It has not quite been a decade since Seattle’s loyal basketball fans lost their beloved Supersonics to Oklahoma City. How that all came to pass—the sale of the team from Seattle’s own Starbucks-ocrat Howard Schultz to Oklahoma Petro-Lords Clay Bennett and the late Aubrey McLendon, Seattle’s unwillingness to build that team a new arena and the NBA’s complaisance and complicity with all the sketchiness that came after—is by now a matter of public record.
It was a fairly disgusting betrayal of a fanbase that had reliably stood by its team, and one made more painful by the fact that Seattle got one lone season with Kevin Durant and his game. But it was, for all that, also something like business as usual in the NBA.
As a result, it has been easy to sympathize with that bereft fan-base these past eight years, even as some of its city’s most powerful figures tried to recreate the same theft to Seattle’s advantage. People like Chris Hansen have repeatedly offered to accept/liberate/steal teams from communities just like Seattle. These teams included the Sacramento Kings and the Milwaukee Bucks (whose own owners played the same game using Seattle’s interest as their own leverage), and, why the hell not, the New Orleans Pelicans, too, although one gets the feeling that any team that came available anywhere was up for consideration. For Seattle fans, the action is the juice.
Supersonics Nation, which still exists in exile, apparently took this awfully charitable outlook on its shameless attempts to do to others what had been done to it as a challenge rather than a generosity. That Seattle’s team was stolen from them, by some fairly loathsome creeps, bought them a lot of slack; enough, certainly, that their thirst for another community’s team more or less got a pass. Two weeks ago, a militant faction of Supersonics Nation rose as one and said, in so many words, “well, if you weren’t offended by that, check this shit out.”
Seattle’s City Council is comprised of nine seats; these are currently occupied by five women and four men. Those five women are not usually allied with one another politically, but in this case found themselves on the same side of a proposal that would commit city money and resources on a notional new arena, which could theoretically house an NBA (or NHL!) team. That there was no concrete team associated with this building was apparently immaterial to both the proposal’s advocates and the city’s four male councilors; they were all for it. This is insane on its face—the plan was literally to consume city infrastructure funds to build an arena on the off-chance that the NBA (or NHL!) would decide to expand there, or that Seattle could entice another city’s team to move. It would have cost the city millions.
Here it is worth briefly noting that almost all stadium proposals are scams, and ones perpetrated on a blackmailed populace. Privately owned organizations secure millions in concessions from local governments on the promise that future revenues will more than make up the difference. That second part never ends up happening, but because local governments are in too deep there are never any consequences for this.
Proposals of this sort are always, always, always a losing proposition for the local governments that sign onto them. The proposed scam in Seattle was run no differently than it had been anywhere else, except that in this case there were five councilors wise to what was being attempted. They voted against it, deep-sixing the proposal before it could get off the ground.
To recap: four men who should have known better screamed, “Yee-haw! Let’s go gamblin! YAY SPORTS!” and five women who did know better voted against an expensive and entirely speculative plan. This was two weeks ago.
The Day After That
Immediately, it became clear that getting this message from five women—all of them elected to make precisely this type of decision—was simply too much for many in Supersonics Nation to take. That faction took it upon itself to remind these five women that they had other responsibilities that they might not have known about that went beyond preventing the city from spending many millions of dollars on an arena for a team that does not exist. For instance, those women needed to “get back in the kitchen” and “get on your knees” and “move overseas for [her] safety” and “painfully end yourselves” and “whore yourselves out.” Those are only examples from this one article about the backlash. Local Seattle site Seattlish has even more and let there be no doubt: this is all predictably, stomach-churning stuff.
Would the response have been bad regardless of the vote’s gendered end result? Of course. Many sports fans simply cannot help themselves from going from zero-to-nuclear; literally every contentious issue in the history of sports thoroughly illustrates this point. But the introduction of gender takes this rage to another, higher level. Here it is worth noting that the criticism’s virulence was so bad that the plan’s advocates—literally, the people who proposed the arena and had just lost the vote—came forward to decry it.
The five women who voted together are not backing down in the face of this stupidity. It’s admirable, if not quite a silver lining. They never should have had to deal with it in the first place.
A Simple Solution
It was one thing when Seattle’s sporting enthusiasts were asking the rest of us to look the other the way while they repeatedly aimed to poach teams from other communities. The unlearned lesson of that behavior was that these fans, wronged as they were, are more upset about the outcome that rotten system gave them than the system itself.
But not getting a team is an insufficiently dire outcome given what is clearly worsening behavior. Seattle’s sports fans must pay a higher price for being unable to muster anything more substantive than “girls are icky!” as a rejoinder to the women who stopped them from spending millions of dollars on a wish and some stale spite. All of the following seem entirely fair as sanctions:
The Seahawks are moved to Portland, Oregon.
The Mariners are moved to Portland, Maine.
These fans will spend the summer sequestered on a barge moored just offshore in King County’s Port of Seattle while those fish-throwing guys from all of the city’s B-Roll footage huck any unsold seafood at them daily.
That last part is perhaps excessive, granted, but only by a bit. But all joking aside—except for the proposals about taking Seattle’s remaining teams away from the city, both of which were of course entirely serious—this toxic response to basic good governance is a drag, not just because of the human-level ugliness of it, but because of the refusal to learn a very obvious lesson. The manipulative relationship that already exists between team owners and local communities is rotten, and worth pushing back against. It’s both astounding and sad how quickly and how noisily fans—let alone those who ought to be the most aware at just how badly this can go—can forget this. The five smart women on Seattle's city council aren't to blame for that.