The Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings played the NBA’s first game in Seattle since 2008, when the team was relocated and rebranded as the Oklahoma City Thunder. To the optimistic former Supersonics fan, this could be interpreted as a sign that the NBA is looking closely at the northwest market to put the next expansion team, or relocate a current one. The cynic, however, might think this was just a cash-grab for a league that knows Seattle is a basketball-loving city. Regardless of what it actually was, it happened and the city got to see NBA basketball live for the first time in over ten years.
Unfortunately, Friday’s game might have been the last opportunity for Seattle residents to see an NBA game in their city for quite some time. Despite the city council approving the construction of a new privately-funded stadium, the key factor that led to the Supersonics’ relocation in the first place, and an NHL team scheduled to come in 2020, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that NBA expansion may not happen until at least 2025, when the new TV deal gets negotiated. The outlook only gets worse, according to Windhorst.
Per the report:
Beyond that, the complexities of the so-called New Arena at Seattle Center, the building’s working title, may make it challenging for Seattle to compete for a team if and when the time comes. The situation could even require Seattle to have a second new arena with the NBA team as the main tenant if the city wants to outbid other markets to attract a team, multiple ownership sources told ESPN.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver hasn’t ruled out expansion in the long term but is also focused on markets outside the U.S. The NBA has been playing regular season games in Mexico City for the past few years and is soon to announce the launching of a G League team there for the 2019-20 season, a trial balloon of how an NBA team might function there.
Another possibility for Seattle getting a team would be through relocation. The team that ownership groups reportedly have their eyes on is Memphis, whose owner, Robert Pera, recently agreed to buy out some of his minority owners at a price that valued the team at nearly $1.3 billion. The current lease with the FedEx Forum leaves a window for the team to potentially leave in 2021, but Pera confirmed to season ticket holders that he is “committed” to Memphis in a statement.
The report also explains that while there are NBA teams that share arenas with other sports, and other live events, owners are shifting their focus to getting venues that would be used exclusively for NBA games, or team-related events. The Warriors and Clippers were cited as the two leaders of this new strategy. Seattle is building an arena in the image of what’s now being seen as the old model of stadium-sharing. The city wants the arena to be shared among two professional teams and Live Nation premium concerts. This could ultimately be the city’s downfall in getting an NBA team and why the league might ask for a second stadium in the city, as maniacally greedy as that sounds.
With others in line to get lion’s share of profits, an NBA team would be arriving last to the party. That could dim the NBA’s desire to move into the market when more lucrative options may be available elsewhere, league sources said. In essence, it’s possible Seattle might finally have an arena — but the wrong arena for the NBA.
Something that could help Seattle’s expansion bid is the support within the NBA that the city has. Kevin Durant—who the Sonics drafted No. 2 overall back in 2007—wore a retro Shawn Kemp jersey during player introductions and addressed the crowd at half court before the game started.
The crowd featured former Sonics legends including Lenny Wilkens, Gary Payton, Detlef Schrempf, Spencer Haywood, and Seattle-natives Jamal Crawford and Brandon Roy. Seattle Storm stars Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart were also in attendance. Steve Kerr wore a Sonics shirt at his pregame presser, the list of support goes on and on. If the NBA had any sense and ability to pay attention, it would be taking serious note of Friday night.