Monday, October 31, 2016

City and local media hypocrisy has a way of bringing out the "fan" in me

When I worked at the airport, I was assigned the task of transporting cargo to the gates of flights they were assigned to. This was not always a “simple” task, particularly when constant gate changes bespeak of barely “controlled” chaos behind the scenes. I worked alone, was self-motivated, set lofty but achievable goals, and was discontented when I didn’t meet them.  Working alone was fine by me because  there was no one who was an obstacle to my goals; the union airline employees who staged the out-going cargo in the pick-up area were “impressed” by the fact that one of the non-union “enemy” kept the area neat, tidy, and usually empty. But it was sometimes a chore, because incoming cargo was usually brought in by the non-union “kids” who were often thoughtless and lethargic and did not care for good order, just dump and run and let someone else (like me) clean-up their mess.  After seven years working outside all day in all kinds of weather, avoiding death dodging planes taxiing over the speed limit ( as if they wanted to run over one of us just out of spite), and only making something over minimum wage, I figured I had had enough and it was time to move on. I was told some time afterward by a former colleague that the cargo running responsibilities had been taken away from the non-union contractor I worked for, apparently because the airline was unhappy with the irresponsibility of the people who came after me.  
I’m sure that Chris Hansen and his investment group feel the same way about civic, political and media “leaders” in Seattle; if you want something done “right,” sometimes you just have to depend on someone who is willing to take on the responsibility, with or without the cooperation of others; and if that someone has to be you, then so be it. Those who just want to be an obstacle should just get out of the way.  

What is all this about? Starbucks’ owner Howard Schultz sold his stake in the NBA Seattle Supersonics franchise to an Oklahoma City investment group headed by Clay Bennett, who then demanded that a new arena be built, or else. Schultz was criticized for running the team like a “business,” failing to make “basketball” decisions that would make the team competitive (before the sale of the team, Rashard Lewis and a past-his-prime Ray Allen were the only players who were not a complete bust on the roster), and there was little stomach for his previous similar demands. A visit from NBA Commissioner David Stern before the state legislature urge funding for a new arena was met with sarcasm, which was exactly the wrong tact to take with Stern for future reference; the disinterested reaction to the city’s failure to enforce the lease on Key Arena—which would have effectively kept the team in town for a few more years, instead allowing Bennett to “buy out” the lease and take the team to Oklahoma City—pretty much showed where public “sentiment” was in retaining an NBA franchise in Seattle. Bennett agreed to sell the WNBA Storm to four-female group, probably for peanuts. Geez, thanks. I bet even people who are “fans” of the Storm and don’t consider them merely a political “statement” can’t even remember what years they won their WNBA championships.

There are likely reasons why NBA basketball was (and is) not considered a civic priority like football is in Seattle. It isn’t because the Seahawks are having an unprecedented run of success; unlike baseball, the NFL is less “tribal” than most sports. Football fans are fascinated by what is going on in football everywhere; even if one’s own team stinks, the overall scene retains interest. But basketball is another matter. For myself, I still am an avid follower of NCAA men’s basketball, but the NBA? Not so much. I started to lose interest following the Magic-Bird era. Something changed; was it the street “culture” of Michigan’s “Fab-Five” and those ridiculous knee-length “shorts” migrating to the NBA that turned me off? Was it incidents like “Malice in the Palace,” or the fact that a thug like Ron Artest can be given a “citizenship” award by the NBA, and within months make a mockery of the “award” by his uncivil behavior in the NBA finals against the Dallas Mavericks?  Artest went on to mock everyone by renaming himself “Metta World Peace” after these incidents—and more were to come, one punished by a seven-game suspension.  

Still, when Hansen first stepped forward in 2012 with a proposal to build a new arena and bring the NBA back to town, there was some scattered excitement in basketball fandom, but it was hardly overwhelming. The possibility that the Sacramento Kings were on the selling block and Hansen and his group, which included Microsoft billionaire Steve Balmer, were interested in acquiring the team, got many people’s hopes up; but the alienation of Stern earlier came back to “bite” any such deal. 

And it wasn’t just the NBA that was “biting.”  The Port of Seattle opposed the building of the arena in the SODO district; but it had also opposed the building of Qwest and Safeco Fields in the same area, so any opposition was just more grumbling and sour grapes than anything substantive.  The female-dominated Seattle Times editorial board was a foe of Hansen from the start, and blew-up its own credibility by resorting to juvenile name-calling in its editorials opposing returning the NBA to Seattle. The Times went on to dare Hansen and his group to pay for their arena themselves without public funds, as if that was their only “issue.” This spring, the city council voted 5-4 against selling a one block strip of Occidental Ave to the Hansen group, which owns the property on either side of it; all five “no” votes were placed by all five women on the council, while all four men on the council voted for the sale. The blocking of the sale had to be “personal” against some male trying to be too “pushy” with all his money. There was no sense at all in blocking the sale, since I’ve seen that strip of road with my own two eyeballs; to call it an “Avenue” is like calling a off-dirt road in some rural boondock an “avenue.” The ancient industrial district directly south of downtown Seattle is full of such ill or unused patches of pavement, and then only as parking spaces. After that vote, the Times Jon Talton exulted that it is now “unlikely” that a new arena will be built in SODO. 

But things have changed “dramatically” since then. Clearly angered by the ill-intentions of the majority of the city council and from the Times, Hansen and his group called the bluff of both by unveiling a proposal to 100 percent pay for a new arena from private sources, plus an overpass as a gift to the Port in exchange for their old dirt footpath. Tired of civic “leaders” and their incompetence, stonewalling, personal grudgery and simply being an obstacle to progress, the group decided they wanted no more to do with the city, and they could do what they wanted with the property they bought and paid for. Of course, there was still the matter of Occidental and the opposition of the Port, but now it was put-up or shut-up time. Would the real reason for the opposition to the arena deal be exposed? Was it less about public “spiritedness”—which the Hansen group has shown far more of than the city or the Times—or more about the petty personal? 

What has happened in the 10 days or so since the Hansen group announced their proposal? For now it seems that the women on the city council and the Times are running for cover under the skirts of the mayor, Ed Murray. The mayor immediately released a statement, not in support of the Hansen proposal, but lamely suggesting that there were still “alternatives” on the table, which of course he did not name because there aren’t any. No one wants to “renovate” Key Arena again, especially for a professional sports team. Murray couldn’t help himself but to further expose the hypocrisy of the current “leadership” of the city with its utter failure to recognize a great deal, even when it is handed to them on a silver platter. Murray’s statement continued “The City will review the letter sent by a group of stakeholders, including Chris Hansen, suggesting a revision to the previous SODO arena proposal. We share the goal of bringing the NBA and NHL to Seattle. The City will continue to consider all options to build a new, state of the art arena that will accomplish that goal and that can serve the city for years to come.”

Oh, bullshit. The current city leadership isn’t “serious” about bringing an NBA (or an NHL) team to Seattle, because it might cause everyone to forget that there is a women’s “alternative” team in town, and there is no other “option” to consider of any substance or applicability to a big-time professional sports franchise. The city seems to insist on just standing in the way of good order. Hansen wants to do things in a business-like, professional way, keeping everything neat and tidy. All the city and the Times want to do is to be obstacle for petty partisan political reasons, put common sense and reason on ice, dump in all their unsubstantiated complaints, and run when their mendacity has been exposed. Why can’t these people tell the truth, like Hillary Clinton? Am I being sarcastic there? Well of course. While I’m not an NBA fan (just as I am  not a Donald Trump “fan “), bald-faced hypocrisy has a way of bringing out the “fan” in me.

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