Can Russell Wilson’s money and rampant popularity help get the Sonics back in Seattle to play in a new, half-billion-dollar arena downtown?
We are about to find out.
The Seahawks’ franchise quarterback and Super Bowl champion sounded on Thursday as if he wanted to become even more of a civic hero than he already is. He confirmed he is using some of his $87.6 million Seahawks contract not only to co-invest in Chris Hansen’s effort to build an arena in the SoDo section of Seattle just south of the Mariners’ Safeco Field, news he broke online Monday, but also that he is going to be a part-owner on a new Seattle NBA team if that arena gets built.
“That’s the plan,” Wilson, 28, said Thursday before practice for Sunday’s home game against Philadelphia at CenturyLink Field a couple blocks north of where the new basketball and hockey arena — for a potential Seattle NHL team — would be.
The quarterback is setting roots in the Puget Sound region for the long haul.
In September 2015, just over a month after he got his Seahawks contract extension to become the highest-paid player in team history, he bought a mansion valued at almost $7 million on Lake Washington in Bellevue. He has ownership stakes in Tacoma’s Recovery Water and in Good Man Brand men’s clothing.
He explained his latest business venture as a bid to “change history.”
“We got to find a way to get the Sonics here first,” Wilson said. “That’s the first mission, is to build the arena. Obviously partnering with Chris Hansen is a pretty cool situation. He loves this area and all that, and also Wally Walker and also Eric and Pete Nordstrom. It’s an exciting thing, an exciting time.
“Just walking around, seeing people, being with people, wearing old-school Sonics hats, old-school Sonics throwback jackets, it’s a great city to have an NBA team. I think the same about the NHL. It’s a great sport, as well.”
Yes, that’s how politician-like — the good kind of politician — Wilson sounded: He threw a shout out to hockey, too.
Hansen wants to bring NBA and NHL teams to Seattle to play in the new arena he has offered to build without any public money.
Wilson has known the Nordstrom family since the Seahawks drafted the quarterback in the third round in 2012. He said he met Hansen a few years ago.
“And we were having a great conversation,” Wilson said. “We were talking and — I’ve told you guys — I’ve been really authentic about wanting to own a team one day and being a part of something really special and doing that.
“Even though I’m young … I definitely have a business mindset and I want to be able to help people and give back and help change this community, continue to change this community for the better. That’s been the exciting part, and Chris and I have connected on that. Wally, too, as well. Wally (the former SuperSonics player and team president) is a great individual. Pete and Erik, too, as well. So there’s a great synergy.
“It was really authentic and there was an approach to be able to dedicate and change history, really. And I think that’s a really cool special thing. And like I said, it starts with an arena first. We need to make that happen.”
Wilson said his attempt to get an arena built bring an NBA team back to Seattle reminds him of the scene he saw during the Seahawks’ parade celebrating franchise’s first and only Super Bowl victory in 2014.
“I remember the experience of winning and how many people that can affect,” he said. “I've been here since 2012 — it feels like it’s been 10 or 15 years, in a good way. I remember seeing a million people out in the city, black, white, Asian, different people of different socioeconomic status coming together for one cause, one great experience. I think basketball does that.
“I know it does, because as a young kid, I remember playing the Sonics (on his NBA Jam video game with his brother, Harry). Remembering how cool the jerseys were. How cool Gary Payton was, what a great defender he was, how passionate he was for the game. I didn’t even live here.
“I think it changes the hearts and changes souls and brings people together, and there’s nothing better than that,” he said of professional sports in a metropolitan area. “I know from my own personal experience from being a professional athlete, but also being a great fan of great athletes and great individuals and organizations. It’s a no-brainer to me why we should fight to bring an NBA team back here — an NHL team, too, as well.
“It starts with the arena. It starts with getting the street vacation and doing all that work. It’ll be a quick process. It’ll be a state-of-the-art facility, that’s for sure. And that’s the exciting part. It will be one of a kind, and so it will be really, really special.”
Ah, the “street vacation” issue. Yes, Wilson waded into that mess Thursday.
Hansen’s arena effort needs the city of Seattle to vacate Occidental Avenue, a two-lane side street that runs parallel to the property he owns and on which he wants to build. Occidental is one block east of the main road, 1st Avenue South through Sodo.
So far, the local shipping interests have argued vacating Occidental would have debilitating effects on traffic to and from the nearby Port of Seattle and therefore on the Port’s entire shipping industry. Last spring the Seattle city council voted 5-4 against vacating the street for an arena.
Hansen’s group must now resubmit a new request to the city to vacate Occidental Avenue to build the arena on the land there Hansen owns.
Asked if he’d lobby City Hall, Seattle’s mayor and its council members, Wilson said: “Of course.
“I think it’s just trying to encourage people and let them understand, you know, how important it is. And it will open up tons of jobs for people, too, as well. It’s going to be a state-of-the-art facility and give people opportunity.
“So the key is the street vacation and getting that happening and we’ll be ready to roll.
“So it’s an exciting time.”
Three-time All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas got a rest day from practice three days before the Seahawks (6-2-1) host the Eagles (5-4). All other players expected to play Sunday practiced fully. … Strong safety Kam Chancellor forced a fumble, broke up a pass and defended Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on the final play to seal Seattle’s win at New England last weekend, his first start in five games because of a pulled groin. For that, he’s the NFC’s defensive player of the week. “I’m thankful for it,” Chancellor said. “A lot of the credit goes to my teammates, just being able to put me in positions to make the plays that I’ve made. Everybody being accountable to their gaps so I can play my gap and make plays. A lot of it goes to my team rallying around me and feeding off each other.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle