Quicksand. Slippery, sinking quicksand.
For a generation of TV shows and movies following the end of World War II, quicksand was the natural peril. Every cowboy movie and western seemed to include some variation on the treacherous mud hole theme. Cowboys often struggled in the stuff, but a buddy with a rope usually pulled them to safety. Horses never seemed to fair as well as their riders. Damsels were distressed by the muck in alarming numbers.
Then the blockbusters of the 1970s — movies like The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars — laid the both the movie genre and its most cliched scene to rest. In a cinematic world with mobsters, great white sharks, and Darth Vader, quicksand plummeted as a fear-inducing plot device.
Mel Brooks lampooned quicksand and its role in the Great American Western (among other things) in the crass classic Blazing Saddles:
The NBA’s version of quicksand is the hole vacated by the Seattle Supersonics following their move to cowboy territory. Seattle wants to fill that vacuum with an NBA team, and they are moving steadfastly toward replacing the franchise that now calls Oklahoma home.
Keep in mind that Seattle sprinted past the preliminary stages here: their City Council worked with a potential owners’ group to negotiate a $490 million agreement to build an NBA/NHL-ready arena. The plan is expected to approved at a vote before the full City Council on Sept. 24. Seattle native Chris Hansen is fronting a well-heeled group that includes Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer as well as Peter and Erik Nordstrom. They have $290 million of their assets on the table for the new arena, plus another $7 million pledged toward the renovation of KeyArena.
KeyArena, whose NBA unsuitability figured prominently in the Sonics’ move, is ready to be refurbished as a temporary home for a relocated franchise — an indication that they may make a move on capturing a team sooner rather than later. As Jerry Brewer wrote in the Seattle Times last week,
Barring a major snafu, the fun is about to begin. Hansen is about to begin shopping for an NBA team. It could go as quickly as buying the imploding Sacramento Kings, or it could be a prolonged journey that takes four or five years. But as long as the arena deal stays together, it’s safe to be giddy on occasion.
Let’s put it like this: Now that Seattle truly has its act together, it’s not a matter of if the NBA will return. It’s a matter of when. The same can be said about the inclusion of the NHL.
The NBA has always said it wanted to be in Seattle if the arena issue could be resolved. NBA commissioner David Stern, one of the villains in the Sonics’ departure, doesn’t want messing over Seattle on his legacy, and he’s expected to retire within the next two years.
Seattle has done its part in this redemption tale. Soon, it’ll be time for the NBA to do what’s right, provided one of its 30 franchises can’t succeed in its current city.
So, if they get the final approvals in upcoming weeks, Chris Hansen and his partners will be ready to go shopping. If the process goes quickly, the Kings could be the main target. But if it takes longer, the Kings may already be thriving in a new home, whether it be in Anaheim (last year’s almost move) or in Virginia Beach (this year’s hot rumor). Hansen and Co. would then need to woo a different franchise to Washington.
The list of candidates beyond the Kings is short. Small-market, red-ink franchises like Memphis, Charlotte, and Milwaukee figure prominently. Teams that would have been ripe for a new locale a year ago, like New Orleans, have become more secure, dropping them from consideration.
In Milwaukee, a six-year naming rights deal for the BMO Harris Bradley Center, and the reports of coincidental six-year lease between the BMOHBC and the Bucks appear to have the functional expiration date on the arena pegged for 2018.
Seattle’s path to a building solution is much clearer than Milwaukee’s. In order to have an arena fix in place in six years, Kohl would need to hammer out the plans in the next year or two. Seattle could be actively lobbying well before then.
It’s hard to see NBA Commissioner David Stern and Bucks owner Herb Kohl allowing the Bucks to leave Milwaukee, but Stern is 70-years-old and Kohl is 77. (As Kramer noted above, Stern is rumored to be retiring within the next two years.) If the Seattle group tries to buy the franchise in 2016, will either of these men be around to avert it?
The Bucks haven’t landed in the quicksand just yet. But they’re lurking in the vicinity, temporarily protected by the cries of the swamp’s current prey: the Kings. The muck poses no danger for the moment. But if those desperate pleas go quiet — whether it be from a victim saved or a victim sunk — they had better tiptoe cautiously. The pit could swallow them next.
Or maybe they’ll just get plunked in the back of the head with a shovel.