Fridays With Fenrich: Evolutionary Transitions
Fridays With Fenrich is a weekly feature here at Hickory-High, the aggregation of an extended, week-long email conversation on a single basketball theme, between myself and Kris Fenrich of Dancing With Noah.
Ian: Last week it was reported that the Maloof brothers had agreed upon a deal to sell the Sacramento Kings to a Seattle-based ownership group with plans to move the team to the Pacific Northwest by the 2013-2014 season. Over the weekend another group, with plans to keep the team in Sacramento, emerged along with rough plans for a new arena. As a Seattle resident and Sonics fan what kind of emotions does this whole rigamarole bring up?
Kris: It’s a strange saga that plays out with these moving franchises. I guess it’s better described as shamelessly greedy and wrong. I’m a transplant to Seattle, but I’ve been here since 2004; which is long enough to see the Sonics battle the Spurs in the playoffs, feel the enthusiasm Seattle fans have for a home team, watch Kevin Durant’s first season and read and hear the offensive onslaught of lies that spewed from Clay Bennett’s lips. It was a joke then and while I’d love an NBA team to come back to Seattle, there’s a part of me that wants nothing to do with it; particularly given the shady circumstances that come along with franchise relocation, aka franchise poaching.
On Thursday night, after my wife had grown bored and weary from a night of night of NBA games, I sat in my living room watching the Kings and their fans pour out all their emotions and energies in an overtime loss to Dallas. It wasn’t Webber and Jason Williams or Vlade and Scot Pollard. It was John Salmons and Isaiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins (picking up a flagrant two) and Tyreke Evans and the fans were as emotionally vested as ever; but of course it was for all the wrong reasons and it was with a sense of urgency and an equal sense of futility that they cheered for their team—because some millionaires were planning on paying half-a-billion dollars to relocate/poach that team from another couple of millionaires. This isn’t to say Sacramento fans wouldn’t have been cheering on the Kings if the relocation rumors hadn’t been revealed the day before, but to say there’s a different pitch to it when you’re dealing with something that feels like a pure, unfair injustice. I can relate to it, because I sat through Sonics games where the fans would spontaneously break out in a “Save Our Sonics” cheer even though it was all over already; the chants were useless except to give a literal voice to the frustration and passion fans feel in these situations that are mostly helpless.
So there I was on my couch, cheering for the Kings as well and feeling something and nothing for this situation. While any deal is far from being done (either to stay in Sacramento or move to Seattle), I’m reminded of the numerous savior stories that popped up after the Sonics were purchased by an OKC ownership group. These little glimmers of hope, these millionaires in shining suits with impeccably styled hair (except for Chris Hansen who buys beers for fans and sports business casual blazers with sweaters) come swooping out of the woodwork with ownership groups and solutions to save our teams. And I don’t care about these guys. Most of them have decent intentions, but are simultaneously driven by the rigidity of capital. We’re less than pawns in their world which is why I feel something and nothing. My relationship is with the NBA is both dependent on and shaped by these owners, but at the same time, my continued relationship with the league will exist regardless of what owners decide to do and where they do it.
I don’t want the Kings in Seattle. I’m not thrilled about it. But if/when they do arrive, I’ll be thankful and support the team and maybe even pick up a DeMarcus Cousins shirt. I don’t individually feel guilty for potentially cheering for Sacramento-drafted players, but I can empathize with and relate to the feelings the Kings fans have. I’d rather be your brother in pain than your adversary in victory.
Ian: I don’t know enough about the financial and legal dimensions of team ownership, municipal budgets or the league itself to talk with any authority about the circumstances of this or other similar situations. But in a very macro sense, franchises moving cities feels like a very natural, albeit infrequent and painful, process. I mean, at one point there were NBA teams in Fort Wayne, Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse. The demographics of our country are changing constantly, it seems natural that our sports leagues would change along with them.
I understand that the nature of recent moves have involved some underhanded and unsavory events, which gives the whole affair a sour taint. But isn’t that the nature of evolution? Weak teams with suspect finances and erratic ownership are subject to the cull. The strong survive and the weak move to Virginia Beach, Anaheim or Kansas City. Is there something fundamentally wrong or unbalanced with the NBA ecosystem if a franchise continues to move once or twice a decade?
Kris: Oh man, you’re really taking this out of my wheel house of personal experience. Evolution? Finances? NBA franchise Darwinism?
I agree with most of your assertions above, but at the same time, pro sports franchises are adopted by cities and, to some degree, depend on them. That’s the place where betrayal occurs and feelings are hurt. Our teams become part of the geo-cultural landscape of our cities, but as fans of franchises across the country have painfully learned: It’s a business first, second and third and as a result, sports teams are subject to business relocation or something like hostile takeovers; that aren’t all that hostile unless you consider the fans. Relocation is inevitable and it’s never going to be an enjoyable process for any fan base.
I will say Fort Wayne, Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse (and the rest of the small-market cities who have opened their doors to the NBA only to see teams leave like thieves in the night) are unable to support franchises at this point. Alternately, cities like Sacramento and Seattle have both proven capable of supporting teams, but unwilling (at one time or another) to provide public funds to pay for these ridiculously-priced stadiums and arenas that we’ve been told are necessary for pro franchises to exist at a profit. So the cities and franchises partake in a delicate, but often acrimonious dance. Fans are caught in the middle, citizens of random cities like Seattle, Sacramento and Oklahoma City develop sudden distastes for one another and meanwhile billionaires inevitably arrive on the scene willing to give the NBA what it so desperately desires: Brand new Cadillacs of stadiums and hefty, bloated price tags attached to franchises. Yes, there’s a strong element of only the strong, but mostly it’s just business.
Final point … I don’t know if I’m in a position to call franchise relocations right or wrong, but teams passing through the revolving doors of Charlotte, Seattle and potentially Sacramento is terribly bad for fans, but sadly not bad enough for business.