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The San Antonio Spurs and the Seattle question

From the Alamo to the Empire City?

Today is the best day to discuss the question: Is the San Antonio Spurs ownership actually considering selling the team to an extremely wealthy Seattle group in preparation for a move of the team to the new Seattle arena — and out of San Antonio?

In some ways, the logical answer would be yes. The Spurs fan base has become so accustomed to success that the results of this season may make right now the best time to make a move. The Big Three are retired, and Gregg Popovich is likely to follow in the next year or two, if not this summer now that the Olympics have been delayed. Nothing is more difficult than following a legendary coach, as witnessed with John Wooden’s successors at UCLA and Vince Lombardi’s successors at Green Bay. Pop’s possible successors, Tim Duncan or Becky Hammon, would have a much easier time in a new town with new fans who would not be constantly comparing her/him to a legendary coach.

Another reason supports such a move: Many of the Spurs’ best young players hail from Pac-12 country: Jakob Poeltl from the University of Utah, Derrick White from University of Colorado, and Dejounte Murray from University of Washington. Indeed, Murray is from Seattle, so his would be a great story, returning to the city where he played both college and high school ball. To the extent DeMar DeRozan stays with the team, he went to high school in Compton, California and college at USC, while Patty Mills went to St. Mary’s near San Francisco. All told, at least half of the Spurs’ best players have meaningful West Coast or Pac-12 backgrounds.

There are also several karma-based reasons that also support the possible move. San Antonio is known for its five missions: The Alamo (1718), San Jose (1720), San Juan (1731), Concepcion (1731), and Espada (1731). The Spurs have already won five crowns. The universe could be telling us that the Spurs’ trophy case is filled up — unless San Antonio builds another mission. If you believe in such things, the team may be more likely to win in Seattle, which is still looking for its first NBA crown — perhaps to match the Space Needle.

Seattle always had great fan support for the Supersonics. To add insult to injury, the move from Seattle occurred just as the team’s stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were coming into their own. Returning a team to Seattle with young players potentially ready to make the leap would offer some rough justice and may help reduce lingering bad feelings from the city towards the NBA.

The league would be happy with the move for another reason. Adding another team in the Great Northwest would allow the NBA to create a true Pacific Division with the Seattle Spurs, Trail Blazers, Warriors, Lakers and Clippers.

You may ask: What about the Sacramento Kings? Isn’t Sacramento technically in California? My response: no one cares about the Kings — at least until they follow the Raiders to Las Vegas (you heard it here first). At that point, the Las Vegas Gamblers can be in the Mountain/Desert/Frozen Tundra division with Phoenix, Utah, Denver and Minnesota.

On a related note, getting out of the Southwest Division would be a godsend for the Spurs. The Thunder, Pelicans, Mavericks and Memphis all have tons of young talent, and several of those teams may dominate the decade. On the flip side, the Warriors and Lakers are build around a bunch of 30-plus veterans, and can expect to decline over time.

A sale and move of the Spurs to Seattle would involve a lot of money. Not to get too technical here, but economists would describe the amount necessary to buy the Spurs franchise as “oodles of money.” Luckily, Seattle has many extremely wealthy individuals who could likely be in the rumored buyer group. Bill Gates and Howard Schultz come to mind most prominently. Though the suggestion that Schultz would name the team the Seattle StarBucks does not seem to be well-founded. Among other things, the Milwaukee Bucks would likely complain.

The amount of money a Gates/Schultz tandem could spend to buy the team reminds me of a scene from Warren Beatty’s classic movie Heaven Can Wait. The L.A. Rams team owner was asked how he was persuaded to sell the team to billionaire Leo Farnsworth (played by Beatty):

Former owner: He got my team. The (SOB) got my team.

Advisor: What kind of pressure did he use, Milt?

Former owner: I asked for sixty-seven million, and he said “okay.”

Advisor: Ruthless bastard.

Remember that film was made in 1978, when $67,000,000 was a ridiculous amount to pay for a team. The Spurs’ price will have the word “billion” in it somewhere.

To try to get to the bottom of this, I decided I needed to go right to Spurs ownership. Using my Pounding the Rock press pass, I was able to finagle an interview with Spurs’ owner Julianna Holt. I cut right to the point:

ME: “Mrs. Holt, can you comment on the possibility of selling the Spurs to Bill Gates so he can move the team to Seattle?”

MRS. HOLT: “What are you talking about? Is this something for your annual April Fool’s Day column?”

ME: “Of course it is. Didn’t you read the first line of this post?”


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