Clowns to the left, jokers to the right

The key players took their places recently in the tragicomedy of the Seattle Supersonics, our economically unviable professional basketball franchise currently making threats to cut and run unless the city bails the team out with some hefty tax revenues.

In one corner, Tweedle Dee, otherwise known as Sonics owner Howard Schultz: The Starbucks bigwig actually had the temerity to suggest it's not a "threat" when he promises that the team will leave Seattle without the same kind of taxpayer help the Mariners and the Seahawks received in building their state-of-the-art playing fields.

Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Apparently Mr. Schultz hasn't learned the first lesson of politics, i.e. no amount of upbeat rhetoric can whitewash an exposed con. Local taxpayers have been burned not once but twice by the old "give us a new facility or else" soft-shoe. Enough is enough.

To borrow an oft-used sports metaphor, three strikes and you're out. Schultz, with his flyboy good looks and gee-shucks air of benign bemusement, can't understand why anyone would balk at bailing out a team that charges upward of $1,000 for a courtside seat and pays its players millions of dollars a season. Of course, what could we expect from the man who, when told that his New York barristas were struggling to unionize, asked: "Why are they doing this to me?"

And in the other corner, Tweedle Dum, a.k.a. Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata. Mr. Licata proved himself just as orbit-bound as the Coffee King when, asked what impact the Sonics departure would have on the town, he replied: "On a cultural basis, close to zero."

Wow, talk about jumping the shark. This is exactly the sort of liberal twaddle that so infuriates conservatives-and, frankly, who can blame them. In one fell swoop, Mr. Licata alienated a fair chunk of his constituency, folks who happen to be both liberal and, heaven forbid, sports fans.

Licata's statement is evidence of the smug, self-satisfied elitism that so characterizes Seattle lefties. To deny any cultural or social value to the Sonics is to tell a fairly substantial swath of the population that they have no value-that how they choose to spend their time is a waste of time. It's disturbing to imagine the internal calculus that allows Licata to make such an assertion: sportsfan = uneducated, anti-intellecutal, right-wing rube.

As Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum face off on opposite sides of the Sonics controversy, it might behoove each to consider this mindbending reality: that there exists a large faction of engaged, intelligent basketball fans who are nonetheless aware of the complex problems besetting professional sports. Such people are loathe to see their tax dollars spent on another billion-dollar stadium, when we already have one (and wasn't it just renovated a few years back?); neither do they want the team to leave town, sold to the highest bidder.

The only common ground shared by Schultz and Licata in this comedy of errors is that both of them are acting in supremely bad faith. Each one, in his own inimitiable way, seems to miss the deep irony of the fact that, when it comes to politicians, CEOs and professional athletes alike, it is the public that justifies their existence, and not the other way around. Nonetheless, Schultz wants to hold us hostage, and Licata wants to hold us in contempt.

Yet it is we-the fans, consumers and, most importantly, citizens-who pay their salaries. Perhaps it's time this sad old waltz were scrapped altogether. You gotta dance with them that brung you. Both sides need to cease the Chicken Little shtick and start asking the right questions, and then listening to the answers for a change.

A fine place to start is with the folks filling the cheap seats-you know, the vaunted 12th man (and woman). They're paying good money for all that "culture" Licata says isn't important and Schultz might sell down the river.

They might have something to say about it.

Rick Levin is the editor or our associate paper, the Magnolia News. Have a comment for Rick? Write him at the address or e-dress below.

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