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Originally published Thursday, July 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

David Stern says he expects Seattle to get another NBA team

In a 1-minute, 43-second interview with Times columnist Steve Kelley, NBA commissioner says Steve Ballmer would be "a hell of an owner."

Seattle Times staff columnist

LAS VEGAS — Judging by my e-mail, the acrimony hasn't died down. The anger the city of Seattle feels toward the NBA seems as hot as summer in this desert artificial oasis.

The passion of 41 years of Sonics basketball doesn't go gently into the night.

Somewhere, despite the inaction of the governor and inattention of the last legislative session, hope still lives in the hearts of the city's many NBA fans that someday, somehow, KeyArena will be remodeled and the league will return to Seattle.

For all of its flaws, the quality of NBA basketball is better than ever. And, judging from the early returns on rookies like Blake Griffin, Jonny Flynn, Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry and James Harden, the future looks bright.

Business might not be booming, but the game is.

And there should be a place for that game in Seattle.

Here we are, a year after the Sonics of Clay Bennett bolted for sweet home Oklahoma City, and NBA commissioner David Stern remains Public Enemy No. 1 among Seattle's sports fans.

History and Hollywood can have Dillinger. Seattle has had Stern.

The level of disrespect he showed the city during the push and pull over the KeyArena lease agreement was insulting.

During that fight, he never acknowledged all of the good Seattle did for the league. Even as Seattle felt the heartbreak of losing its team, Stern never said he was sorry. Never thanked it for its 41 years of loyal support. Stern and Bennett became the nattering nabobs of NBA negativism.

This week, as I came here to watch the league's future play in the NBA Summer League, I saw the man who presided over the fall of the Sonics.

At courtside of the Thomas & Mack Center, before Griffin's debut with the Los Angeles Clippers, I asked Stern if I could talk with him for a couple of minutes. Just two minutes for 41 years. Two minutes to talk to Seattle basketball fans. A little respect after showing the ultimate disrespect.

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He paused, looked at a member of his public-relations staff and said, "OK, two minutes."

He gave me a minute and 43 seconds.

I asked him if he would offer some thanks to Seattle for all it did for the league.

"It was a great city for the NBA," Stern said, dropping the stridency of last summer. "It supported us very well, and we had great teams and great memories. I don't consider it a success that we left Seattle, but a failure of types. And I hope someday, whether on my watch or a successor's watch, that we again have a team in Seattle."

With a public-relations staff member tape-recording our brief interview, Stern was asked what he thought Seattle should do next.

"The next step is really the right putative owner, who really wants to have a team and is prepared to do what it takes, working together with the city, the state to get an arena and get the job done," he said. "I think ultimately there will be [another team in Seattle]. I really do."

When he was asked if Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, an NBA maven who is part of a group that has offered to make a sizable financial commitment to bring the league back to the city, could be the kind of owner Stern would like to see in Seattle, the commissioner gave maybe his most encouraging answer for Seattle since Howard Schultz sold the Sonics to Bennett.

"I don't want to put the whammy on him," Stern said, "but he'd be a hell of an owner."

A year ago, when Bennett left town with the team, the idea of even an NBA intrasquad scrimmage coming to Seattle seemed impossible. But in October, the Portland Trail Blazers will play an exhibition game against the Phoenix Suns at KeyArena.

I asked Stern if this could be considered a hopeful sign for those of us who want the league in our town.

"I think it's just an attempt by Portland to do the right thing and show fans a good time," Stern said.

He was asked if he was concerned about a possible boycott of that game.

"I think the fans are entitled to do whatever they want to do," he said, beginning to move away. "It is an independent city. It always has been, and I hope it always will be."

The heartlessness of the politics of pro sports smacked Seattle in the face last season. The scars from that experience don't heal easily.

The anger persists.

But in this briefest of interviews, when Stern could have walked past me as if I were a ghost, he didn't. His affection for Ballmer was obvious and his understanding of Seattle's place in his league's history is unquestionable.

With a remodeled KeyArena there can be a future for the NBA in Seattle.

Even a mere 1 minute and 43 seconds with the commissioner made that apparent.

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

Copyright © 2009 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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