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Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - Page updated at 09:00 p.m.

Danny Westneat
Game may be over if NBA says ‘no’

By Danny Westneat
Seattle Times staff columnist

At a Seattle mayoral debate the other week, the proposed Sodo basketball arena came up. If I could sum up the reaction of the candidates and the audience in one word, it would be: “Meh.”

Three candidates, including Mayor Mike McGinn, said they back the arena. But three others, including two of the front-runners, answered only with “maybe.” One said, definitely, no.

The crowd didn’t seem to care much one way or the other.

I bring this up, at this key moment when the NBA is set to choose whether to allow a sale of the Sacramento Kings to Seattle investors, to note that this city, at large, remains decidedly ambivalent about it all.

Sure, basketball lovers (like me!) are for it. But broadly, we could take it or leave it.

This matters. In fact if the NBA says “no” Wednesday to Seattle, don’t count out the possibility that whatever political momentum there was for building an arena and bringing back the Sonics might dry up and blow away.

“If they say ‘no,’ there is going to be some energy that dissipates around here, I’m sure of that,” says City Councilmember Tim Burgess.

Burgess is one of the mayoral candidates who said he “maybe” supports the arena project. This made me take notice because Burgess not only voted for the arena last fall, but was key in crafting the deal between investor Chris Hansen and the city.

He says he answered “maybe” because the city has not made a final decision yet. There are three studies ongoing — of environmental, economic and freight-mobility issues — and the results will be crucial to whether he is a final “yes.”

Another City Council member who backed the arena as it moved through the process last fall told me flatly his own support is soft at best.

“I’m not sold on the idea of an arena yet,” says Tom Rasmussen, who added he is opposed to the idea of allowing an L.A. Live entertainment complex in the industrial area.

State Sen. Ed Murray, another front-runner for mayor, also counted himself as a “maybe.”

My point here isn’t to rehash the arena debate. It’s to point out that support for this entire enterprise is tenuous.

Add a deflating rejection by the NBA into this sea of skeptical ambivalence and ... well, the “we can take it or leave it” posture may morph into “forget it” faster than David Stern can ooze false sincerity at his next news conference.

Originally, nobody expected to get a chance at a team so quickly. But with this major push by Hansen and Steve Ballmer — suggesting they think it’s now or never — the stakes have been raised. The pall left by defeat now may be hard to shake.

“I’m honestly not sure what will happen to the council’s support,” Burgess said, when I asked him what happens if Seattle loses. “We put together a pretty strong coalition. To be told ‘no,’ though, it would be quite a blow.”

Not that the NBA seems to care. If they did they could announce a plan to expand by one team, pleasing both Seattle and Sacramento. For months that has been the blindingly obvious solution to this mess.

If Sacramento wins Wednesday, there’s not much to say but good for them. They went after it, so they deserve it. Their taxpayers will pay the price for that desire for years to come, but that’s their choice.

In Seattle, though, I don’t sense much patience to just be left hanging. Who wants to be dragged through this drama again? Or used as bait to extort taxpayer-financed arenas in other cities?

A firm decision of “no” on Wednesday will be cast as a temporary setback. But it may play out around here more like “goodbye.” For good.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or

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