and Canada transplants. People don't think the "NBA financial model" will work in Seattle but somehow think the NHL would.

Posted by MarinerIslanderSean

1:32 PM, Jul 03, 2008

I know most of us up north here in Vancouver would welcome the movement of an NHL team coming to Seattle since the Canucks don't have a natural geographic rival. Build a new arena and it can happen. After the Grizzlies left a few years ago, most of us won't watch the NBA and nobody talks about them. It's as if the Grizzlies never existed, though I know the Sonics had a much longer history, which makes this completely different.

NHL expansion over the past fifteen years has put a glut of teams in southern markets where attendance has been mediocre. There are several NHL franchises that could move in the next five years: Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers, Atlanta Thrashers to name three. My team is the New York Islanders and if it wasn't for their TV deal, they'd probably be a candidate too since their attendance has been horrible for a decade. If their arena renovations fall through, subject to a lot of political red-tape on Long Island, they could be moving anyway.

Seattle has the second-largest U.S. metro-area population of a market that doesn't have an NHL team (Houston being the first, though the Dallas Stars are Texas' team). I think it could work. An unproven northern market such as Columbus as thrived in supporting the Blue Jackets with less than half the surrounding metro population.

To me, the issue comes down to finally getting a modern arena built. The fans didn't fail the Sonics, the league and politicians did.

Posted by Miles

1:32 PM, Jul 03, 2008

I think the NHL is really intriguing:

- history of support for the sport in the city and plenty of junior hockey going on around here.

- the league has teams that are struggling elsewhere.

- the seasons perfectly replaces the hole left by the NBA.

- instant rivalry with Vancouver to the north.

Let's take a break from the NBA for at least a few years.

Posted by Chris

1:38 PM, Jul 03, 2008

Lance`s comment and perspective couldn`t be said better.
In a way the fan`s voice and apathy was finally heard.
One thing that bug`s me though.H.Schultz claimed to be in the dark about the new owner`s intention of moveing the team which I find impossable to believe.He new.Had too.Claiming he didn`t was a transparent publicity spin contoll move to protect himself against possable backlash.

Posted by Adam

1:51 PM, Jul 03, 2008

Although I agree that cities move on, I don't agree that basketball is decreasing in popularity.

On a global level, the game is becoming much more popular - just look at the upcoming Olympics. The United States is not a lock for the gold medal, like they were in 1992.

But in Seattle, the sport has decreased in popularity due to a,) ineptitude / arrogance in the team's former ownership and b.) city tax payers / legislators not looking at the big picture.

Hopefully Mariners ownership will learn from the Sonics in how not to run a team.

Posted by Stat Prof

1:52 PM, Jul 03, 2008

The Sonics came to town the year I graduated from high school. Back in those days, basketball was a great game. It's not anymore.

What Seattle needs to do is to forget about baskeball, and move one. Adopt the Vancouver Canucks as a winter passion.

Don't steal a franchise from another city. Don't advocate that, ever. The world's biggest hypocrite is Bud Selig, who stole the Pilots from Seattle and talks about how he 'cried" when the Braves were 'stolen' by Atlanta.

Seattle survived the loss of the Pilots, hopefully someday Seattle will get an expansion team in the NHL or NBA.

Posted by scrapiron

1:52 PM, Jul 03, 2008

There is a report that the Mariners are moving to KIRO. The bigger news is that it is for less than half of the $10 mil that KOMO paid in 2002. I wonder if that will have a trickle down effect on the Mariners budget?

Posted by Earl of WA

1:55 PM, Jul 03, 2008

I don't blame the current group in the government for the Sonics moving as much as the group that brought about the Key Arena in the first place years ago. I remember when the decision was made to renovate instead of constructing a brand new arena and that was the decisions that ruined the Sonics.

Without a new arena that could seat enough for an NHL franchise or host the NCAA regionals (I loved going to those games in the Kingdome), we were eventually doomed to the reality of the Sonics leaving because the arena would not always be big enough. It was shortsighted to leave Seattle with a small facility.

Dallas had the foresight to build the American Airlines Center when they still had the Reunion Arena. That enabled them to keep the Mavericks and draw the Stars from Minnesota. There is no way Seattle can lure an existing NHL team or get a new NBA team without a new, state-of-the-art arena.

