History, politics, people of Oly WA

Category: sonics (Page 1 of 2)

The Los Angeles Sonics and the lies of legacy


When the Supersonics first came to Seattle in the late 1960s expansion of high level basketball, they were the first major professional team in Seattle. Sure, I suppose the Seattle Metropolitans count, as they won the Stanley Cup in 1917. But, for the growth of modern Seattle, the Sonics are the first team that really matters.

Soon after the the Sonics came the Pilots (which quickly moved to Milwaukee) and then ten years later the Mariners and Seahawks. But, by the time professional baseball and football were getting their feet set in Seattle, the Sonics had already built a championship team by 1979.

As seems to be tradition in Seattle sports, a rich Californian was behind it all. Sam Schulman bought into the NBA in the late 60s and ended up with the Seattle franchise. Schulman made most of his money making movies (though he himself was rarely listed in credits). He was also part of a group that bought the San Diego Chargers in 1966. When you look for him now, he’s most well known for his early ownership and stewardship of the Sonics and his impact on professional basketball.

And, it was Schulman, not Clay Bennett, that first threatened the move the Sonics out of Seattle.

While Schulman was eager to buy into the NBA, he seemingly had no particular love for the institution. His early years as a professional basketball executive were spent trying to reform the game. His struggle to bring together the NBA and the rival American Basketball Association and change how player contracts were handled.

Schulman’s primary battle with the NBA (over player contracts) culminated in the 1971 Supreme Court decision in Haywood vs. National Basketball Association, which ended up allowing teams to sign players with less than two years of college experience. Schulman had signed Spencer Haywood, who had left college after less than two years. The NBA sanctioned the Sonics, and Schulman took it to court.

Schulman’s primary antagonist throughout the Haywood saga and the effort to bring ABA teams into the NBA fold was Jack Kent Cooke, who owned the Los Angeles Lakers. it was in this context in the early 70s that Schulman threatened to move the Sonics.

Steve Pluto quoted Dick Tinkham’s telling of the threat in his history of the ABA:

There were a lot of crazy things going on. (Seattle owners) Sam Schulman and I were on a merger committee and Sam told me that if the NBA teams wouldn’t support our merger agreement, he was going to sign Haywood, move his franchise to Los Angeles and join the ABA! He told Jack Kent Cooke that his was what he planned to do. He said he would move right into Cooke’s backyard if Cooke didn’t back him. But, like everything else that was talked about and threatened, nothing came of it.

This threat was made in private as it was not reported in the Seattle media, as far as I can tell. But, if Tinkham’s retelling is correct, it says a lot about Schulman, who has been remembered as one of Seattle’s most important and loyal sports executives. We can’t doubt his California roots, he had already had interest in the Chargers before he came up to Seattle.

The story also fits the geography of sports at the times. The ABA’s franchise in Southern California, the Los Angeles Stars, had moved to Utah in 1970. Their new San Diego team wasn’t established until 1972. The NBA’s San Diego Rockets has also moved to Houston in 1971. And the Buffalo Braves wouldn’t move to San Diego as the Clippers until 1978 and Los Angeles until 1984.

If Haywood had lost in the Supreme Court and Cooke had worked successfully to keep the ABA at arm’s length, Schulman moving the Sonics to Los Angeles seems much more likely. But, history turned out differently. Haywood won his case and most of the ABA came into the NBA in 1976.

And, three years later, the Sonics beat the Washington Bullets in five games and the commuting owner of the Sonics enshrined into Seattle sports history.

Wrote Steve Kelly of the Seattle Times:

For the 16 years he owned the Sonics, Schulman turned sports ownership into a thrilling high-wire act. 

He took chances. He made headlines. When he failed, it was colossal. But when he succeeded, it stirred this city like nothing Seattle sports has seen. 

Schulman was a showman. He came to Seattle with all the elan and marketing chutzpah of a Hollywood pitchman. He knew how to win games, win hearts and fill seats.

Sam Schulman was also the first person to threaten to take the Sonics away, if only in private. If he’d been driven to it, the Sonics would’ve been the second professional team to leave in a few years. After only one season on Major League Baseball, the Seattle Pilots left to become the Brewers. Losing the Sonics would have been a major sporting crisis in Seattle.

With the Sonics seemingly secure in Seattle, civic leaders battled with professional baseball to eventually bring the Mariners. They also brought together the community to fund a multi purpose stadium for football and baseball before a major league franchise was secured in either sport.

