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January 12, 2009 at 11:30 AM

KeyArena/NBA future up for debate as legislative session opens today

It’s too bad Bonneville Seattle has to wait until April 1 to debut its new all-sports radio station, ESPN Seattle-AM (710). Then, Kevin Calabro could be adding to the voices reminding folks this may be the final round to get NBA basketball back.
Calabro, the modern voice of the former Sonics, signed on to be an afternoon talk-show host for the station since refusing to relocate to Oklahoma City to call games for the now Thunder. (Or should that read Murmur? Oh, despite last week’s two wins — a huge feat for the league’s worst team.)
At his introduction to new co-workers last week, Calabro talked about how Thunder owner Clay Bennett’s $30 million is on the line if legislatures in Olympia don’t devise a plan to renovate KeyArena to attract a new NBA team to Seattle. Bennett paid the city $45 million up front to bolt to his native state with the coveted team — taking replicas of our history but ditching the name, colors, and fans.
“I think basketball is still alive in this town,” Calabro said. “But by the time we get on the air, I think a lot of these issues are going to be decided. I know that it would be unfortunate to see Clay Bennett walk away with $30 million. That’s what at stake here first and foremost. If you let him walk away with $30 million, it just adds insult to injury in my mind. They’ve got to come up with some way to get that $75 million.”
Legislatures technically have until 2013 to lure a team, but Brian Robinson, co-organizer of the grass-roots group Save Our Sonics, told KJR-AM (950) he believes if something isn’t done this session, it’ll never happen. The legislature does have to approve spending for one-fourth of the cost to renovate by December 2009, otherwise the deal with Bennett is dead. And many want Olympia to give King County the right to continue a tax on restaurants and car-rentals, yet with those very businesses cutting staff or closing their doors because of the trashed economy, that doesn’t seem likely. Not even if a revived KeyArena would trickle money back into at least the downtown and lower Queen Anne neighborhoods. Possibly more areas since many like to go to bars to watch NBA games.
Given Governor Christine Gregoire’s already massive tax cuts, the future doesn’t seem bright. In addition to KeyArena, Washington is campaigning in Olympia for $150 million toward a renovated football stadium, paying $150 million through fundraising. Although, if the university can pay an assistant football coach about $700,000, why can’t their alumni come up with all of the cash toward the project?
After a week stretch of watching the “replacements” for primetime winter hoops in the area (remember I was on the NBA beat, so even though my roots are in college basketball, I was paying far more attention to the NBA/WNBA the past 10 years), it just feels empty. When Washington’s football team went through its winless season, you could at least hope for a Seahawks win the following day. Not that they won often, but there was hope.
Watching Gonzaga defeat No. 15 Tennessee on Wednesday got the blood pumping. And UW men’s win against Stanford was good on Thursday. But when the UW women racked up 105 points in defeats this weekend in addition to the men’s triple-overtime loss to California, the winter doldrums began.
On Jan. 11, a Friday, in 2008, Jason Terry was in town with his Dallas Mavericks and Monday brought the Los Angeles Lakers. Yeah, the Sonics lost (in overtime to the Lakers 123-121), but there was hope that shortened the sports week and provided an escape for other dark news in the world. The Puget Sound has a lot to offer from art to film to nature for its residents outside of sports. And I’ve happily taken in more of those activities to fill the NBA void.
Yet, with news that the city may be losing a newspaper, it feels like we’re losing some of our big-time glitz. We had a peak that we should fight to stand on a little longer.

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