The city of Seattle has for a long time been yearning for an NBA team since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City. It is the most affluent city in America” without an NBA team according to Steve Ballmer, former Microsoft CEO.
When Ballmer retired from Microsoft he remembered with nostalgia the days when he was a Sonics season ticket holder. He went ahead and bought the L.A. Clippers but was told he couldn’t move it to Seattle. Fast-forward to today and bringing an NBA team to Seattle is still a challenge.
According to Ballmer two things stand out for Seattle. First, the city did a damn good job of supporting an NBA team when the Sonics called it home. Secondly, today it’s the most affluent city without an NBA team. Those two factors he says places the city in a good position to have a team that will call Seattle home.
The city’s growth and affluence is a direct result of the technology boom witnessed in the past two decades. The boom however, has come with its own challenges. The KeyArena renovation plan, for example, has won the approval of city honchos, but the challenge of the traffic gridlock around Amazon’s campus is still unresolved.
A great arena remains a key ingredient that would make the city attractive to a team but the arena has to be accessible. Ballmer contends that with the challenges that were experienced years ago when the Sonics were still around it may not get any better with the current situation around Amazon’s headquarters.
The KeyArena renovation efforts are being led by Tim Leiweke, of the Oak View Group which is planning to spend $600 million on the project. He has also has acknowledged that the traffic challenges will have to be mitigated to make the venue viable. Leiweke’s hopes are pinned on infrastructure developments and changes in habits which would for example allow people to walk to the venue. Opposing initiatives are being fronted by Chris Hansen, who proposes an arena in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood which is more accessible to people coming from the Eastside and other areas due to its proximity to major freeways.
The decision may still lie with the NBA for a final say on whether Seattle will have a team or not but the city’s chances are at their highest if the issue of the venue can be resolved. And with people like Steve Ballmer within the NBA that may as well happen sooner than later.