It certainly wasn’t easy going for sports boosters during the Boeing Bust era:

By 1971, many people had had enough. Although community activists like Frank Ruano continued to lob complaints at the County Council, bids for the new stadium on the King Street site went out. Despite disapproval and concerns from International District groups, the commissioners stuck to the findings of an environmental impact study which claimed minimal damage to the Asian enclave lying to the east of the proposed site.

During the Kingdome’s official groundbreaking ceremonies on November 2, 1972, some 25 young Asian protesters hurled mudballs at the dignitaries in attendance. Several hundred spectators watched as County Executive Spellman’s speech drew chants — “Stop the Stadium!” — from agitators. Dissenters booed other speakers, including a Seattle Kings representative seeking to attract a professional football franchise. Spellman hastily planted the gold home plate on the field, but the ceremony was a bust.

In this climate, jobs walking out of Seattle as Boeing shrank for seemingly the first time ever, and vocal opposition to a new stadium, the Sonics skipping town would’ve been a death blow. It isn’t likely we would have ever ended up with the King Dome, the Mariners, Seahawks or the modern Sounders.


Where Sacramento sits now — about to lose their only major league sports franchise in their history — is almost a perfect bookend to the history of Seattle sports and the city’s self image. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Seattle was ten years off the World’s Fair when city leaders made a strong argument to the world that Seattle mattered. Sports teams are a major part of that argument. Simply put, towns with teams matter.

In the 40 years since Schulman made the threat in private to move the sonics and mudballs were launched at people for suggesting even more major league sports, Seattle is well established. Sacramento is hanging on by a thread. If we end up getting the Sacramento Kings and turning them back into the Sonics, we’ll put Sacremento back in the place Seattle was in 1966.

The hopes for Sacramento in 2014 would be a lot less bright than for Seattle in 1966. The sports scene is a lot less fluid now. Rival national leagues just aren’t founded anymore and the current leagues don’t expand all that often. And, its not often you can beat a city like Seattle in a struggle for a team.

Clay Bennett and the OKC Thunder notwithstanding, Seattle has come a long way since 1966. The Sonics leaving hurts so much maybe because it has been one of the city’s’ few civic failures in recent years. The Pilots leaving certainly hurt the city’s pride, but it wasn’t treated like the mortal sin like the creation of the Thunder.

The fact is, Seattle has become a city secure with major league sports. If Seattle’s civic leaders want a NBA team enough, they’ll get it. Seattle has become that kind of city. If not Sacramento, then maybe New Orleans. Some other lesser city will give up its franchise to us eventually. And, in doing so, we’ll drop that other city back into the sports franchise oblivion Seattle last saw almost 50 years ago.

Olympia Reign (Local summer semi-pro sports Part 3)

3. Last (but only in my eyes) is the Olympia Reign of the International Basketball League. I’m glad this team is still around, but I’m sorry to admit that semi-pro basketball is in third place for me behind soccer and baseball. I might go see them this year, but that’s still a might. They’re out at Evergreen State College this year, which isn’t a bad home court, just a bit of a hike. It might seem small-time, but it might be worth them trying out a high school court. I imagine St. Martin’s field house is a bit steep in price.

I’d just also like to note the other reasons I’m lame for not trying to support the Reign more. First, they’re name is great.

Also, I’ve complained in the past that there really is no minor or independent league basketball in the country, but that there should be. And, independent basketball should play along side college and the NBA on the calendar, not try to carve out a summer league like the IBL. So, if you love basketball and hate (like me) that the NBA took the Sonics out of Seattle, then spend money on teams like the Reign. Because only because of support by fans like us will the NBA ever reform.

That’s true of all sports leagues, by the way. If you don’t like the major league option in your area, for whatever reason, support your local independent franchise.

Olympia Reign are on the web and on Facebook.

Lou Guzzo goes a bit too commie with Sonics

Lou Guzzo:

They are joined by two other Democrats, Senators Maria Cantwell and Senator Patty Murray, who are also very critical of the Sonics “robbery” but are doing nothing about the N.B.A. owners’ action. If they were really concerned, they would immediately introduce legislation in Congress to take away the owners’ sports dictatorships and order that all pro-sports franchises should belong to the cities and their sports fans, whose dollars at the turnstiles make pro sports possible.


With that kind of a law, only the voters and sports fans of cities could determine whether a basketball, football, baseball, hockey, or any other franchise could leave town. Every major city in the U.S. should have the right to own franchises in all pro sports and to force them to leave if they wished.

Under such a law, the cities would not own nor operate the teams. That would be done by eligible owners or organizations, and the city governments should have no say in the day-to-day operations of the teams. Doesn’t that make a lot more sense than the present stupid tugs of war the pro leagues now condone?

What would be much easier and much less radical proposal would be to simply allow non-profit or fan-owned teams. There is only one top level professional team in the United States that could be considered “fan owned.”

