New York • David Stern is aware of a behind-the-scenes effort to bring an NBA team back to Seattle. But while the commissioner acknowledged one of the largest cities in the United States is a "great" destination for the league, the potential return of professional basketball to the Emerald City still comes down to two issues that played major roles in the Sonics’ move to Oklahoma City during 2008 — funding and a new arena.
"We had heard reports of some interest in Seattle and the name of the person who’s associated with it is not totally unknown to me. I think he came in and I met with him, it must be a year ago. Just a general conversation; he was brought in by a mutual friend," said Stern, during an exclusive, wide-ranging interview Monday with The Salt Lake Tribune at the league office.
Details about Seattle’s attempt to regain an NBA franchise were reported Friday by The Seattle Times.
Christopher Hansen, a hedge-fund manager, has been working with the city the past eight months to build a basketball arena south of Safeco Field — the home stadium of MLB’s Seattle Mariners — the Times reported.
The commissioner said he wasn’t familiar with specifics about Seattle’s latest effort. But he ran through a list of past and current potential sites for an NBA-ready building in the city, including land that would be made available by demolishing Key Arena — the Sonics’ former home — a historic football field near the venue and the suburb of Bellevue, Wash.
"Everyone says to us, ‘Well, would you consider going back?’ Of course, if they have a building. And so that’s where it’s left. We have no involvement," Stern said. "But we certainly are — if anyone asks us, we tell them what we know and we’re happy to talk to them. … There’s no shortage of potential sites, but the funding is a huge issue."
Jazz guard Earl Watson started his career in Seattle, twice played for the team, and transferred his game to Oklahoma City when the Sonics became the Thunder. More than three years after the controversial relocation, he said it’s still hard to accept and just as difficult to understand how Seattle doesn’t have a team.
"It’s crazy to think that. But at the same time, in business you have to stay ahead of the curve," Watson said. "If you stay with the curve, sometimes it haunts you. And definitely if you stay behind the curve, it’s not acceptable. [Seattle’s] arena part was behind the curve. But the fans, to me, [were] the best in the NBA."
Stern said a league featuring 30 teams has no plans to add more franchises in the United States. Thus, the only way a city could likely acquire a club is by relocation.
A crucial link in Seattle’s chances of regaining a franchise is tied to Sacramento. There is no guarantee the Kings will remain in the city, and March 1 is a key deadline for a team that last season almost moved to Anaheim, Calif.
Stern said there have been some "very positive" developments in Sacramento’s efforts to retain its franchise, including financing and parking arrangements. But he added the Kings’ future is still a very fluid situation with no predictable outcome.
Stern planned to speak Monday afternoon with the league’s relocation committee, which includes Jazz CEO Greg Miller.
"Obviously, we certainly have been supportive of Mayor [Kevin] Johnson’s efforts with respect to the building and we sure would like to see that happen," Stern said. "But we cannot guarantee or [assume] it, and we’ll have to deal with the realities as we find them."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Check The Tribune’s Jazz Notes blog at sltrib.com/Blogs/jazznotes for exclusive news, interviews, video and analysis.
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