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Originally published Wednesday, April 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Don't dismiss arena idea, don't distract either

The news began circulating in the Safeco Field press box hours before the Mariners' season opener against Texas. A news conference was scheduled...

Seattle Times staff columnist

The news began circulating in the Safeco Field press box hours before the Mariners' season opener against Texas.

A news conference was scheduled for Tuesday to announce plans for a privately funded sports arena. A precious few people even got news releases sent by the PR firm "WongDoody."

The murmurs said "Downtown" Fred Brown was involved in the project.

"Downtown" Brown actually involved in a basketball project — downtown?

And the announcement was coming on April Fool's Day?

What could be next? A statement from NBA commissioner David Stern saying he was running for mayor of Seattle?

But sure enough, on Tuesday morning, there was Brown, lending his name to a group led by Dave Bean, the senior director of WongDoody.

Bean — you remember him from the Seattle Smashers, don't you? The professional volleyball team he was promoting several decades ago? Those Smashers?

Bean presented sketches of a new arena he called the Emerald City Center that even had a retractable roof for, what, outdoor basketball? He had sites in mind for the arena. He had plans for expansion NBA and NHL teams.

Oh, yeah, Bean had plans. Big plans. Enormous Plans. He and his group, called B2, have vision. Big Vision. Enormous Vision.

What they don't have, at least today, is money. Or land. Or teams.

"We don't have it all figured out," Bean said.

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Neither the NBA nor NHL has any continental expansion plans. Stern seems more interested in taking his league across the Atlantic. If you believe him, Barcelona has a better chance of getting an expansion team than Seattle.

But at this news conference, Bean and Brown introduced us to their dreams. They even brought in legendary center Bill Russell, who dramatically entered the room during the presentation the way Bob Hope used to stroll onto the set of the "Tonight Show."

If you are a basketball fan in Seattle, you should be pulling for these guys. If you want NBA basketball in Seattle, their dreams, in many ways, are your dreams.

But here's the concern.

There is another group in town that includes Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer that is working with the city to find a financially feasible way to remodel KeyArena and buy one of many existing, struggling NBA franchises.

The last thing we need is competing groups, fighting for the affections of the City Council, the state Legislature, the NBA and the same potential investors.

We need the area's power brokers working in concert, not in competition. If the Ballmer group can raise the money to keep basketball in town, B2 shouldn't sabotage the deal.

Speaking of sabotage, the Sonics continue to sabotage this season. Their 120-107 loss Sunday to Sacramento was another assault on the integrity of the game and an insult to the few fans who bothered to watch. It's obvious the people running the Seattle basketball team already have quit on the city. This team is all about pingpong balls and moving vans, and the lunks at the league office should be ashamed.

In the meantime, Seattle needs time.

A favorable ruling this summer from a federal judge, holding the Sonics to their KeyArena lease for another two years, is the best thing that can happen to Seattle. That would allow the people of means to put together a package that could bring another existing, troubled franchise here.

But as the NBA Board of Governors prepares this month to give the evil Clay Bennett its approval to move the Sonics to that burgeoning metropolis of Oklahoma City, it should take a serious look at B2.

"It should be difficult for the NBA to walk away from a mature, 40-year market," Bean said.

B2 is another reminder to the Board of Governors that, contrary to what Stern spouts, Seattle still cares about the NBA. B2 is another Seattle group that is willing to fight to save the game.

I'm all for big vision, big ideas.

Every great project had skeptics. Every great idea had people who said it wouldn't work. Blithely kissing off B2 could be a kiss of death.

But the questions have to be asked. Where is it going to find the needed $1 billion? Why should someone invest in a project that doesn't have land or tenants?

Tuesday's proposal was vague as dust. Even Bean agreed, "We have many hurdles to get over."

But let's not dismiss Bean and Brown. Let them make their pitch, share their vision, fight their fight.

The bums from OKC are this close to robbing Seattle of its basketball team. And the tens of thousands of fans who remember how good the game can be here should be open to all the ideas and all the help available.

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

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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