Here's a reminder of a story we know too well: A train full of Sonics fans, left abandoned on the wrong side of the NBA mountain. After more than 40 years of momentum, that train was hijacked - the engine stolen - and has been sitting there for close to a decade.
During that time, that train full of fans has been incredibly patient, enduring through broken promises and motivated at times by blind faith - from a league that chewed them up and spit them out and used them as a pawn in an arena shell game with other cities...to local politicians who have let them down.
Still, eclipsing that mountain has been and continues to be the main goal. Whatever engine takes that train to the other side is fine by me.
But when people ask why I prefer the SODO Arena, it's much more than the obvious logistical advantages in terms of parking and transit and transportation. It's also because of the engine behind it – one that’s proven to be fiercely loyal to those fans, unbelievably accommodating and understanding to elected officials, with one primary goal: Returning the Sonics to Seattle.
To me, Chris Hansen's SODO plan has become The Little Engine (or Arena) That Could.
Think back to the childhood story, where other capable engines wouldn't help a train in need - brushing them off, citing other priorities. It's almost like all of those engines were in cahoots with one another, coming up with excuses just to avoid pushing that poor train up the mountain.
Time and again, we've shown here to what lengths the Port of Seattle - arguably the largest public engine of all - has gone to thwart the SODO Arena plans. From questionably citing a little-used road as an essential artery, to the unsubstantiated claims that an arena would threaten maritime jobs when those jobs were already threatened by the evolving landscape of their own industry. From talking out of both sides of their mouth, to promoting push-poll data, to using public money to help promote KeyArena, the Port has been the biggest bully on the block.
Sadly, the biggest media engine in the city has seemingly embraced those claims. Can we look at the headlines from the Seattle Times Editorial Board over the past few years? July 2012: "Sodo Arena: Wrong Location." April 2013: “Bring Sonics back in a different location ” May 2015: “Wave Off SODO Arena, look for other sites ” February 2016: “Wait for NBA team before vacating road in SODO near proposed arena ” – even the headline misled readers, since Hansen had no intention of vacating the road until a team was in hand! April 2016: Don’t be fooled by arena politics: Vote down Occidental vacation ”
And many of those editorials have relied on an unproven claim that continues to be irresponsibly presented as fact, and was presented again in another one just this week: That a SODO Arena "would jeopardize an essential maritime-industrial corridor."
To this day, I have yet to see empirical proof from the Port of Seattle or the Seattle Times that links job loss or economic decline directly to a potential arena in SODO. I just reached out to the Times editor - I'll let you know what I hear back.
But the optics look even worse when Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen is on the Editorial Board, and, as I was reminded earlier this week in a story originally broken by Seattle Met, Blethen pitched a $290,000 promotions partnership to the Port right after a couple favorable editorials ran in the Times last year. Just part of the business, I'm told.
And then there are the shiny brand new engines, Oak View Group and Seattle Partners, that local officials seem to be hailing as the solution to everyone's problems, without truly keeping the consumer (you know, the ones who actually have to GET TO the arena) in mind. To them, renovating KeyArena saves a city asset, appeases the Port of Seattle, and helps promote their grand idea (realistic or not) of a pedestrian utopia by Seattle Center (Eastside, North Sound, South Sound commuters be damned!). That's all well and good, but those shiny new engines might cost more public money than first anticipated, and will have to pull the dead weight of a dilapidated old monorail up the mountainside too.
All the while, Hansen's Little Engine That Could keeps plugging away. Now considered an underdog story for sure, it's still the one so many sports fans are rooting for the most.
It's the one that's gotten the worst wrap for no good reasons at all - a victim of a feeding frenzy by a host of untruths – yet the one with seemingly the purest intentions.
Call that train of Sonics fans “zealots” if you wish, but I believe they’ve been through worse – and deserve so much better.
Again, I like stories with happy endings, and the one that results in the return of the Sonics would be the happiest of them all. I'm honestly in favor of whichever engine gets us there - and gets us there the fastest.
But right now, for all those reasons mentioned, it's still still a no-brainer for me to root for Hansen's SODO Arena Plan the most.
I think he can.
I think he can.
I think...he can.