Feb 122013

[dropcap]“I[/dropcap]t was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”  Never in the realm of sports has this Dickensian line been more relevant than now in the city of Seattle.

Just a few years removed from losing their beloved SuperSonics NBA franchise in the midst of corruption and shady business practices, the city is about to get a team again. Unfortunately, it is at the cost of Sacramento.

Before delving into the gritty details of the NBA’s wheel of fortune, let us begin by introducing the history of the cities and their respective franchises, which, admittedly, involves more than simply two cities and one franchise.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Kings franchise is one of the oldest in the NBA’s history. The team was formed in 1945 as part of the National Basketball League. This newborn team was nowhere near  Sacramento, nor where they the Kings; they were the Rochester Royals. The Royals found immediate success, winning the coveted NBL title in their first year of existence. They followed their rookie tour with two more NBL Final appearances, after which they headed to the newly formed Basketball Association of America in their inaugural season. Both the BAA and the NBL joined forces in 1949 to create the beginning of what we now know as the National Basketball Association.

In 1951, the Royals captured their first, and only, NBA title but still found it very difficult being financially stable in Rochester, so the team was forced to move to Cincinnati. Their win-loss record later matched their economic woes, as the team was plagued with losing season after losing season up until they struck gold and acquired University of Cincinnati alum Oscar Robertson. [1]

What followed was moderate success but the Royals were never able to capture a title, partly because the Boston Celtics infamously took the decade and ran with it with their collection of now-legendary players. Oscar Robertson left to the Milwaukee Bucks and won a championship that same year.

The wandering Royals franchise then moved again. This time, the team relocated to Kansas City and changed their name in order to separate themselves from the baseball team of the same name. [2] After a similar route of moderate success without reaching the ultimate prize of a league championship followed by long losing streaks, the team packed their bags and headed to Sacramento in 1985.

The Sacramento Kings’ luck turned in the late 1990s as the entrepreneurial, Vegas casino-owning Maloof family purchased the team. The sale, along with the acquisitions of Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, and Vlade Divac made the Kings into instant contenders. The first few years had with intense rivalries with division rivals Los Angeles Lakers. However, they only went as far as the Western Conference Finals in the playoffs. [3]

The lowly Kings then stumbled back into mediocrity and talks of selling the team to various suitors from cities such as Virginia BeachAnaheim, and Seattle ensued.

[dropcap]U[/dropcap]nlike the Rochester/Cincinnati/Kansas City-Omaha/ Sacramento Royals/Kings, the team that was once the Sonics, up until recent memory, was always the Seattle SuperSonics. There were no name changes, or abrupt relocations. [4]

The SuperSonics were established in 1967 as part of the NBA. In terms of wins, the team was moderately successful having won six division titles, three conference titles, and one NBA Championship in 1979. [5]

Their most recent history is controversial. In the early to mid 2000s, then-owner and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was looking to sell the franchise to an Oklahoma City businessman by the name of Clay Bennett. Throughout the negotiations, Bennett and Schultz were very public about their intentions to keep the Sonics in Seattle.  Despite the open display of goodwill, many diehard SuperSonics fans believed that the franchise’s days in Seattle were numbered.

And all throughout, the team on the court just kept getting worse and worse. With the team at the bottom of the standings, fans seldom flocked to the KeyArena to watch their beloved Sonics play. Fans endlessly protested the sale, and few even made a documentary called Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team, detailing the heartbreaking process of losing the team that they had for 41 years. [6]

In the end, the money talked and the Seattle franchise moved to Oklahoma City and was rebranded as the Oklahoma City Thunder. What’s worse is that after years and years of tanking, the team managed to get enough young players to become one of the best teams in the NBA.

The city was still entitled to keep the SuperSonics’ history in Seattle, including all trophies and retired jerseys.

However, the fans’ resentment for their former franchise could not be any higher; it is as if they were swindled, robbed, and forced to see the thieves celebrate their newfound riches.

[dropcap]N[/dropcap]ow, these two histories are intertwining. A Seattle-based group led by Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has bought the Sacramento franchise. It is likely that the team nickname, logo and colors would remain in California’s capitol but all other assets would be moved to Seattle which is what the emerald city experienced only years before.

But is a franchise that has wandered from city to city for the past 60 years more valuable than one that has stayed in one city? The attitude is much different now than it was when Seattle was losing their team. Fans were sad to see Seattle lose a team. It seems that the media is more relieved that the Kings are finally going away.

But both teams have great histories; the difference may have come down to the Kings’constant relocations and  name change. Loyalty may go a long way in this case.

How does Sacramento react to deal’s inevitability? Unfortunately, all they can do is sit there while their franchise of 20+ years is taken away from them. There is no restraint coming from Sacramento mayor, and former NBA player, Kevin Johnson. According to the Sacramento Bee, Johnson hopes to keep the team but has not yet come up with a plan.  Not having a plan this late in the process already shows that Sacramento will lose their franchise.

But how does Seattle keep its humility considering that they were on the other side of the spectrum just a few years ago? The producers of the SonicsGate documentary gave Grantland their perspective on the pending issue:

“Regardless of how you spin the situation, the fans are not to blame for this mess. Sonics fans are not the enemies of Kings fans, just as basketball fanatics who wanted an NBA team in Oklahoma City are not and have never been the enemy of Sonics fans or the Sonicsgate movement. We’ve never blamed the OKC fans or players for anything, and we’ve only criticized the people who had the power to solve the problem.”

In many respects, they are right. These franchises and histories are never truly about the fans as much as one would like to think; instead, the groups that own each franchise, often consisting of millionaires, will always dominate the conversation. After all, they are the ones that are paying top dollar to own a piece of NBA history. They can do whatever they want with it.

In cases like these, the owners can systematically betray the hometown fans to turn on the team, thereby making the moving process easier for everyone.

This will certainly not be the last time this will happen in the NBA, or in any other league. Franchises come and go as the market decides. Fans will be overzealous that their team is successful and other times they will pout over the disappointing results.

It is the work of the proverbial wheel of fortune: as one city’s hopes of keeping its storied franchise dwindles, another gains what was unfairly taken away from them.


Hector Diaz (iamHectorDiaz) covers sports, music and professional wrestling for a variety of sites, all of which can be found at iamHectorDiaz.com


[1] Robertson became one of the greatest players in NBA history, most notably for averaging a triple-double (30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists) in only the second year of his career.

[2] Historically, most cities are fine with having two franchises with the same name that play different sports.

[3] It was not entirely their fault, however; the 2002 Western Conference Finals were allegedly “manipulated” according to disgraced ex-referee Tim Donaghy.

[4] The team was not impervious to the occasional rebranding.

[5] The SuperSonics defeated the Washington Bullets (now known as the Wizards) in a rematch of the previous year’s Finals.

[6] If you have two hours to spare, I highly recommend this documentary. It is available on Youtube.

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