Commentary: City councilwoman’s comments overshadow major milestone in arena process

I’m going to live in the past for a minute - and apologize one more time to Seattle City Councilwoman Debora Juarez.

Two years ago, Juarez and four other councilwomen were subjected to misogynistic and sexist comments from sports fans, upset at the council for denying a street vacation needed to build an arena in SODO. They were unnecessary. They were hurtful. They were wrong.

But they were also from a very vocal minority. And unfortunately, those out-of-line fans became unfairly representative – to councilmembers like Juarez – of all Sonics fans.

We know that’s not the case. But I’m not sure she does.

Earlier this week, the region’s sports fans celebrated the approval of a $700 million dollar renovation of KeyArena into a facility that could house an NHL team and maybe - hopefully one day - an NBA team too. It was a big win for NHL fans, for Seattle Storm fans and the city’s leaders, who finally got their solution for the future of a city asset.

The approval of a tangible building also provided a glimmer of hope for those who had their hearts ripped out ten years ago when the Sonics left town – fans who saw local leaders dismiss all those childhood memories, depriving those fans of sharing the same experience of NBA basketball with future generations.

My saying that is hardly a slight on the Seattle Storm, and the quality of basketball that organization has produced for a couple decades. We love the Storm and celebrate their three league titles. But we’re allowed to want both. We’re allowed to fight for the return of the Sonics. We’re allowed to keep hope alive.

Councilwoman Juarez worked countless hours as the chair of the Arena Committee. She would’ve welcomed credit for that effort. But then she said this before the final vote:

“I just want to remind everyone that it is 2018. Let’s not live in the past. We just celebrated our WNBA National Championship. Go Seattle Storm. Thank you owners of Seattle Storm. I guess sometimes when I hear people just go on and on about ’08 and their hearts being ripped out I get a little annoyed because that was 10 years ago, so you kind of gotta let that go. (Laughter from council)”

I’m not sure what was worse: Juarez’s dismissive comments, or the laughter from another councilmember. It was a cheap shot. An unnecessary shot.

I’ll tell you, Ms. Juarez, that I’m more than willing to live in the past in celebrating the Storm’s championships in 2004 and 2010, before winning again this year. I’m happy to live in the past when I recall memories of the Seahawks Super Bowl title in 2013 and the Sounders MLS Cup in 2016. And I’m still sickened, living in the past, constantly reminded of the Sonics relocation, begging them to return one day.

And I’ll also tell you that it’s incredibly unfair and uninformed to seemingly believe that a Sonics return would serve in any way as a threat to the Seattle Storm.

And here’s proof: In 2004, when the Sonics were still in town, the Storm drew a sellout crowd of more than 17,000 fans for both games in the WNBA Finals. I’d argue that an NBA team only enhances the visibility of the WNBA team in the same city. They’re not direct competitors and their seasons don’t overlap.

I reached out to her office, asking whether she cares at all about a Sonics return, if she sees them as a threat to the Storm, and if she stands by her remarks from this week. We’ve received no formal response.

Either way, I will not “let it go” and I will continue to live in the past. As a proud supporter of the Seattle Storm, as a strong denouncer of misogyny and sexism, I still desperately want to Bring Back The Sonics too.

To dismiss me and the majority of Sonics fans because of the unnecessary hateful words of a few doesn’t seem right. And it overshadows what should be a time to celebrate a big step forward in local sports.