In a recent SportsNation poll, readers were asked to grade David Stern's tenure as NBA commissioner, on a scale of A to F. This was the result:
Yeah. That's literally 96% of the states in the USA unanimously agreeing on something. The only states to disagree are Oklahoma and Washington, with obvious reasons relating to the Seattle Supersonics situation. What's even crazier about it is the sheer scope of the question. Stern's done a ton to expand the NBA from a regional league into an international powerhouse over the course of the past 30 years. Is the Sonics' move really what defines him in the eyes of today's fans? Nothing he did seemed to strike a chord with any other fan bases, including the bitter small markets of San Antonio and Utah.
Indeed, Sonics talk wasn't far from everybody's mind as the Thunder took on the Nets last night. Old footage of Kevin Durant's rookie season in Seattle was shown on more than one occasion. Two fans of Seattle's former team were prominently featured during ESPN's national telecast. Moreover, Mike Breen's mention of a Sonics franchise record sent Jeff Van Gundy into a extremely long rant about how the Thunder are NOT the Sonics.
Right now, the situation is in a really weird state of flux. Since Seattle billionaire Chris Hansen's failed attempt to buy the Sacramento Kings from the incompetent Maloofs, there hasn't been a whole lot of news on Seattle's front. Hansen continues to work on getting the arena proposal pushed through, but there isn't a lot of momentum. No teams are in ownership flux right now, though the Bucks may be in trouble soon if they don't get a new arena deal hammered out. Expansion would have to be something put forth by the league, but they're busy handling the transition of power between Stern and Silver right now.
All-Star Weekend is approaching though, and the new commissioner will be giving a "state of the league" address via NBATV. It will be Adam Silver's first opportunity to put a stamp on his tenure, and there would be no better way to do that than by addressing the Seattle situation once and for all. He did make a rather brief statement giving weak support of a Seattle franchise a couple of weeks back during the Nets-Hawks game in London. But his opinion was hardly well-versed, and the media will no doubt expect a more thorough explanation during his upcoming address.
No one really knows what direction Silver will go. It is known that he will be giving more power to the owners, but what effect that might have remains to be seen. Adrian Wojnarowski believes that Silver was put in to specifically keep Stern's party line. Others, like Ian Thomsen, believe that he offers a more liberal perspective that could bring about big changes and usher the NBA into the next era.
From OKC's perspective, the whole thing might seem a little bit irrelevant. But the change in power could very well effect Oklahoma City directly. Obviously, if a team moves to Seattle, it would ignite one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports. But they might be placed in the same division as Oklahoma City, significantly increasing the Thunder's travel time. Additionally, Silver's alleged agenda regarding a league with greater parity has to scare anyone who believes that the Thunder can achieve dynasty status.
Regardless, Stern's exit in the midst of the Thunder's early success will forever secure his place as the man who helped bring basketball to Oklahoma. The immediate returns are obvious to the average fan, as the Thunder have had a tremendous impact on the local community and economy. But the long-term effects of the Sonics' move will be felt in the years to come.
Why? Well, by approving the Sonics move, Stern basically gave the A-OK for NBA teams to move out of town if their arena isn't up to snuff. Bennett effectively held Seattle hostage for a ridiculous arena deal. It cost significantly more than what the Peake end up costing to build and upgrade, was expected to be paid for with huge amounts of public funds, and was proposed shortly after similar facilities for the Seahawks and Mariners were approved to be built. Whether you think what Bennett did was morally right or not is one thing, but it's hard for anyone to deny that Seattle wasn't given a fair shake to keep their team. (And if you don't agree, I'd like to see what you think of OU Football's attendance figures in the late 90s, and whether you think we deserved to keep that team.)
When the Peake starts to show signs of age a few years down the line, the NBA's going to want OKC to pony up. Bennett and his crew of owners certainly can't afford to finance an arena themselves (none of them are Cuban-level billionaires). Furthermore, there's no guarantee that the Thunder will continue to play at a championship level, nor is there the guarantee that Oklahoma City's economy will continue to boom. It's very plausible that the city could end up rejecting an arena proposal, sending the franchise to the next place that's willing to play the NBA's game.
Am I saying that we should all go to the NBA's offices and immediately start protesting? Far from it. But I do think that the book on Stern's legacy in Oklahoma City is far from finished. His direct involvement might be over, but the policies he worked to establish back in 2008 will very likely play a significant role in the continued development of this franchise. Considering what's on the table, I'm not entirely sure his "A" is deserved.
What do you think of Commissioner Stern? Let us know in the comments!