The ripple from the chaos over the NBA's Sacramento Kings' failed arena deal might stretch across the 49th parallel.
The contrast between how Seattle lost its Sonics to Oklahoma City in 2008 and how Vancouver lost the Grizzles to Memphis in 2001 is so obvious it barely requires noting. The Sonics' departure was tragicomic — see the documentary Sonicsgate. When the Grizzles left, fleeing a 63-cent Canadian dollar and numerous problems of their own management's making, it was pretty much with a feeling of 'don't let the door hit you on the way out.'
So it would figure that if the Kings had to leave, Seattle would be an appropriate landing spot? It would be akin to Winnipeg getting the NHL's Jets back when the Atlanta Thrashers had to sell their franchise. Actually, it might more like when the Cleveland Browns were shifted to Baltimore in 1996; sure, that city had its heart ripped out when its long-team team left, but this was a poor way to get back in the game. Yet late last week, an ESPN reporter suggested that even with the groundswell of sentiment for Seattle, Vancouver might be a better spot to put a team.
Bucher, an NBA reporter for ESPN, told "The Kevin Calabro Show" on Friday that if the Kings were to leave Sacramento, Vancouver, British Columbia would be a "very viable spot."
"Maybe, quite honestly, the most viable spot right now among places that gets the next NBA franchise that is on the move," Bucher said.
With investor Chris Hansen working to build an arena in Seattle, Vancouver wouldn't seem to be first in line for a relocated franchise, but Bucher said the city has a few things working in its favor.
"They have the corporate infrastructure, they have a building that they can readily move into ... they also have a very hot hockey team there currently," he said, referring to the Canucks ... "It's a place that [the NBA] doesn't want to give up on." (ESPN 710
Kings owner Joe and Gavin Maloof's relationship with Sacramento seems beyond saving, largely because they've run through a lot of their savings. They made their money in the casino industry, which has been hit hard by the recession since people with less discretionary income don't (or shouldn't) gamble as much. Reneging on an arena deal less than two months after a gushy thank-you speech to the fans after agreeing to the original arena deal also seems like an all-time bad move. The vitriol is so high that the director of the group Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, the former NBA point guard, appointed to keep the Kings in the city has likened the Maloofs to the government of North Korea.
Others don't know what to make of whole clusterfudge. The fan who told a a Sacramento reporter, "I'd like to protest but I don't know how," might have best summed it up best.
David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, has said the league can't do anything more to ensure the Kings stay put. Ball Don't Lie's Kelly Dwyer noted that's disingenuous since the league ran the New Orleans Hornets for a year until it could find a buyer with more liquidity.
There is sporting precedent for the NBA to be heavy-handed and step in to influence the Maloofs to follow through on their initial agreement, or find a motivated buyer for the Kings (like, say, the NBA itself? Now that the Hornets have been bought by the owner of the New Orleans Saints?) that would sign off on the previous agreement with the city of Sacramento. It's not as if Stern is some free-market obsessive -- not only did his league own the Hornets for more than a year, but he said Friday that he was set to grease the wheels for the new Sacto arena by fronting the Kings more than $70 million to aid the Maloofs' financial woes while the facility is being built. (Ball Don't Lie, April 13)
Where does that leave Vancouver? At the very least, the NBA has an attractive market where it can move a team, like the NFL does with Los Angeles. A lot has changed in Vancouver in the decades since the Grizzles migrated to Memphis. The Canadian dollar improved and the city and province started to see itself as more big-league after renovating B.C. Place, staging the 2010 Olympics and joining Major League Soccer when the Whitecaps moved up to North America's top league. (As for the long-term ramifications for B.C. taxpayers and anyone with the fantasy of buying a home in Vancouver are, well, best not to think about it.)
It is well-known that Stern has called the NBA's stint in Vancouver one of his deepest regrets of his tenure. That has often been taken as a wish the Grizzles had succeeded, but it was directed more at how the league mishandled its Canadian expansion when Vancouver and the Toronto Raptors tipped off in 1995. That could have been a reference to the onerous terms of the expansion agreement or a belief that a move into Canada should have been staggered, as MLS has done recently with its three Canadian teams.
Basketball is gaining in popularity in Canada and NBA preseason games in Vancouver have been well-supported. Perhaps it's revisionism but if the Grizzles had only hung on a bit longer, they might have got traction. The team was gone before it could cash in on a spin-off from both the stardom of B.C.'s own Steve Nash or of now-retired Chinese star Yao Ming, who helped the league open up a new demographic among fans of Asian decent.
It seems worth noting the talk is out there. If anything, it gives Vancouver sports fans a diversion from their hockey team being about to knocked out of the Stanley Cup playoffs by another team of Kings from California.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.