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SBD/Issue 63/Sports Media
“Sonicsgate” Filmmakers Explore Reasons For Team’s Relocation
Published December 11, 2009
FELL ON BLACK DAYS: In searching for an explanation as to how a team that had been in Seattle for more than 40 years and won the city's only major professional championship could be shipped away, the filmmakers arrived at several conclusions, some more controversial than others. The film implies that the ownership tenure of Starbucks Chair & CEO Howard Schultz, who sold the team to Bennett in '06, was disastrous. It also suggests that KeyArena could not produce the revenues more modern buildings generate, that Bennett did not act in good faith in trying to get a new arena built, and that efforts by area politicians to keep the team in place were poorly orchestrated. But the film’s most incendiary claim is that the NBA feels the need to move teams periodically in order to frighten other franchises into acting according to league interests. As Washington state Rep. Ross Hunter says in the film, "The NBA has to make an example of a couple of teams every now and then, and I think we were the example. I think they have to move a team so that they have a credible threat against other cities." These viewpoints make it easy to understand why Bennett, Schultz and NBA Commissioner David Stern declined to be interviewed for the film, and also why the Thunder and Schultz’ reps declined to comment for this article. The NBA did not respond to a request for comment.
Reid Says Film Should Serve
As Warning To Other Cities
I STAY AWAY: Reid hopes the movie will help Seattle land another NBA team -- or “at least be at the top of the list” -- by galvanizing city leaders to take the necessary steps to once again become a viable market for the league. But it is possible to wonder if the claims made in the film may actually hurt Seattle’s chances to host another team. After all, “Sonicsgate” is highly critical of the league’s commissioner and one of its team owners (the narration even includes a jab at Bennett's hairstyle). The title itself suggests conspiracy and scandal, or as Reid put it, “backroom dealings.” It also paints a picture of a city where, though the fans may be dedicated, politicians and the business community have a hard time getting their ducks in a row to support a team. For instance, Brown argues that in accepting a settlement from Bennett, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels folded "what everyone agrees was a pretty strong hand in the court case." Similarly, Reid thinks Schultz could have made more of an effort to find a locally-based ownership group to purchase the franchise. Regardless of who is to blame for the Sonics' exit, the makers of "Sonicsgate" have reminded us that virtually no team, however entrenched in their community, is immune to the economic and political forces that could take them elsewhere at any moment.