Seattle NHL Expansion: What does it mean for NBA potential?

The Seattle Supersonics may be returning to the Emerald City, thanks to a Seattle City Council vote to renovate the historic Key Arena and virtually guarantee the return of the NHL after nearly a century.

Fortunately, fans who were shocked by the departure of the NBA likely won’t have to wait that long to see the return of their beloved and missed franchise. The NHL is coming, and that means the NBA can’t be far behind.

One needn’t look any further than Mayor Jenny Durkan to extrapolate the intent and resolve of the leadership and citizens to see the NBA’s return.

““I’ve said consistently that I’m committed to bring back our Sonics, recruit an NHL team, and invest in our City,” said Durken in a statement released after the vote.

“Under this plan, arena construction is 100% privately financed and will provide good family wage jobs for decades to come.”

It’s the first part of that statement that is the most telling. Among the list of priorities, even after first securing an NHL team that could play as soon as 2020, it was the potential of bringing back the Sonics that garnered the lede.

Prior to the 2008-09 season, the city could not secure public funding for a new Seattle-area arena. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was the majority owner of the team from 2001 to 2006, and sold the franchise to an Oklahoma City business group that immediately moved the team to the middle of the country with little effort to remain in the Pacific Northwest.

It was an infamously bad look for the league. Seattle was a cornerstone franchise on the West Coast that began play in 1967. Since then, the city has been starved for men’s professional basketball, and only the Sonics can fill that void.

With the NHL all but a certainty and the funds secured for a renovation, there is now a framework for the NBA’s return. One of the most difficult hurdles for expansion is having the local buy-in that’s necessary for major professional sports to thrive in any given market.

Seattle is a proven sports city that many of the game’s legends still consider special in their hearts.

Hall-of-fame point guard Gary Payton has said he doesn’t want to have his jersey retired unless it’s in Seattle.

“They sold our team, and they’re in Oklahoma City,” said Payton on The Jim Rome Podcast. “We’re going to get a team back.”

“I didn’t play in front of Oklahoma…(the Seattle fans) made me who I was,” he added.

That passion resonates with fans who won’t spend a dime on lining NBA executives’ pockets until they get what they deserve. The NHL is a nice consolation, but it’s clearly not the focus.

Key Arena is going to get a facelift, and one that’s complete, the shift will be on to the NBA, even with the NHL beginning its tenure in Washington.

It’s a matter of when now, and not if, and it’s clear that the citizens and local government that anything less will be considered a failure.

Now, it’s up to the NBA to show it’s support or lack thereof.

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Michael C. Jones is the managing editor and founder of Sports Out West and a Southern California-based sports journalist. His credits include Yahoo Sports and Bleacher Report, among others.


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