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s wrong with our current organization of pro-sports:

First, overturn the major leagues’ prohibition on fan ownership. This will likely require Congressional action. Representative Earl Blumenauer’s (D-Oregon) Give Fans a Chance Act (HR 590) would accomplish this goal. The bill would forbid any of the professional leagues from prohibiting community ownership, and would withdraw the leagues’ antitrust privileges if they did so. It also requires teams to give their communities 180 days notice of proposed relocation, during which time the community can put together an offer to retain the franchise. Lastly, it requires that leagues consider factors such as fan loyalty and whether the community is opposed to the move before approving relocation.

So, an effort like Share Liverpool or A.F.C. Wimbledon could ever happen.

Save the Sonics, Howard Schultz

The CEO of the quintessential Seattle company should step in and save the oldest living Seattle sports franchise, now that he has a chance:

The emails that have come to light today show that the effort to keep the team here was not made in good faith. Not only were Bennett and his co-owners talking amongst themselves about moving the team as early as April, they reached out to Oklahoma City officials in June.

“However,” he added, “the contract here was between Bennett and the previous owners–who might not want to set aside the agreement.”

And there’s the issue. The aggrieved party here is Howard Schultz and his team of owners. They may be peachy-keen about how this whole thing has gone down.

“The fact that Bennett and Company seemed not to have been acting in good faith during the negotiations of the contract (not just during its performance stage), however, raises other issues as well. It means that his lack of good faith goes to the very formation of the contract–because it vitiates [ed: law talk for ‘invalidates’] the quality of consent given by the other side… Misrepresentation and fraud make the contract invalid.

Howard, you screwed up. Now that other locals want to own the team, its time to make good.

What is a Sounder? I am a Sounder. We are Sounders

I was going to make this point in this post, but I decided to start a new one because I think this point stands on its own.

There are plenty of actual definitions of “sounder,” but none that actually make sense for the name of a professional sports franchise. Over at the Goal Seattle Museum, a story from 1974 asks the question “what is a Sounder?” without actually answering it.

So, lacking a better definition, and using as the image of the franchise a symbol that is more geographic than anything else, a Sounder is someone from Puget Sound.

What is a Sounder? I’m a Sounder. We are Sounders.

Space Needle as image (the post 90s sports franchise in Seattle)

Maybe its fitting that at a time when we’re bidding a long goodbye to the Sonics, a team that by name is tied to our industrial Boeing past, we’re also saying hello to the new Seattle Sounders FC, which use the Space Needle as their central totem.

The Sonics were like the Detroit Pistons (car industry) or the Green Bay Packer (meat packing), they referred back to a past that was relevant when the team was named. Not so much relevant now. Since the Sonics, we’ve had the Mariners (sailors, we still have sailors, don’t we?) and Seahawks (an imaginary sea bird).

While the Sounder are the second oldest surviving name in Seattle pro-sports history (Mariners and Seahawks came after the 1974 original Sounders), its a name vague enough to stand rebranding. And, it was rebranded in a very interesting, post-Microsoft, 1990s Seattle way.

Read this section of Selling Seattle for my back up. If you are marketing Seattle, and you need a quick imagery reference to tell people that you’re in Seattle, you use the Needle. You don’t use Mt. Rainier (not enough people know that mountain from any other mountain) and you don’t use ferries or just a shot of the Sound. Might was well be UP Michigan.

So, as the Needle is an image of Seattle, the nature of the team, its identity is sort of open for definition. What is a Sounder, anyway?

#4 sonics brain dump

Key Arena is owned by the City of Seattle. Qwest Field and Safeco are both owned (to some degree or another) by the people of Washington State through Public Facility Districts.

So, all three major sports venues in Washington (not including obvious college venues) are publicy owned, one more directly.;

Not really any facts here to back this up, but I think this makes the situation with Key more volatile. I’m all for more democracy, but that Key Arena is directly managed by elected officials, rather than a board appointed by elected officials, makes it more likely that folks will have problems with the arena’s management.

More of a public issue, if you know what I mean.

#3 sonics brain dump

$75 million is a lot less than $300 million, which was how much Clay Bennett wanted for the Renton arena. But, how much is it compared to the stadiums and public financed sports venues the legislature helped finance last year?
Can’t you see the beauty in that?

Last year’s session saw the financing of a horse venue in Lewis County and a new hockey arena in Kent and a community theater down in Longview. I couldn’t find hard numbers for all three projects, but the financing for the hockey arena comes to $30 million public dollars.

$30 million for a minor league hockey arena and no $75 million for Key?

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