Why is it that the owners of professional sports teams and the heads of sports leagues have the extraordinary power to make whole cities do their bidding?
The answer: Remember that the word "fan" in sports is derived from the longer word "fanatic". Fans of any sport are, as a general rule, so invested emotionally in their hometown teams that every move of a franchise from one city to another is in a very real sense a theft from the losing city and an ill-gotten gain for the winning city. And that kind of emotional investment, so critical for a team's success, becomes in the final analysis an addiction, a "basketball jones" as immortalized by Cheech and Chong in their song by that title performed by the character of Tyrone Shoelaces.
It is in my opinion nothing short of blackmail what David Stern and Clay Bennett have done to the city of Seattle with the latter's theft by deception of the SuperSonics franchise (at least they are not going to keep the name, but unless a new NBA franchise is built in Seattle that is a worthless gesture) and the former's demands for tax expenditures (read for yourself
) as a condition of ever hosting professional basketball here again.
And since the NBA has no intention of ever actually creating a new team, they would have to perform the same kind of theft from another city to restore the NBA to Seattle. It's a zero-sum game in which there are a finite number of winners and a potentially infinite number of losers. And as gmjambear
has pointed out in another comment elsewhere, the NBA is infamous for teams moved hither and yon, so much more so than the other sports (in reputation and sheer brazenness if not in absolute numbers).
So why do cities put up with this out-and-out extortion? I understand that Major League Baseball is unique among the professional sports leagues in this country in that it was specifically exempted by Congress from the Sherman Antitrust Act. Why can't state and municipal governments harmed by the blackmailers bring suit in Federal court alleging monopolistic behavior in violation of that law?
I can think of two reasons: 1) cities will do anything for their fix of professional sports, and legal action against the league is the surest way to kiss off any chance at the coveted franchise; and 2) this sorry excuse for an administration has become adept at convincing the courts that the Sherman Antitrust Act is null and void. Maybe an Obama administration will be able to convince the leagues that this sort of behavior is ultimately not in the league's best interests.
But even barring an intervention from the Feds, state and local governments need to simply not put up with this crap. Barring a disaster that makes the facilities unsafe (as happened in New Orleans), there is really no excuse for a professional sports franchise to pull up stakes and move. The fans will never forgive them, even if perchance their city does.
Oh, by the way, I'm not even a basketball fan, at any level. I'm just incensed that the NBA and Clay Bennett were allowed to take 41 years of tradition and toss it so casually in the trash. And Sonics fans will remember that. When I think about the respect these folks gave Seattle and that which they deserve, the phrase "...and the horse you rode in on" comes to mind.