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Saturday, May 11, 2013 - Page updated at 11:30 p.m.
Bidding war for Sonics a bit much for some locals
By Danny Westneat
Seattle Times staff columnist
As Bob Dylan once said: “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”
So that was one rich expletive bomb Chris Hansen just dropped.
Urged by the NBA to back off in his attempts to buy Sacramento’s pro basketball team for Seattle, and tut-tutted by the Sacramento mayor to “take the high road and be gracious,” Hansen and billionaire Steve Ballmer instead started a full-on money brawl.
Acting in Seattle’s name (because we’re partners in this now), Hansen threw about $50 million more Friday into his already crazily inflated bid to buy 65 percent of the Sacramento Kings.
It was saying: Take that, Sacramento. We’re richer than you.
First off, this show of money machismo had local sports fans pounding their chests like Squatch used to do after a Shawn Kemp dunk. If Hansen wins at this game, and successfully brings back the Sonics, he will go down as a sports legend in this city.
But I also detected some unease. Seattle’s culture has long been don’t ask, don’t tell and definitely don’t flaunt when it comes to money.
Seattle money not only doesn’t swear, it’s not even supposed to show itself in public. Except maybe to attend charity auctions. The really big Seattle money? It’s quietly overseas trying to cure malaria or eradicate polio.
Only now it’s also getting all smash-mouth in a bidding war for a pro sports franchise.
The Bullitt family, which is classic old-money Seattle, has long had a saying that sums up how money here is supposed to remain discreet. Felt, maybe, but neither seen nor heard.
“Fools’ names, like their faces, are seen in all public places,” the Bullitts like to say.
Immediately the carpers started in on Hansen’s $50 million throwdown with a similar Seattle take.
“Anyone can write checks. Not everyone knows how to do the right thing,” sniffed a commenter at The Seattle Times website.
“If Hansen and Ballmer can throw this kind of money around for a team, they clearly could afford to build their own arena without one dime of public funds,” said another.
That’s the Mayberry with skyscrapers we know and love! Suspicious of wealth, and judgmental about it to boot.
Although what’s truly pathbreaking here is that when you’re as rich as Ballmer, this doesn’t even qualify as a conspicuous display. That $50 million that’s such an in-your-face to Sacramento makes up one-third of one percent of his $15.2 billion net worth. He could slam $50 mil on the table 300 more times before he’d tap out.
Ballmer has always been the big weapon for Hansen. He would become, overnight, the richest owner in the NBA — slightly ahead of Seattle’s own Paul Allen, who owns the Portland Trail Blazers. That kind of money doesn’t talk or swear. It screams.
It was inevitable that cash this brash would change Seattle. I’m proud we are now the global center for charitable giving, for instance, and obviously that’s infinitely more important than pro basketball. But if one of our local billionaires also wants to use a fraction of his stash to make the NBA squirm and go hard for the Sonics, then my feeling is: Go for it.
It’s about time we threw our money weight around a little.
Still, there’s one thing it’s not, and that’s discreet. Not nice. Not very Seattle.
It will be interesting to see if Hansen and Ballmer win over the city by going for the jugular like this. Or alienate that old one that still considers it rude to swear.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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