advertising
Link to jump to start of content The Seattle Times Company Jobs Autos Homes Rentals NWsource Classifieds seattletimes.com
Sports

Thursday, July 20, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Print

Steve Kelley

Whitsitt: After 39 years, Sonics belong in Seattle

Seattle Times staff columnist

A little more than a decade ago, this team was his team and the dream of a new basketball building was his dream.

Bob Whitsitt was the president of the Sonics from 1986 to 1994. He was the real architect of the 1996 Western Conference championship team that his successor, Wally Walker, enjoys taking credit for building.

Whitsitt drafted Gary Payton and took a chance on a high-school kid named Shawn Kemp. Whitsitt traded for Detlef Schrempf and Sam Perkins and acquired Ricky Pierce. Whitsitt gambled on the gamboling coach from Real Madrid, George Karl.

And before he resigned after a dispute with then-owner Barry Ackerley, Whitsitt was the front man in the negotiations for the remodeling job that turned the Seattle Coliseum into KeyArena.

And that's why, the day after Howard Schultz and his gang sold the Sonics to a group from Oklahoma City, Whitsitt was feeling the same hangover every heartsick Sonics fan was feeling.

"I'm bummed," Whitsitt said Wednesday afternoon as he sat in the lobby of a downtown hotel. "But I think, a day later, I take the position, 'Let's really hope it all gets figured out and stays here.' Because the one thing I don't want to think about is Seattle not having NBA basketball. That would just be a complete downer. That would be bad for everybody on every level.

"To be honest with you, I certainly wish it was a local group buying the team. Local tends to want to stay local. You always feel a little more comfortable and secure. But let's hope these guys come in and give it the best shot. This franchise is so much stronger than you could imagine. I mean you're just about at the 40-year mark. That is solid, proven stock."

One scene from the news conference still lingers naggingly the day after. Despite all the green and gold balloons that wiggled festively around the Furtado Center on Tuesday, the mood was funereal.

Clay Bennett, who should have been ecstatic that he had purchased an NBA team, never really smiled. He looked like he was buying a condo in Kabul, not a basketball team in Seattle.

And when Schultz presented him with a Sonics' No. 1 jersey — wasn't that Gus Williams' number? And isn't that number retired? — Bennett looked as thrilled as if he had just been given an oven mitt.

"The guy [Bennett] said something like, 'I'm going to give it 12 months,' " Whitsitt said. "I'm thinking, 'Whoa, there's four years left on the [KeyArena] lease, and he's giving it 12 months?' Well, hopefully it's a good 12 months.

"The one thing I know, the team's been well-supported here. I view it as, if the fans' support has been there year in and year out, then the community deserves a team. And the fans' support has been there for the almost 40 years. All the other agendas and issues and politics and economics, all those things should be able to get figured out behind closed doors."

The league has too many markets that truly are weak — Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, for instance — to tinker with a city that has had the long-term support the Sonics have enjoyed.

"If you're the commissioner, you're always looking to make your weakest franchises better," Whitsitt said. "There are a number of sputtering franchises, and this isn't one of them. Plus you need the presence up here. You need a little rivalry with Portland. You need a little action going in this corner up here."

He has been out of the league since leaving the Portland Trail Blazers in May 2003, but Whitsitt, whose company, Whitsitt Enterprises, is considering bringing an indoor lacrosse franchise to Seattle beginning in 2008, says he still watches a couple of NBA games a night.

He was a gym rat long before he was a GM. He still attends Sonics games. He was courtside for the home finale this year against the Denver Nuggets.

"The trouble with KeyArena is with the lease, not the building," Whitsitt said. "I can tell you, I still talk to a lot of people in the league when they come to town, and they love playing in KeyArena. It's a great venue to watch a game. And it can be a great venue for the lacrosse team. I believe fans enjoy watching events there."

Don't laugh at lacrosse. The National Lacrosse League has grown from four teams in 1997 to 13. It has a TV contract with OLN, the network of the National Hockey League. It is a league that has found a niche.

And Whitsitt is smitten with the game. His son Sean played it at Harvard. But he sees it as a complement to the NBA, not a substitute.

