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Seattle Music Community Speaks Out on Behalf of Sonics Arena

Here’s a letter to the Mayor and City Council from Pearl Jam, the Presidents of the USA, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, KEXP DJs and other members of Seattle’s music scene. In it, they express what Sonics Arena and the return of the Sonics will mean to the music community, Sodo, and Seattle Center.

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“We believe one of the great benefits of the Hansen project is that it devotes resources to invigorating Key Arena at Seattle Center, which will be the temporary home of a new basketball team while the new venue is completed. Soon, Seattle Center will also be the new home of KEXP. As members of the KEXP Community, we wholeheartedly support efforts to bring additional energy to the Center campus. New vitality at Seattle Center benefits all the nonprofit campus tenants.”

The New Sonics Anthem

E-Dawg presents “We Ready” featuring Spaceman, The Natural Truth, Kalieb Nash and Thig Nat of The Physics. Produced by E-Dawg and Kevin Gardner.

What the Sonics Meant to Me

by Martell Webster
Shooting guard with the Washington Wizards

In my life I’ve been fortunate for so many reasons, not the least of which are the facts that 1) I get to play basketball and 2) I grew up in the Seattle area. I was also raised here when the Sonics were still in town, and can remember that ‘95/’96 season when Shawn, Gary, Detlef and others took us to the Finals against the Bulls. So close. At that time, at ten years old, I still wanted to fly airplanes.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself being drafted straight out of high school and playing in the NBA. In between it took a lot of practice, more tournaments and skills classes than anyone can count, and a lot of time and energy. I’ve said it before — basketball was an escape for me; it got me away from some difficult times and allowed me a path I might not otherwise have had.

In reality, though, it wasn’t just basketball. It was all of the people who stepped in to be my family when I needed them the most. It was my grandmother who raised my brothers, sisters, cousins and I, the uncles who stepped in, and the three families in high school who took me into their homes — into their families — and taught me so much about myself and life. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to play professional basketball, but most of all I feel blessed to have all of these people in my life.

Having a professional basketball team in town was also a personal motivator. Having the Sonics in Seattle when I was young and seeing them play a few feet away from me, whether it was a game or one of their basketball camps, was a constant motivator and made the idea of playing in the NBA a tangible reality. I knew the stories of the retired guys who stuck around the region — guys like Fred Brown and James Donaldson — and was fortunate enough to even attend family night once or twice with different members of the team.

This is why I focus my charitable work around youth mentorship and family. I want every child to have big dreams, learn to work hard, have a strong support system, and have a community and mentors that will help guide and motivate them — just like I did. It is why I have hosted Family Day in local parks for the past two years with free basketball clinics, food, music and other fun activities. We’ve kept our basketball camps free so that any kid, no matter their circumstance, can participate. And we just officially started the Martell Webster Foundation, which will organize many more community events and expand the programs mentioned above.

Every guy I’ve played with over the years — from Seattle Prep to the Blazers to the Timberwolves — has a story to tell and a reason behind their passion for basketball, and I’m sure I’ll hear more stories at the Washington Wizards this year. For me, it’s about family, about a group of people who supported and nurtured me — who taught me to see basketball not just as an escape, but as a vehicle to take control of my future.

I now have three beautiful daughters, and it sure would be amazing to take them to a Sonics game in the future and play in Seattle once again.

— Martell Webster

The Return of the Sonics Will Change Young Lives

by Tavio Hobson
Founder, A PLUS Youth Program

The Founder of A PLUS, Tavio Hobson has served as the A PLUS Executive Director since 2009. He is responsible for managing the program coordinators and staff, maintaining and refining the A PLUS program model as well as expanding the program in order to fit the A PLUS mission. Tavio has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with a minor in Spanish. Born and raised in the inner city of Seattle, Tavio has never been a stranger to service. His mother has been in childcare for over 25 years, while his father received the prestigious Jefferson Community Service Award, recognizing his dedication to the youth of Seattle. Tavio has worked for several non-profit organizations including YES (Youth, Education, Sports) Foundation for seven years. In addition to directing A PLUS Youth Program he currently works for YouthCare, an organization that aims to end youth homelessness in Seattle, Washington. As the founder of A PLUS, Tavio aims to help provide the academic assistance, personal leadership development and athletic engagement to the youth of the greater Seattle area.


