Why the Sonics matter
Public funding of stadiums is a hot subject again with the Sonics recent request for the extension of an existing tax to fund a new basketball (well, yeah, multi-purpose) arena in Renton. While I understand the concerns for public financing for millionaire owners, I also understand the social benefit sports have. Part 1 is me putting on the table my idea of that social benefit, and Part 2 will be about why I think this argument about public funding for millionaire owners is a false dilemma.
Part 1. Where I'm coming from
My parents used to tell me a story about when they lived in Seattle in the early 70s. They had my big brother (before I was born) in a baby backpack, they were walking back to their house on Queen Ann Hill. Still a time when young families lived in Seattle, they were passing by the arena, and decided to walk up to the doors and were surprised to be able to find their way into a game, late in the fourth argument.
My dad tells me about seeing Downtown Freddie Brown hoist what would have been a three pointer, had the NBA had a three point line back then. I didn't notice until tonight that Brown also played at my dad's graduate school alma mater, University of Iowa. Might have mattered why my dad was so attached to him.
The Sonics of the 70s mean more than the championship and 12 guys in the old Coliseum, but attach me to my parents as a young couple and Seattle at that time, when people like my parents could afford to live there, the way it never will be again.
Traditional terrace chants at Belgrade's premier football club Crvena Zvezda (Red Star) have given way to blatantly anti-government songs.
To tell you the truth, Red Star may not be the best example of good politics and social impact coming from support for a sports team. Many supporters of Red Star continued to be hateful bigots following Milosevic's fall. His sin was not killing Bosians, it was killing them and getting bad attention for it. But, other clubs, like Barca in Spain, provide a much better example of the intermingling of sport and social impact.
Sport is a common language that brings us beyond everyday differences. It can, in the case of Serbian politics, serve as a medium that unites a nation against a tyrant. Sure, people were dissatisfied with Milosevic, which would have likely resulted in a rebellion. But, the organized groups that surrounded Red Star made the overthrow easier. That Serbians lived for one thing in particular, their club, meant they could unite around another thing easier. Sport is a living metaphor for how we should live the rest of our public lives, it is a metaphor for the public, civic trust that many of us have for a particular club and that we should have for each other.
All that said, I'm not totally sure giving public subsidy to millionaire owners is a good idea. I am sure that public funds can and should be used for sports stadiums, but I understand people who use the economics of sports as a reason to object to the use of public funds. I see reform of our sports as a better way than to force the Sonics to leave town. I'll tackle that one next time.