The NBA continues to bungle its public relations and Friday was no exception. As David Stern took to the podium to announce an extension of the relocation deadline for the Sacramento Kings, his statement soon veered off course and became yet another misstep in what's become a series of mistakes that have made Stern, and the NBA, a laughing-stock.
It was supposed to be an exciting announcement for Sacramento fans, who may have a billionaire buyer lined up to halt the relocation process. Instead, Stern patted Sacramento on the head while stabbing them in the back by announcing Clay Bennett, the owner who successfully moved the Sonics to Oklahoma City, would preside over the relocation debate.
For Seattle fans, the love affair with the NBA ended in 2006, the year Howard Schultz sold the Sonics, turned his back on the city and handed the keys to our prized franchise to Bennett, an out-of-towner with no intention to keep the team in Seattle. What followed was a series of painful events, aided by Stern and the NBA brass, leading to the demise of professional basketball in Seattle. It's easy to see why we don't trust, and downright don't like, Stern here in Seattle.
The perception that Bennett and Stern were in bed together the whole time was proven true, at least to some extent. Bennett lied, and did so multiple times, yet was never punished with more than a slap on the wrist. Smiles and assurances he would do his best to keep the team in Seattle were plain untrue, and private emails uncovered by way of public records requests showed as much. As Bennett and his associates were "working" to keep the team in Seattle publicly, emails were being sent to ensure Oklahoma City the move would go off as planned.
Hiring Bennett is a slap in the face to Sacramento just as much as it is to Seattle. For a city desperate for hope and longing to hang onto its team, seeing Bennett in charge of the proceedings to decide the fate of the Kings is disheartening, to say the least. A move is not a done deal, with many question marks remaining ahead of the deadline, now May 2. But when the face of the relocation committee is one that solved those same problems just three years ago, it gives the perception the NBA isn't interested in keeping the team in Sacramento.
Maybe we shouldn't be judging Bennett on his past -- after all, he is the best person to lead a relocation charge having engineered his own successful move. But this isn't about successfully moving a team away as history repeats itself. It's about keeping a team in the place where its history and tradition was cultivated, and choosing loyalty over a few million dollars.
Money trumps all in the NBA and the sentiment rings true now more than ever. Stern has continued to make a mess of the league, damaging its perception through a series of public missteps, losing the trust of fans in the process. The Sacramento relocation plan is the latest public relations disaster, but won't be the last. With an NBA lockout looming and labor negotiations stalled, Stern is losing a very public battle to save face and gain the support of those paying to consume his product. Fans don't trust the league after watching how quickly a team can be uprooted and snatched away, all under the nodding approval of the league brass.
As the NBA continues its crusade to find more streams of revenue while claiming poverty, remember this, in the words of our SonicsGate friends: What's happened to us can happen to you. It's happening to Sacramento and there's nothing stopping it from happening to your favorite NBA team, whichever it may be. If it strikes fear in your heart, it should. The actions of Stern and those in power in the NBA lend credence to the theory nothing is sacred in the league except the almighty dollar.
For more, please visit SonicsGate and check out the documentary on the Sonics' move to Oklahoma City. To see the Sacramento side of things, visit SacTown Royalty, where one of my favorite NBA writers, Tom Ziller, has been chronicling the relocation saga.