Hawks’ season would have taken steam out of NBA, NHL

Staff WriterNovember 24, 2013 

I am trying to imagine how different the third Saturday in November would have been had teams from the NBA and NHL moved to Seattle this past summer.

It almost happened with the Sacramento Kings, and while the Phoenix Coyotes’ relocation was more of a long shot — a sort of Plan B after a deal was struck to keep the Kings in central California — the notion of two major sports franchises simultaneously landing in Seattle finds me daydreaming.

Are fans filling up KeyArena to watch a Kings team re-branded as the SuperSonics? Sure. The complicated stadium/ownership/civic government saga in Sacramento was followed with a surprising amount of interest by Seattle sports fans starved for the NBA.

Besides, attendance was never really a problem for any Sonics ownership group — finding ways for KeyArena visitors to splurge on nonexistent restaurants and spartan luxury suites was the problem — so it’s not difficult envisioning eight sellouts already.

But are fans talking about the 2013-14 Sonics? Is there a buzz in the air regarding a team whose record fell to 4-8 on Saturday after a 103-102 defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers? I doubt it.

Considering the Seahawks’ domination of the air waves during their season of great expectations, Kevin Durant and the rest of the Sonics could return from Oklahoma City and have trouble displacing Russell Wilson as a conversation topic.

But you’d learn some names that don’t roll off the tongue right now, such as defensive-minded

forward Luc Mbah a Moute, a prince from Cameroon who got to the NBA by way of UCLA, and Greivis Vasquez, a Venezuelan point guard who played at Maryland.

Isaiah Thomas, the former Curtis High and Washington Huskies guard, would need no introduction. Nor would center DeMarcus Cousins, the team’s lone All-Star candidate. Despite behavior issues with the Kings — brief suspensions in both 2011 and 2012 — the 6-foot-11 Cousins agreed to a four-year, $62 million contract in September and appears amenable to listening to his new coach.

That would be — wait a second, I just jotted it down, bear with me while I search through my scribbled notes — ah, yes, here it is: Mike Malone.

I’ve never heard of this person, and I presume you haven’t either. Perhaps you’ve heard of his dad, ex-Toronto Raptors coach Brendan Malone. But Mike Malone? Who?

And to think, if Seattle had acquired the Kings, Mike Malone is a household name around here.

So is Dave Tippett, who in 10 seasons as an NHL coach never has guided a team that lost more games than it won. Tippett almost certainly will improve that streak to 11; the Coyotes took a 14-4-4 record into their game Saturday night against the Anaheim Ducks.

The sustainability of the NHL in Seattle remains anybody’s guess. I see a natural rivalry with Vancouver, and demographics (age, education, income) consistent with the NHL’s definition of ideal. There’s even some substantial hockey history in Seattle: The 1917 Metropolitans became the first American team to win the Stanley Cup.

But hockey is a cult sport. Those who watch it tend to love it unconditionally, and many of those who don’t watch it never will. Furthermore, while KeyArena is the hockey equivalent of a hell hole, it still was considered a better short-term option than the Tacoma Dome.

If the Coyotes had been unable to resolve their arena-rental issues and bolted for the Seattle area, we’re talking about a calamity in the form of a perfect storm: a very good team with an explosive attack — 73 goals in their first 21 games — struggling to captivate mainstream fans whose world is tethered to a few of their favorite things, such as the Seahawks’ offense and the Seahawks’ defense.

The NHL has a future around the Puget Sound, but that future likely would have been in peril had the Coyotes used 2013-2014 as a test case for Seattle’s appetite for big-time hockey.

When the city of Glendale, Ariz., pieced together an 11th-hour compromise to hold on to the Coyotes, not long after Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a standout point guard during his NBA days, sparked the Kings’ rally that secured them in Sacramento, it felt like a combination punch to anybody convinced that Seattle is a major sports market.

Boom-boom, doom and gloom. The Kings were staying in place, the Coyotes weren’t going anywhere, and the word that kept coming to mind was cruel.

Maybe it’s for the best. A 4-8 basketball team, with no realistic aspirations of advancing to the playoffs, was not going to be prominent in the minds of sports fans ruminating about the few obstacles remaining on Seahawks’ road to their second Super Bowl, and a playoff-bound hockey team was facing obscurity.

There’s room for the NBA in Seattle, and there’s room for the NHL, but there wouldn’t have been much room had two teams shown up at the same time.

A Sonics afternoon game against the Clippers in Los Angeles, followed by a Coyotes game against the Ducks at KeyArena, would have added to a busy day that also included college football games for Washington State and Washington.

And on the morning after, while the local NFL team enjoys a bye-week vacation, friends see each other at the grocery store or coffee shop and ask:

How ’bout those Seahawks?

john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com

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