SEATTLE – Chris Hansen walked on stage and was greeted with the kind of reception normally reserved for the musicians and athletes who were waiting backstage.
Hedge-fund managers don’t normally get rock-star ovations.
“I was about to tear up actually. It was inspiring,” Hansen said.
While former SuperSonics stars Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp got the loudest ovations, it was Hansen who accepted the most praise at a rally in downtown Seattle on Thursday to support the push for a new arena that could bring back the NBA.
The rally crammed fans into Occidental Park a few blocks north of CenturyLink and Safeco fields.
Hansen’s proposal before the councils of King County and Seattle calls for a $490 million facility just south of the Mariners’ Safeco Field with nearly $300 million in private investment.
Hansen said he was overwhelmed by the turnout, with estimates of about 4,000 in attendance at the peak of the event. The rally ended with chants of “Thank you, Chris!” and included appearances by Payton, Kemp and fellow former Sonics player Detlef Schrempf.
“You deserve everything that is going on right now and more,” Payton told the crowd. “… I’m going to be with you all every step of the way.”
Fans dug deep in their closets to pull out old Sonics uniforms with the names “Durant,” “Payton,” “Kemp,” “Sikma,” “Brown,” even a Sarunas Marciulionis No. 30 jersey from his one season with the Sonics in 1994-95.
Hansen, who mingled backstage with former stars plus current NBA players Nate Robinson, Aaron Brooks and Spencer Hawes, said part of the rally’s goal was to give fans an outlet after most of their efforts have been put into contacting local politicians to push for support for the proposal.
“I think people wanted an outlet, too,” Hansen said. “There is so much pent up energy and this was definitely a way to express it in a positive way especially with Oklahoma (City) in the Finals.”
Hansen said he didn’t think that Oklahoma City’s presence in the NBA Finals added to Thursday’s rally, other than providing a gathering point for those wanting to see the NBA return.
“I still think the fans who bleed green and gold, it’s a lot deeper than Oklahoma City in the Finals. We would have a good turnout anyway,” Hansen said.