The new stadiums that the Mariners, Seahawks and Sounders have are going to allow them to stay and flourish.

Posted by rob

1:57 PM, Jul 03, 2008

The fact that professional sports exist at all is an embarrassment. A high level of a very limited set of physical skills that contributes nothing solid back to society should not be rewarded with privilege, honor or money. Professional athletes make 10, 20 or even 50 times the amount that the President of the United States makes – this is foolishness and a reflection of the warped values of today’s society.

Say goodbye to the Sonics and hope that the Mariners and Seahawks are not far behind. Anyone who is saddened or angered by this situation needs to do a true self examination to determine if they actually have a grasp on reality and what is actually important in today’s world. If we’d spend as much time and energy making our cities the best places to live and our people the best educated, humblest and kindest as we spend worrying about whether our “MEN” can put a ball through a hoop, and catch or hit or run better than some other city’s men then we’d be a truly great place indeed.

Banish professional sports from the face of the earth and devote time and energy to the betterment of society – that will make Seattle a truly great town.

Posted by Lenny Randle's Breath

2:00 PM, Jul 03, 2008

Thanks to NBA officials, OKC makes it to the finals. Clay hoists their banner up next to the copies of previous Sonic banners. Classy!

Key Arena is showing the finals on the Jumbo Tron. Mayor Nickels uses some of his sellout moola to attend his first NBA event. He is pleased to receive an official NBA David Stern bobble head. It holds a sign that says "NBA. It's scamtastic!"

Posted by drake

2:11 PM, Jul 03, 2008

as far as market conditions go, now isn't a bad time to be without an NBA team.... not only are the games too expensive to attend now, but the league has been on the decline in popularity. couple that with the recent referee fixing scandal, and it's not a bad time to let it go.

can you tell I'm on the fifth stage of grief here?

I'll keep my old sonics gear boxed up for now in hopes that a team will come back when conditions are ripe for it.

Posted by Chris from Bothell

2:40 PM, Jul 03, 2008

I love how all the people bemoaning the departure of basketball in Seattle completely overlook the WNBA. Didn't the Storm actually win a championship recently? :)

And no, Chris in PDX, some of us don't dismiss soccer/futbol because we don't understand it, we dismiss it b/c it's about as interesting as watching fish in a fish tank. And because the notion of a game that can legitimately end in a tie is utterly, utterly alien to the American mindset. And, as brilliantly noted by Jon Hodgeman a while back on The Daily Show, (paraphrasing), "Europeans are so worked up and nationalistic about soccer because in some ways it's a metaphor for war. Americans don't need a metaphor for war. We have war."

Posted by Chris from Bothell

2:45 PM, Jul 03, 2008

Oh, and hyper-polite, hyper-milquetoast Seattle supporting an NHL franchise? In a town where fans at a baseball game are discouraged from standing and yelling, and need to be told when to cheer?

Please. :)

Posted by scottM

2:50 PM, Jul 03, 2008

Thanks for addressing this subject, Geoff:

Brooklyn Dodgers fans are the archetype of this sensation. Sonics fans have now joined them in that feeling of void.

For me:
1967- fifth grade listening along to Bob Blackburn. As a Parks&Rec league recreational basketball captain, named my team the Supersonics.

1970- Saw Earl the Pearl/ Gus Johnson of the Baltimore Bullets. Saw Jerry West beat the Sonics with one of his classic eighteen foot jumpers (see the NBA logo). Saw Lew Alcindor (maybe Kareem Abdul Jabbar by then) lose the game for the Milwaukee Buck when he missed a slam dunk at the buzzer.

1978- scored tickets to game five of the World Championship. Seattle went up 3-2, but Dick Mota's fat lady had yet to sing. A Seattle Times photographer took a picture of me holding my three-month-old son in his Sonic's shirt that, on him, looked like a night shirt. The photo took up a quarter page in the Sunday Sports section. They cropped off my head and featured only my baby. Guess we know who was better looking.

1970's- The Sonics were, by far, the game in town. Received much more enthusiasm than either the new Seahawks or the even newer Mariners. Having lost the Pilots, baseball enthusiasm was hard to garner for the perennially underfunded M's.