Growing up in Seattle, I was fortunate enough to get the experience to play basketball at a competitive level. Like many other kids growing up in the inner city, I dreamed of playing basketball at the highest level. Although this dream never became a reality, the life lessons I gained through my participation in sports has been the foundation for my work ethic, perseverance, ongoing community involvement and cultural competency. In addition to these experiences, basketball served as a powerful motivator in school, keeping me focused on my studies. A PLUS Youth program was founded on the idea that sports can be used as a vehicle to provide youth with the educational and character development they need to be successful in life.

Seattle has a unique basketball culture, one that fosters civic engagement — from the professional athletes who have connections to the area, to the professional franchises that represent our city. What our city might not see economically from a franchise, our youth can feel personally from their community engagement. Below are a few examples of the impact I have personally seen at A PLUS at a smaller scale due to athlete involvement that I believe would be possible on a much larger scale if Seattle had an NBA team:

 

  • The power and impact of sports teams as fan-based organizations have the unique ability to build a strong, engaged community.
  • Teams and individual athletes can build programs that specifically address social issues such as youth development and access to education resources, affordable sports participation by underprivileged and underrepresented youth, and healthy lifestyle and fitness education.
  • A team and its players access to media gives them the power to draw better awareness to social issues that impact the community, and can help bring that message to a much larger audience through both traditional and social media.
  • With access to media as well as community influencers, teams are able to assist in fundraising for community programs.

In short, the return of professional basketball to our community would mean more resources going to youth, more strategic youth development partnerships, and a better ability for Seattle to continue to be at the forefront of community-corporate partnerships.

The thought of having an NBA team back in Seattle reminds me of an experience I recently had with one of our youth. A youngster aged 11, still bright-eyed and determined to tackle all challenges life presented, said, “Martell (Webster) told me that even if I don’t get a scholarship to play basketball I can go to college for free if I keep my grades high.” These are the powerful messages we promote each day in our program. I cannot emphasize enough the lives an NBA team could help change.

At A PLUS, we see youth potential realized every day.

— Tavio Hobson

Why I’m working to bring the Sonics back to Seattle

by Pete Nordstrom

I was made aware of Chris Hansen by Wally Walker probably at the beginning of ’12. At the time I was pleasantly surprised to learn of Chris’s intention to bring the NBA back to Seattle, but very skeptical of the likelihood of that actually happening. You see, I was part of the former ownership group and as a result, painfully aware of the myriad of challenges and circumstances that exist to have an NBA team actually work well in Seattle. Frankly, I was a little stung by my previous experience and I felt like all possible remedies and solutions had already been considered and rejected.

However, in my heart I was still a big basketball fan who as a kid waited after games to get autographs of the players, had two big Spencer Haywood posters hanging in my room, and was completely caught up in the excitement of our Championship in ’79. I was also very disappointed with how things turned out when the team got sold and eventually moved to Oklahoma. I was part of that group so I couldn’t make anyone a convenient scapegoat without holding myself accountable too. I fully understood all the challenges and the complexity of the situation. I also think somewhere in the back of my mind I felt the desire to try to right a wrong and hopefully be part of a positive solution to bring a team back to Seattle someday. So, I agreed through an invitation by Wally to meet with Chris and hear about his plan. I trust Wally and he told me that Chris had a viable plan, was a good guy, and was worth meeting. He was right. It didn’t take long for me to be thoroughly impressed by Chris’s vision, plan, and transparent sincerity to bring a team to Seattle. It all made sense and sure seemed like it could work to the benefit of the entire community. I guess I wanted to believe, and I did.

In the ensuing few months that followed I had a few more meetings and conversations with Chris where my brother Erik and I peppered him with every possible question and concern we could think of. It was super impressive how well thought out Chris’s plan was and how practical and reasonable it all seemed. So, when Erik and I were asked to join Chris, we did.

