(keep smiling, Mr. Commissioner, this letter gets better as it goes on)
“I’m 51 years old now, and I have been a dedicated NBA fan for longer than you’ve been commissioner, and longer than the Sonics were a team. I have not been a corporate box customer, or a multi-season ticket holder, but I have been a valuable customer that your marketing people might refer to as an advocate or evangelist.” Thus states hoops afficiando David Betz, who eloquently addresses NBA Commissioner David Stern with what could well be the first letter of resignation from a (former) NBA fan. To the jump!
To: NBA Commissioner David Stern
RE: NBA Fan Resignation Letter 24 October, 2008
Dear Commissioner Stern:
In the off chance that this gets past your œdisgruntled Seattle Supersonics fan mail dumpster, I™d like to take a minute of your time to present you with my NBA Fan Resignation Letter.
I was a thirteen year old kid growing up in Ohio, wearing Chuck Taylor Converse when I talked my dad into taking me to my first live NBA game in Cleveland Arena, a hockey venue that was then home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. I remember seeing Bob
œButterbean Love walk in through the front door and fan turnstiles with his Chicago Bulls gym bag. This was two NBA Commissioners before you. This was pre-headbands (the first time around), pre-tag lines, pre-shoe deals, pre-Nike, pre-ESPN, pre-baggy shorts, pre-tattoos, pre-cable, pre-internet. It was old school.
I’m 51 years old now, and I have been a dedicated NBA fan for longer than you’ve been commissioner, and longer than the Sonics were a team. I have not been a corporate box customer, or a multi-season ticket holder, but I have been a valuable customer that your marketing people might refer to as an advocate or evangelist. To complete that marketing demographic: I have a graduate degree, discretionary income, cable and high-speed internet connections. I™ve converted passive NBA fans to active NBA fans. I™ve
watched thousands of games both in-person and on TV. I™ve seen 44 of your œTop 50 players of all-time play the game. I watched Jerry West play before he became the logo for your league.
I was the beneficiary of league expansion, embracing the Cleveland Cavaliers as my then home team thirty-eight years ago. I was thrilled when the ABA merger brought Dr. J, Moses Malone, George Gervin, and Artis Gilmore (not to mention the slam-dunk contest and the 3-point shot) to the NBA. I™ve experienced the growth of the league from 18 to 30 teams and go from a sleepy niche sport to a global brand.
I also witnessed the migration of teams like the Jazz, Kings, Hornets, and Braves, and Grizzlies. In almost every case, these were younger franchises moving towards expanding markets, reflecting America™s population migration. (Which also brought me
west to Seattle 15 years ago).
In all of my years, I cannot recall a backwards franchise erasure or a league equity mistake like the one you just perpetrated with the Seattle Supersonics. You remember the story; the new ownership wanted the team to remain in Seattle, but just could not find a satisfactory venue. They had no choice but to take the team back to their home in Oklahoma. Who could blame them?
Mr. Stern, I don™t for one second believe that ours was a venue or a market problem here in Seattle. The real problems were a dysfunctional product and leadership, a blatant disregard for the truth, and complete betrayal of the public trust.
Since this is my exit interview, I™d like to give you some feedback on what constitutes a satisfactory venue for this fan. Over the past five decades, I have attended NBA games in New York, New Jersey, Charlotte, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Golden State, and Seattle. I™ve experienced NBA games from club seats, corporate boxes, courtside, nosebleed, and every other seat in between.
Here is what I need from an NBA venue when I go to a game with a friend or family
1. Easy access to tickets and transit to the game
2. Friendly and helpful staff
3. Affordable snacks and a beer
4. Enough concessions and restrooms so I don’t have to miss the game in a queue
5. Easy site lines for the court, replays, game score, and current statistics
6. To feel safe outside the arena after the game
The last time I was at Key arena”in fact every time I was at Key Arena”all of those needs were met. (As an aside, I DON’T require a dance team, a pyrotechnic player introduction, an indoor blimp, or concourse credit-card solicitations, all of which have
become emblematic of league predictability and conformity.)
One final critical point extends beyond a venue experience, and usually goes without saying; as a fan, I also want an honest ownership, working intelligently with the front office, coaching staff and the league, to put together the best team possible. THIS is where the deal breaker occurred in Seattle, not because of our venue.
In my life as an NBA fan, I™ve defended the game in conversation at innumerable stadiums, sports bars, golf courses, and tennis courts. The basic perspective of my colleagues, who consider themselves sports fans, just not NBA fans”is that the NBA is
simply a bunch of selfish millionaires getting over on each other. They had no interest in watching a game, believing that the only time that matters is the last two minutes, which they would argue, could last for an hour. I would counter with observations about the amazing athleticism, the fierce competition, the unique styles of play, the community building connection, and the transcendent beauty of a team-game well played.
Based on my experience in Seattle this past year, I now have to side with my colleagues. The NBA IS ABSOLUTELY a bunch of selfish millionaires trying to get over on each other, and in Seattle™s case, their fans, city, and community as well.
When the inappropriate behavior of a few individuals undermines the game, the league, or the Brand, that is usually when the Commissioner™s office steps in. I saw Michael Jordan solve your post-Bird/Magic void, when you were struggling with an attendant thug and drug perception problem. I experienced first hand when your predecessor stepped in to create the “Ted Stepien Rule” to prevent any incompetent owner from driving a franchise into the ground with unconscionable trades.
That is why it™s been amazingly disappointing for me to witness your decisions and your demeanor throughout the Seattle franchise sale, dismantling and move. What happened here makes you complicit in just the sort of hegemony, short sightedness, and thugery that your office was created to police.
Commissioner, you failed me, my team, my city, and the league. I quit.
This is a shout out to any NBA fan in any other NBA city. If you think this can’t happen to you and your city, or if you think ownership can be trusted with the public welfare, or if you think a new sports venue and lots of season ticket buyers means franchise security”think again. If you believe your team belongs to your city and that your team™s heritage would never be violated, you are mistaken. It’s not about the venue, the product, or the heritage.
If the money is there and the egos align, as they did in Seattle, any and all NBA teams are for sale.
I am here to tell you that 41 years of blood, sweat, tears, and a championship banner mean NOTHING to this commissioner or his league.
With that I am hereby resigning my life-long fan seat to the NBA.
Game over, Commissioner.
Former NBA fan
Seattle, Washington, October 24, 2008