1979- Sikma/Shelton/JJ/DJ/Gus: Remember the one-and-only parade of that kind enjoyed by everyone in the City of Seattle.

1993- The year I was convinced that the NBA was rigged. Game Seven of the Western Conference finals. The Sonics with second year Gary Payton and third year Shawn Kemp VS Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns. The crooked refs set an NBA league record calling 58 fouls against the Sonics. The league wanted Jordan VS Barkley in the finals. Charles Barkley scores over twenty of his forty plus points from the "charity" stripe.

1996- Payton and Kemp finally get their shot against Michael Jordan. Six games and out, but a good run.

The team becomes part of you, part of the design in the fabric of your life.

Basketball is Basketball
Football is Football
Baseball is Baseball

It's like asking which of your kids you love best. With more villains than most dramas are supposed to have, the City of Seattle just sent its oldest kid to permanent foster care in Oklahoma. Not quite the Trail of Tears, but it really sucks.

Posted by KennewickMan

2:52 PM, Jul 03, 2008

The Sonics have been disappearing for the last 2-3 seasons. Here in Tri-Cities they were televised only on Spanish language Hispanavision... No TV package for Eastern Washington, they weren't even on cable 3 years ago!!

Its great to see M's on FSN seven days a week this year... Strong media=strong team!

Posted by Bums

3:05 PM, Jul 03, 2008

Playdough is way in over his head with this one. After the honeymoon is over, they will still be a bad team with little appeal to free agents and current team members and "fans" will stop wasting their money. KD will not stick around. It will be fun in about 3 years to watch this team lose money and continue losing.

Posted by Kelly

3:13 PM, Jul 03, 2008

Let's start a movement to urge Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer to buy the Knicks or the Celtics, and then move them to Seattle.

Let's see how Stern feels then about re-locating a team with decades of history from a big market to a small market.

Posted by Andrew

3:51 PM, Jul 03, 2008

Even if we can get another team, we don't want to do the same thing that happened to us. I'd rather have no team than steal one from Memphis or Charlotte. Plus, I don't want to give a dime to David Stern. He thinks we should thank him for saying we can get another team and only remodel Key Arena instead of building a new stadium, gee thanks Mr. Stern can we kiss your feet too while we're down here? I'm mad!

Posted by kaseyswagger

3:58 PM, Jul 03, 2008

Its not the same as losing the Expos.We had the Sonics 41 years the longest tenure sports team in Seattle.The only professional mens team in Seattle history to Win a Championship.A team with so much history and great players and we get it yanked away from us like that.Because the City wants some quick money?

I can only pray to god that somehow Howard Shultz wins his lawsuit and makes things right.

Sorry but all Montreal lost was Vladimir Guerrero and a bunch of losing seasons.

Posted by Markus

4:34 PM, Jul 03, 2008

Hey rob, from reading you comments it is pretty obvious you have a truly enriched life despite the fact that you are not a fan of any professional athletes who contribute nothing solid to the betterment of our society, like the President does.
How fantastic for you.
How about if you practice some of that humble, kind, educated crap you are selling someplace else.
I seriously doubt that you possess any of those qualities, because if you did you wouldn't be trolling in a SPORTS FORUM trying to antagonize people. Get a life idiot.

Posted by Wolfgang

5:06 PM, Jul 03, 2008

There's no way we could have kept the Sonics once Clay took ownership. He was determined to move them to OKC from the get-go.

His determination was palpable.


Posted by Andrew

5:20 PM, Jul 03, 2008

He was a man possessed! Haha, and Rob, you have a point, sports players do get paid too much and education should have a better value. But it's odd you say this on a sports blog, why are you even reading it? Uh oh, someone got picked last for kickball.

Posted by Downtown Freddie Brown

6:11 PM, Jul 03, 2008

Go Forth and Rot in Hell.

I blew off Stern and his band of crooked Refs and planned match-ups long ago.

Who cares! The season is too long and the Salaries are Bizarre. The public should pay for this BS?

The Mule & I are on the same page.

Whatever happened to playing for the love of the game?

Down Town Freddie Brown

Posted by victoriabcfan

6:38 PM, Jul 03, 2008

maybe the NHL?

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