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Calls for Seattle Sonics return grow louder after NBA preseason game at Climate Pledge Arena

Climate Pledge Arena

After a successful preseason game and impassioned speech from former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at Climate Pledge Arena, we’re hearing more calls for the return of the Seattle Sonics to the NBA.

We were at Climate Pledge Arena this past weekend for a Seattle Kraken preseason game and will have more thoughts on that experience in next week’s newsletter–sign up here!–but we’ll stick to the issue of the Sonics for now. While expansion doesn’t seem to be a high priority for Adam Silver and NBA owners yet (first up: finalizing a new collective bargaining agreement and new television deals), that’s not stopping the likes of LeBron James lobbying to own a new Las Vegas team and the fans of Seattle (and, maybe behind the scenes, Oak View Group officials) clamoring for a return of the Sonics. In both cases we have potential ownership groups already in place, controlling NBA-quality arenas (sorry, LeBron, Oak View Group is perhaps the entity to lobby, not the commissioner’s office) and set up financially to land an NBA team.

In the case of Seattle, Ballmer–now the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers (NBA) and building his own new arena, who once explored a new NBA team in Seattle, was on hand to rally the troops, per the Seattle Times:

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, a former Microsoft CEO, got the party started with a bombastic pregame address at midcourt. 

“I’m so excited to see Climate Pledge Arena, this fantastic building, light up tonight,” he said. “I’m so excited that we’re playing the Portland Trail Blazers. … I want to know whether you guys agree with me. I’ve watched thousands of basketball games in Seattle (from) CYO, little kids, AAU, pro, college, you name it. So, if this is a basketball city dammit, let’s hear it.” 

The capacity crowd of 18,440, many who wore No. 20 Gary Payton and No. 40 Shawn Kemp jerseys, roared with approval and the cheers didn’t stop for the next two hours. 

“Hopefully this is an indication of what basketball can be like in Seattle,” former Sonics forward Detlef Schrempf said. “The Sonics have been gone for a dozen years and we still have a great fan base. People still believe in the NBA even though they haven’t had a chance to root for their team.” 

Granted, the Seattle market is pretty crowded: during the weekend of our visit the Seattle Mariners clinched a postseason spot selling out T-Mobile Park and the OL Reign (NWSL) set a single-game team attendance record. The Seattle Seahawks (NFL) and the Seattle Sounders (MLS) are also solid draws. So bringing in an NBA team would create one of the most crowded sports markets in the country.

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