It sure feels great being part of something that is about finding a positive solution and working with such a smart and passionate guy as Chris. What has really surprised me is the amount of positive support and feedback I’ve received from so many people… way more than I would have assumed. Clearly, there are a lot of us out there who truly love basketball and see the value of the team and Arena as a positive community asset. It’s a long tough process to do this right and get approval, but it’s been rewarding and well worth it so far. I believe in Chris’s plan as much today if not more than I did back in April when we first met. I encourage everyone to keep things positive and let the facts of the plan carry the day for the skeptics and cynics. Having a solid, well thought out plan is super important, but what’s at least equally important is the broad support of the community, the enduring passion for the Sonics, and for making our community a great place to live. Thank you to everyone for all of your positive energy and support.

— Pete Nordstrom

Why Seattle Adaptive Sports Supports Sonics Arena

by Tami English
Director of Seattle Adaptive Sports with player Nick Weiss

As the Executive Director of Seattle Adaptive Sports, the only organization in Western Washington that provides wheelchair basketball opportunities for both young people and adults, I wanted to share why we are such active supporters of the new Arena proposal.

Prior to the Sonics leaving town, they were an important community partner for our organization and had great influence on many of our young people. To this day, one of our teams remains the Junior Sonics! They were a great partner and provided uniform donations, player appearances, and direct financial support. As an organization, we greatly benefited from their support.

But the contribution they made — and will, I have no doubt, make again when they return — is much broader and stronger than jerseys and money. For the young people we work with, it is about giving these kids a sense of pride and self-esteem that travels with them off the court and back into their daily lives.

Each year, our youth teams were given the opportunity to play during halftime at a Sonics game. The kids would take the court and play a short game and the spectators were always on their feet, cheering our players, rooting for their shots and celebrating their points. After halftime, our kids would receive high fives from perfect strangers who weren’t focused on their wheelchair or disability, but rather their ability to move quickly down the court, dodging other wheelchairs or deftly making a shot from thirty feet away. To say that this had a positive impact on these kids would be an understatement.

I fundamentally believe that a partnership such as we had with the Sonics — and will have again when they return — is transformational for our entire community, not just the adults and youth we serve. Their partnership with an adaptive sports league legitimizes our participants as athletes. It helps to get rid of some of the prejudice of folks who may feel sorry for people in a wheelchair until they see what our players can do on the court. It provides an opportunity and audience to break down some of those stereotypes and allows able bodied individuals to see our members in a different light.

We don’t get these opportunities often. I can’t think of another venue where we have the ability to show 18,000 people the amazing skills and athletics that ten people in wheelchairs can accomplish. This opening is not lost on our members, and the possibility of the Sonics coming back is an active conversation at our practices, particularly for the young people in our program who were not around when the team was our partner. They want the Sonics back. They know what it means to them, to our organization and to our community.

The Arena proposal is a good deal for our region, for our economy and most of all, for our kids. Differently abled or able-bodied, it doesn’t matter. They will all benefit from having a team back in town that is integrated into our community. I’ve seen the positive effect the team had in our community in the past and I look forward to seeing it return.

I am quite hopeful that the next team we send to Varsity Nationals at the National Wheelchair Basketball Association will have a chance to play on a Sonics court!

— Tami English

The Arena Will Have a Positive Impact on Businesses

by Mick McHugh
Proprietor, F.X. McRory’s

The day Felix threw his perfect game this season, I was working in the restaurant as usual. It was a beautiful summer day here in Seattle — those of us born here probably thought it was a little too hot — and the restaurant was packed before and after the game. It wasn’t just my restaurant, however. Had you walked through Pioneer Square either before or after the game all of the bars and restaurants in the Square were full.

It is days like these which allow us to continue in business. Come the end of the baseball season and the setting in of the weather and it will be pretty darn quiet in our neck of the woods. Football allows for eight more big days of regular season home games which again fill us up, and we certainly love our Seahawks fans, but those game days are twice a month, leaving a lot of quiet days around the restaurant. My neighbors in Pioneer Square experience the same reality every year and as we’ve seen over the 35 years we have been in business, plenty of establishments don’t make it through what I have come to call “the dark months.”

