By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer
In 2008, the NBA turned its back on Seattle. A new ownership group took the Seattle Supersonics out of Washington and brought them to Oklahoma City, where they would become the Thunder. For many fans, it felt, and still feels, like a betrayal.
The Sonics had been in Seattle since 1967, and brought the city a championship in 1979. It’s too late to undo the OKC move, but the NBA can still make things right.
Every time there’s the slightest hint of a relocation rumor around the league, Seattle is the first name to come up. Basketball fans around the NBA want the Sonics to come back, but it doesn’t need to be at the expense of another team. The Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks have all been tied to the Emerald City at one point or another in the last several years, but it would be a huge mistake on the part of the NBA to allow any team to leave its current market.
The answer to the Seattle problem is a somewhat simple one — expansion.
The NBA hasn’t expanded since 2004, when Charlotte rejoined the league. If there’s ever been a time to add to the league again, this is it. The NBA is exploding in terms of popularity and there is talent everywhere. The first priority for that expansion needs to be Seattle. It’s time to do right by scorned Sonics fans.
Seattle is booming as a sports town. The Seahawks are in the middle of another strong season under the guidance of Russell Wilson, and the NHL’s newest franchise, the Seattle Kraken, will join the league in the 2021-22 season. As part of the bid to secure the NHL, Seattle renovated what is now known as Climate Pledge Arena. The new arena can hold almost 19,000 basketball fans, more than enough for a serious NBA market.
Despite all the success other Seattle sports might have, the Sonics are still Seattle’s favorite sons. Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp remain icons in the Pacific Northwest over 20 years after their appearance in the NBA Finals. Former NBA MVP Kevin Durant played his rookie season as a Sonic, and has been a strong advocate for the city’s return to the NBA.
The main problem some fans and analysts have with bringing back the Sonics is that they think another city might better support an NBA franchise. Cities that get bounced around in NBA expansion discussions often include Las Vegas, Kansas City, Montreal, Vancouver, St Louis and San Diego. Vegas is the only city that poses a real threat to Seattle as the top candidate for the NBA. Both cities have WNBA teams, and both also play host to teams from the NFL and NHL. Both cities will warrant strong consideration, but the NBA’s history with Seattle should prevail.
When the Sonics left for Oklahoma, the move was allegedly a financial one, as the owners thought they might find a more lucrative market elsewhere. Seattle and its surrounding area is the largest U.S. market without an NBA team. The only larger city that could garner consideration from the NBA is Montreal. Some have expressed concerns that fans won’t pay to see an expansion team in its formative years, but the average income in the Seattle metro area is over $94,000 a year, more than enough to go see a couple games.
Bringing Seattle back into the NBA would likely mean that the league would look to add another team to balance out conferences. This team wouldn’t have to be in the east though, and could go to a city like Las Vegas.
Seattle has been ready for an NBA team since the day the Sonics left, and the league is in position to give them what they want. The NBA’s current collective bargaining agreement will expire in 2024, allowing league officials to restructure things to bring a new team into the fold. The Sonics need to come back, and besides, a little more green and gold never hurt anybody.