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Sunday, January 14, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Blaine Newnham

Seattle watches from sideline while other cities participate

Special to The Seattle Times

My dad took a dim view of modern society, from its music to its morals.

The old days were always better, he said, except I knew that he'd lived through two World Wars, a not-so-great depression, a polio epidemic and the day-to-day threat of world annihilation.

Not to mention Perry Como.

I'm looking like my dad now and suppose I'm sounding like him when I talk about the good old days in Seattle sports history.

Not that long ago, really, in the '80s and '90s, we were a city on the make, playing host to three NCAA Final Four basketball championships.

And with even more noble intentions, we went after Ted Turner's Goodwill Games, a peaceful ploy to warm up the Cold War by playing games with the Soviet Union in Moscow and in Seattle when the politics didn't let us do it in the Olympic Games.

I loved those times.

We had Bob Walsh, the loose-cannon promoter, who was taking dead aim on following the Goodwill Games in Seattle with the Olympic Games.

Now we have Nick Licata, the president of the Seattle City Council, who has taken upon himself to undo whatever Walsh did.

Licata says he simply reflects public opinion, that as taxpayers we're tired of subsidizing professional sports teams and don't want or need the hassle and cost of putting on something like the Olympics.


"I like sports," Licata said.

He likes kids playing soccer on grassy, public-kept fields. He doesn't like building an arena for the Sonics simply so the team can make more money off the public than it does now.

"They want a shopping mall," he said.

He doesn't care that to keep up with Sacramento and San Antonio you have to do what those cities do.

I read with interest about the new stadium in the desert outside Phoenix, where they held the college football championship game. It's a domed stadium that besides being the home of the NFL Cardinals will allow Phoenix to become what Seattle was, the perennial Western host of the Final Four as well as just about everything else that happens.

Seattle is different than it was in the '80s and '90s because the Kingdome is gone, and because so is the zeal to do and be everything. We've put our hearts and wallets into professional football and baseball, and as it is turning out, there isn't much left for other things, especially the Sonics.

The Sonics wanted the tax on meals and rental cars that paid for Safeco Field and Qwest Field to continue so it could build them an arena. They wanted what the other guys wanted, and got.

Licata wanted Initiative 91 that said there would be no more subsidy for sports teams in Seattle, and so did the voters.

"I don't think the state legislature is going to fund the building of a new arena no matter where they try to build it," said Licata.

Licata said he thinks we'd be better off spreading our money across the cultural dial, that the return is better if we take care of theater and museums, that the money stays here instead of being captured inside the walls of a $400 million arena and sucked up by the operators, who now reside in Oklahoma City.

While Licata makes sense, my sense is that we've become takers instead of givers, spectators instead of participants.

Vancouver is preparing to hold the Winter Olympics in 2010 and gamely putting up with all that it entails.

"People traveling to the Olympics will come to Seattle," said Licata. "We'll benefit more than if they had been held here."

The same line of thinking sends the Sonics to the suburbs, where somebody else will pay the bills even though the team might still be called Seattle and we can watch it play every other night on television.

Opposite Licata and similarly strident is Ralph Morton, the head of the Seattle Sports Commission.

"Seattle is at a crossroads in the sports industry," he said. "An investment [by the legislature] in a new arena would create jobs and economic development around the arena, and keep the Sonics and Storm in King County.

"The building of a NASCAR facility [in Kitsap County] could bring the Nextel Cup to Washington, which is like having the Super Bowl every year."

KeyArena lost the NCAA men's basketball playoffs this spring to Spokane because the NCAA wasn't satisfied with Seattle's service and commitment at the last one here. It had little to do with the size of the building or the past turnouts.

We're talking about attitude. Seattle is smug with its Seahawks and Mariners and Initiative 91. It doesn't want to be part of keeping the Sonics or getting the NHL, let alone going after the Olympics.

Unlike another time, we watch while others work, an isolationism I know my dad would have appreciated.

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