Friday, March 2, 2007
A nasty storm brewing in Seattle
By LZ Granderson Page 2
The NBA is once again in a bit of a pickle over this whole gay issue, but this time it has nothing to do with Tim Hardaway or John Amaechi. It does, however, have everything to do with David Stern's propensity to turn a blind eye to the discriminatory actions of the league's owners.
I first brought this topic up a year ago, after Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller abruptly pulled "Brokeback Mountain" from his movie theater upon discovering the film's subject matter. Back then I said Miller's actions were akin to pulling "Glory Road" after he learned the black team won. But that incident didn't raise much dust because, well, it didn't involve money.
However, in Seattle, money is involved.
The Sonics might be celebrating their victories somewhere else soon.
The city is all abuzz right now because it's been discovered that Howard "Starbucks" Schultz sold the Seattle SuperSonics and Storm to a conglomerate that features two principals who practically bankrolled an anti-gay marriage group. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Americans United to Preserve Marriage, an organization led by conservative former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, spent $1.3 million during 2004-06, of which about $1.1 million was donated by Oklahoma City businessmen Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward.
This places the league in a precarious situation, because the new ownership is looking to the legislature to approve a taxpayer subsidy for a new arena that costs somewhere around $500 million. This is the same legislature that is expected to approve domestic-partner benefits this year. And if they don't get the new arena, the new owners are free to pack up and move the teams -- with the most likely landing spot being Oklahoma City, where the ownership group is based.
Given the liberal leanings of the people of Seattle, and the Sonics' record, I would think the last thing the NBA wants to see is the fate of one of its oldest franchises come to a vote. But there's a good chance that's exactly what's going to happen.
And I think that's exactly what Stern and the NBA deserve.
Given the extreme care taken in approving the purchasing and selling of NBA franchises, I find it difficult to believe the league was unaware of the activities of McClendon and Ward. But the decision was made that what owners do with their own time and their own money has no bearing on their abilities to own and run a team. And technically, I agree with that. But I find it hypocritical for the NBA to hang Hardaway out to dry for expressing his personal feelings on a very divisive topic while simultaneously cashing the check from a pair of men whose off-the-court activities suggest on some level they agree with him. (Hardaway was representing the NBA in an official capacity at the All-Star Game, but was sent home after his comments, with David Stern saying, "It is inappropriate for him to be representing us given the disparity between his views and ours.") Beyond saying he hated gay people, Hardaway said he didn't think they should be allowed to live in this country. McClendon and Ward support an organization that doesn't believe gay people should have equal rights. Hardaway's comments were inflammatory but those two ideologies are not that far apart.
But actions speak louder than words. And money is louder than both of them.
The situation in Seattle had become unpleasant, as Schultz was unable to get a new arena built and desperately wanted out. The league needed a resolution, and selling the franchise to the new group provided one. Ridding the NBA of the vulgar tongue of a former player was easy. Turning away billionaires with the potential to cure a headache is a bit more difficult.
I actually admire the work Stern has done, and believe he truly wants a tolerant and diverse NBA. But running a league is a fairly political process, and sometimes you have to know when to fight and when to cut your losses. I get it. I don't like it, but I get it.
The bottom line is: Stern could have stopped this transaction long ago. He didn't. So now here's where we stand: Eventually it may come down to the left-leaning people of Seattle deciding if they want to help line the pockets of men who aggressively fund anti-gay organizations or say goodbye to their first professional franchise.
It's a tough choice, but life is full of tough choices.
Stern made his. Now Seattle, the ball's in your court.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and host of the ESPN360 talk show "Game Night." LZ can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.