Sunday Musings: Sterling fiasco gives Silver opportunity to bring back Supersonics

Seattle Sonics and Sacramento Kings fans unite. (Photo: Sam Severson via Twitter)

The Sacramento Kings do not live in a vacuum and neither does Cowbell Kingdom.  Like the rest of the NBA world, we are all captivated and disgusted by the events that are playing out in southern California with the Los Angeles Clippers and owner Donald Sterling.

The frenetic 24-hour news cycle in which we now live forces all of us to face subject matter that is often uncomfortable, creates tension and feeds great debate – often without much warning.  Professional sports have become a vehicle for social change and this situation is no different.

In a situation like Sterling vs. the NBA, there is a villain, a handful of heroes and someone who is left behind wondering what exactly just happened.

History will be unkind to Sterling in this story, because he is clearly the villain.  He is an 80-year-old man who allegedly suffers from both prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s.  He was outed as a racist by a taped private conversation and is about to get handed a check for $2 billion and told to go away.  That is such a confusing grouping of words to write.

No one is coming to his defense.  According to one poll, he is the most hated man in America.  Whether that is fair or not, Sterling will leave the NBA disgraced, but walk away even richer than he was before. Much richer.

There are several heroes in this story.  Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson took the lead from the players’ side and artfully politicked his way through a minefield of issues.  His role was brief, but he further added to his appeal as an up-and-coming political figure on the national stage.

Just four months into his tenure as the NBA’s new commissioner, Adam Silver has proven to be so much more than expected. Kudos to David Stern for finding a leader worthy of taking the reins of the league, but for also staying back and allowing Silver to fight a battle some 30 years in the making.

Sterling has always been a burr in the side of the NBA, but without a catastrophic slip-up, he would have remained the owner of the Clippers until his death, whenever that may be.

Silver has handled this situation with dignity and grace.  He has proven to be Stern’s equal in so many ways, but he is different. There is no snark or Stern-ism double-talk.  There is emotion and passion that comes across as honest and compassionate.

This is not a slight on Stern, but Adam Silver is the right leader for this moment.  He is being forged in one of the hottest fires that the league has ever faced and he will come out of this situation as not only the voice of the owners, but as an ally to the players – something that Stern struggled to accomplish.

While he is just one of a handful of bidders for the Clippers, Steve Ballmer represents so much more in this story.  Not only will he replace Sterling as the Clippers’ representative at the NBA’s owners table, but he has single-handedly raised the value of every franchise in the league for the second time in a year.

Ballmer is passionate and wealthy beyond anything the NBA has ever seen.  And that is the point, isn’t it?  He is not someone to be trifled with.  Donald Sterling would get lost in Ballmer’s spare change bowl.  Sterling could take on a lot of people, but even he knows better than to bring a straw and a wad of paper to a gunfight.

It’s hard to find a loser in this situation.  For Sterling, he gets a truckload of cash and he can star in one of those Southwest Airlines “Want to get away?” commercials.  Led by Johnson, the players have helped oust a man that has plagued the players for decades.  A man that had no business running a professional basketball team.  Silver proved his mettle and then some, while Ballmer made every owner in the league that much richer.

But unfortunately, there is a hidden loser in this story.  Our friends in the Pacific Northwest were just dealt a painful blow. But as painful as it was, it may be time for the NBA to right one last wrong.

With Ballmer swooping in and snatching up the Clippers, Chris Hansen and his group in Seattle have lost their biggest backer.  Not just a deep-pocket investor, the former Microsoft exec had the clout to move mountains, and now he’s gone from the equation.

There is a lot of bad blood between Sacramento and Seattle, but this is the perfect moment to once again promote expansion.  Silver and the league are running out of ways to address one of its biggest remaining issues.

Sacramento is off the table, as is Milwaukee, Minnesota and the Clippers.  With franchise values rising at an insane rate and a new television deal just around the corner, it is time to grant expansion and allow the Supersonics to rise from the ashes, before it’s too late.

Hansen will have to pay the going rate, which would probably be between $700-800 million for a market the size of Seattle.  He will have to build an arena and he will have to do it without Ballmer by his side, but it appears that millionaires and billionaires wanting to buy into the NBA are growing on trees.

This is the time and Silver is the right person for this job, as well.  Expansion to Seattle won’t be looked at as a slight to Stern’s legacy. It will look like a thank you to Ballmer for bailing the league out of a nasty situation with Sterling.

Silver has an opportunity to show compassion for NBA fans in Seattle.  He has the players and the owners united, if only for a moment.  He has a buyer and that buyer has the political backing to build a new arena.  As the league purges itself of a Sterling, it has a small window to allow the rebirth of the Supersonics.  It is time to heal one last wound.

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