Over the last few years, Seattle has been the saddest place on earth to be a basketball fan. After a long battle over whether the city would lavish more than $200 million on renovations to KeyArena (which had just been renovated, at public expense, in 1995), the Sonics headed out of town in 2008, lock, stock, and Kevin Durant, to take up life as the Oklahoma City Thunder. To make matters worse, NBA commissioner David Stern effectively salted the ground behind them, declaring, "If the team moves, there's not going to be another team there, not in any conceivable future plan that I could envision."
Stern might have spoken too soon. The Seattle City Council is expected to vote next month on a deal for a new $490 million basketball and hockey arena in the city's SoDo district, near the existing Mariners and Seahawks stadiums. Better yet, local-born, San Francisco-enriched hedge fund magnate Chris Hansen wants to build the venue using almost entirely private funds. It's a deal that would likely bring a new NBA team to town, and possibly an NHL franchise as well, while largely safeguarding the public treasury. For Seattleites—at least, aside from the port workers who are complaining about having to lug cargo through arena traffic—this could be the happiest of endings to a story that seemed destined to end in decades of Baltimore Colts-style bereavement. It would also be a momentous occasion for people nationwide who'd like to see new sports venues built with private dollars instead of public subsidies.