The late Kris “Sonic Guy” Brannon holds up a sign in support of adding an NBA team following the announcement of a new NHL hockey team in Seattle, at a celebratory party Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) ELAINE THOMPSON AP

NBA BASKETBALL: Rumor mill is rumbling that Sonics’ return is in the works

  • Sunday, February 14, 2021 1:30am
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SEATTLE — The dream that Sonics Guy believed in to his death, lives on.

It’s more likely than at any other time since the Sonics left Seattle 13 years ago.

Kris Brannon, the Tacoma man known as “Sonics Guy” for his love for Seattle’s NBA team and his zest to get the SuperSonics back home to the Northwest after they moved to Oklahoma in 2008, died Thursday at a Tacoma hospital from heart failure. Zaraya Skea confirmed her brother’s death to The News Tribune Friday.

There are signs the NBA may soon turn the hopes of Brannon — and generations of Sonics fans from the franchise’s heyday in the Pacific Northwest — into reality.

The league is considering expanding from 30 to 32 teams to help franchises recover from financial losses that are mounting during the coronavirus pandemic. Seattle and Las Vegas are two big-league cities with palatial new arenas plus the corporate cash to buy expensive suites for pro basketball seasons. They are widely considered the front-runners to get new teams if and when the NBA expands.

The mayor of Seattle makes it sound more like when.

Mayor Jenny Durkan told KING-5 television a few weeks ago she’s stayed in regular contact with NBA commissioner Adam Silver. She has attended league games as a guest of Silver, including in New Orleans while she was there for a conference.

She told KING-5 she spoke to Silver just before Christmas. The talk left the mayor “pretty optimistic” about the Sonics coming back home.

Durkan told the station Silver relayed to her the NBA is indeed re-examining the idea of expansion, and “that Seattle was at the top of the list.”

Why now

The league is thinking about expanding in the coming years to offset the millions and billions teams have lost while playing games in empty or mostly empty arenas, as the coronavirus pandemic prohibits fans from attending.

Estimates are the league could lose $4 billion this year. In March the NBA raised teams’ borrowing allowance from $650 million to $1.2 billion, according to Fitch Ratings financial news.

It’s been speculated the expansion fee for a new NBA team will be $2.5 billion. Silver recently said that $2.5 billion estimate is “very low in terms of the value at which we would expand.” He said that during a NBA valuations event put on by the sports-business outlet Sportico three weeks ago.

The other 30 NBA teams would evenly split the expansion fees of the two new teams, a straight infusion of cash that’s better than any loan. It would be a profit amount teams would be unlikely to realize through any other means in the foreseeable, post-pandemic future.

“I think I’ve always said that it’s sort of the manifest destiny of the league that you expand at some point,” Silver told reporters last month. “I’d say (the pandemic has) caused us to maybe dust off some of the analyses on the economic and competitive impacts of expansion. We’ve been putting a little bit more time into it than we were pre-pandemic, but certainly not to the point that expansion is on the front burner.”

The NBA last expanded in 2004 when Michael Jordan put up a $300 million franchise fee to create the Charlotte Bobcats in his home state (they have been re-named the Hornets). That was to give Charlotte back its original team it lost in the Hornets’ move to New Orleans in 2002.

“I think it’s real,” Durkan told KING-5 of the possibility the NBA expands to Seattle.

“But, look, there’s no city that I think is better positioned to be successful. We’re going to have the best arena in the country. I’m not just saying that. When people walk in that building, they will be amazed. We are a city that even with COVID, when we come out of COVID, we have so much upside here.”

Kraken help

For years Seattle city leaders went round and round with, and sometimes battled, investors and developers on where and how to build a new NBA arena.

Seattle native Chris Hansen, a Bay Area investor and hedge-fund manager, offered to pay for a new arena in the SoDo district of the city. His proposed site was just south of the Mariners’ Major League Baseball stadium. The Mariners publicly objected to that idea, citing traffic flow and other concerns.

That ticked off the region’s basketball fans more than they already were by new Sonics owner Clay Bennett and his Oklahoma friends having moved the Supes to OKC a decade earlier.

The city of Seattle ultimately sided with a development plan to re-do city-owned KeyArena inside Seattle Center, the city park and home of the 1962 World’s Fair. Oak View Group won the right to build the new arena at Seattle Center.

That’s when the National Hockey League awarded Seattle an expansion franchise.

The Kraken are scheduled to begin play in Oak View Group’s Climate Pledge Arena this fall.

The CEO of Oak View Group that built Seattle’s new arena is Tim Leiweke. His brother Tod Leiweke is the CEO of the Kraken.

The Leweikes are all in on having a Seattle NBA team share the Kraken’s new arena.

In fact, they built for basketball.

Tod Leiweke said at the 2019 NHL draft in Vancouver: “We will have a huge welcome mat out for the NBA when they’re ready.

“They’re well aware of what we’re doing. And we’re ensuring that (the arena is) not only compliant with NBA standards but well above those standards.”

Tod Leiweke told The Athletic last month: “We’re emboldened by the fans, and there are a lot of basketball fans. Our journey is not over until we get the NBA back to Seattle.”

To that end, Kraken majority owner David Bonderman has stated his interest in owning an NBA team, too.

Tim Leiweke sounds even more bullish on the prospects of the NBA returning to Seattle soon. He told Seattle’s KJR-AM radio last month: “When the day comes, and it will, and (the NBA) says ‘We’re going to begin the process,’ I am 100 percent certain we’re going to get the Sonics back.”

The late Kris Bannon, the “Sonics Guy,” will be looking down beaming at that.

Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press
The late Kris “Sonic Guy” Brannon holds up a sign in support of adding an NBA team following the announcement of a new NHL hockey team in Seattle, at a celebratory party in December 2018 in Seattle.

Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press The late Kris “Sonic Guy” Brannon holds up a sign in support of adding an NBA team following the announcement of a new NHL hockey team in Seattle, at a celebratory party in December 2018 in Seattle.

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