The new arena has the potential to change all of this and make a difference in the lives of not only the business owners in the area who will benefit, but the staff we will be able to keep on during those quiet times and the additional people we will have to hire as well. It also benefits the city and state, as each additional dollar that comes through my door means an extra nine and a half cents for them. It is hard to ignore the positive impacts this proposal will have on businesses in the area.

But F.X. McRory’s location isn’t the only reason I support this proposal. First, I was an inaugural season ticket holder and kept those seats until the team left. I am a fan and look forward to going to games again – those are some great memories that I and my family have and I am excited to make new ones. Second, I think this is a helluva deal on the table for the city. This is the third time I’ve stood behind and supported a stadium proposal in the neighborhood and, quite frankly, this is easily the best deal we — well, really any city in the country has — ever seen. There’s no new taxes, a string of taxpayer safeguards a mile long, and the commitment of private investment of nearly $1 billion. That is a staggering investment in our community that cannot be overlooked, especially in this economy!

Finally, I am proud to say that I know Chris, I know the man he is and the family he came from and I can tell you he will be a great partner with the city, as team owner and an active member of this community. I know that his commitment to this area is real — that his vision for the team is one that is highly knitted into our city and region. He is exactly the kind of person we want as an owner of a community asset.

Let’s build this thing! Bring back the Sonics and also let’s rejuvenate the great hockey legacy we once had here!

— Mick McHugh

Slick Watts on the Sonics and the Seattle Community

by Slick Watts
Former Seattle SuperSonic

Technically, I was only a Sonic for six seasons but I can tell you from my experience, and from the guys I played with and have known over the years, once you step on the court in front of Seattle fans they make you a Sonic for life. There’s something pretty magical and special about the Seattle fans — it was like that in the 70’s when I played and the guys who came through after me will tell you the same thing.

The fans are why I stayed here in Seattle when I left the NBA, raised my family, put down roots a long way from Rolling Fork, Mississippi where I was born. My kids grew up alongside the kids I was coaching at Franklin and teaching at Brighton. Seattle is where we call home. And because it is home, my family and I have invested so much of our lives in this community. Our foundation, the Watts Foundation, supports youth in need through scholarships to cover out-of-school time activities. And our basketball program reaches thousands of kids each year through clinics, camps and specialized training. On top of all of these activities are the other charitable events, player appearances and key fundraisers we participate in on a weekly and sometimes daily basis.

I’m not listing these things off to show you how great I am — the activities above are what most professional basketball players, former and current, do in their community. Detlef has a robust foundation in the region, Gary and Monique continue to have charitable ties here in the area, and Lenny has been a tireless fundraiser for the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic and other nonprofits over the years. What makes these guys different from the Brandon Roys and Spencer Hawes who are currently playing and are from this area is that those guys I listed — Detlef, Gary, even myself – aren’t home grown. Our ties to this area weren’t forged by being raised here. Our relocation to Seattle was 100% due to the Sonics franchise; our decision to stay connected to this community is largely due to the fans.

See what we’re missing by no longer having a team here? As fans we miss the games, the green and gold, the hunt for another championship. But as a community, we’re missing out on a lot more than that. We’re left without a large and influential entity that can help raise money for key causes, increase awareness about important issues and make a difference in our city and region — particularly with kids.

We have talked a lot during these last few months about transportation and jobs, both of which are important. But somewhere we’ve forgotten to talk about community. About what bringing the Sonics back can do for our city and region, for the young people who look up to professional basketball players and the organizations who serve them.

I hear from kids every day how important it is for the team to come back, how much it will mean to them personally. The excitement I see in their eyes when they talk about the team returning gives me the same feelings I had stepping out onto the hardwood surrounded by green and gold clad Sonics fans. It reminds me why I wanted to be a Sonic — and why I always will be.

— Slick Watts