"We started this process with the NLL, with 100 percent belief that we had no 'buts,' that the Sonics would definitely be here," he said. "We're not looking to replace the NBA. We're looking to add something. What we're hoping is that we don't lose the Sonics."

This gloomy day-after, most of heartsick Seattle was hoping right along with Bob Whitsitt.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

advertising

advertising

TV/Radio listings

Monday, May 6

Pro baseballTVRadio
4:07 p.m.Seattle at TorontoROOT710
7 p.m.PCL, Reno at Tacoma850
7:30 p.m.*Seattle at TorontoROOT
NBA basketball playoffs
4 p.m.New York at BostonESPN
4 p.m.Indiana at AtlantaESPN2
6:30 p.m.Oklahoma City at HoustonESPN
6:30 p.m.L.A. Clippers at MemphisESPN2
NHL hockey playoffs
4 p.m.Ottawa at MontrealCBUT
4 p.m.N.Y. Islanders at PittsburghNBCSN
4 p.m.Ottawa at MontrealCNBC
6:30 p.m.Minnesota at ChicagoNBCSN
6:30 p.m.Minnesota at ChicagoCBUT
7 p.m.San Jose at VancouverCNBC950, 102.9
Pro golf
6 a.m.*European Tour, China OpenGOLF
9:30 a.m.LPGA Tour, Kingsmill ChampionshipGOLF
NoonPGA Tour, Wells Fargo ChampionshipGOLF
4:30 p.m.*Champions Tour, Insperity Champ.GOLF
Auto racing
9 a.m.NASCAR Nationwide 312 qualifyingESPN2
11 a.m.NASCAR Sprint Cup 499 practiceSPEED
12:30 p.m.NASCAR Sprint Cup 499 practiceSPEED
2 p.m.ARCA Talladega 250SPEED
Horse racing
2 p.m.Kentucky OaksNBCSN
WHL hockey playoffs final
10:30 p.m.*Edmonton at PortlandROOT
College lacrosse
2:30 a.m.* (Sat.)ECAC Semis, Loyola,Md.vs.Ohio St.ROOT
College softball
4 p.m.Oregon St. at OregonPAC-12
6 p.m.Arizona St. at ArizonaPAC-12
IIHF hockey
2 a.m. (Sat.)United States vs. AustriaNBCSN
* Delayed broadcast

Complete TV/Radio listings

Times writers on the radio

950 KJR

  • Mariners reporter Geoff Baker appears at 9 a.m. Tuesdays with Mitch Levy.
  • Columnist Jerry Brewer appears daily with Elise Woodward 10 a.m. to noon as well as on the Seahawks Roundtable at 8:20 a.m. Thursdays during the NFL season.
  • UW reporter Bob Condotta appears on the Husky Roundtable at 8:20 a.m. Mondays during the college football season.
  • Baseball reporter Larry Stone appears at 8 a.m. Fridays with Mitch Levy.
  • UW reporter Percy Allen appears at noon every Saturday with Jeff Aaron.

* = tape delayed

Complete TV/Radio listingsMore

AL West W L Pct. GB Div. Streak
y-LA Angels 100 62 .617 --- 36-21 Won 1
Texas 79 83 .488 21 30-27 Lost 1
Oakland 75 86 .466 24.5 26-31 Lost 5
Seattle 61 101 .377 39 22-35 Won 3

y - clinched division, x - clinched playoff berth

Wild card standings | AL standings | NL standings

Sign up for daily sports e-mails

Have top Seattle Times headlines delivered to your inbox each morning for sports, Mariners, Sonics, Storm, Seahawks, Huskies, Cougars and high school.



Recreation calendar
Detailed listings of community sports activities.

Sports cartoon

Updated every Sunday.

How to contact sports

Email: sports@seattletimes.com

Phone: (206) 464-2276

Fax: (206) 464-3255

Letters

E-mail: Cathy Henkel, Sports Editor, chenkel@seattletimes.com

Snail mail: Sports Editor, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111

More info.


advertising

Local sales & deals Play games Find a job
Search for a job
Job type