Before we get started here, let’s say this all plain and clear: The Utah Jazz are not for sale and there’s never been any indication that they were or are, not since Larry Miller bought the team a few decades back or since his passing in 2009.
The Jazz are firmly entrenched in Salt Lake City and have a large and loyal — though sometimes disappointed — fan base. Disappointed, not disinterested. Jazz fans want what every fan base wants: great basketball and a championship. They have ridden through the highs, and the ultimate heartbreak of those highs, as well as the lows and everything in between of a franchise that came so close a couple of times in the ’90s and that has done a decent amount of winning most seasons. Just never enough to win it all.
They are not the sad-and-sorry Sacramento Kings. And — fortunately for the Jazz and their fans — the Millers are not the Maloofs.
Still, news out of the NBA that the league’s relocation committee — including the Jazz’s Greg Miller — unanimously rejected the Kings’ proposed move from Sacramento to Seattle was probably good news for Salt Lake City and every other relatively supportive smaller market. All the owners will vote on the proposal in a couple of weeks, finally deciding the matter, but the committee’s strong stance spoke loudly.
Here’s what David Stern said Monday night on NBA TV: “They decided as strong as the Seattle bid was, and it was very strong, there’s some benefit that should be given to a city that has supported us for so long and has stepped up to contribute to build a new building, as well.”
In truth, the Seattle bid was better than what Sacramento scrambled to put together — by about $16 million. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Chris Hansen, a hedge fund manager, are hardly flighty or fly-by-night guys. They’re solid investors and they know what they’re doing. Moreover, the Seattle market offers a higher ceiling in population, money and overall truck. The Maloofs, who have owned the Kings since 1999, preferred the Seattle deal and were eager to get that done.
From a free-market standpoint, it’s easy to see why. And champions of a free market — and maybe even members of the NBA finance committee — might have some problems with the greater relocation committee’s vote.
But sports is — should be — a little different than other realms of business. It’s still business, at times cold and cruel, about tall stacks of cash, but customers of more routine businesses don’t cheer their guts out for the success of the product line, don’t wave pennants or buy and wear gear with company logos on it. They don’t fill arenas flowing with emotion and community pride, or get daily coverage of their successes and failures splashed all over pages of sports sections.
It’s a different beast. A cultural anthropologist has often told me that sports teams are communal representatives, the modern-day incarnation of feudal armies going out to do battle against the armies of other city-states, only with less blood and violence — unless Zach Randolph and Kenyon Martin are involved.
The Kings, then, have represented Sacramento for 28 years. Lately, they’ve done a laughably lousy job of it, losing many more games than they’ve won. Management and ownership there have been a joke, especially as the Maloofs’ financial firepower fell behind that of other NBA owners. Enthusiasm for the club has waned, as it should have given the team’s poor performance in recent seasons. But that shouldn’t be held against the fans, who have shown in the past they will support a competitive franchise. They’re fans, not fools.
Seattle should have an NBA team, too. The market is strong enough, the will and the wherewithal, the finances and the fans are there. The episode of how the Sonics left town for Oklahoma City a few years back, and Stern’s role in that, is a complicated separate story. Regardless, Seattle deserves a team, just not Sacramento’s. Ballmer has said he is not optimistic that the Emerald City will get an expansion team anytime soon. Pity.
Either way, the relocation committee’s vote in support of Sacramento, for whatever reason, whether it was fallacious, acrimonious or magnanimous, was an encouraging thing for Salt Lake City and its sister markets. It was simply the right thing to do.
We’ll see on May 13th if the rest of the owners agree.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM, 1280 and 960 AM. Twitter: @GordonMonson.