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Seattle Shouldn't Be an NBA Expansion Pawn

Tickers in this article: MSFT

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- It's been little more that two weeks since Seattle celebrated its Seahawks' first Super Bowl football championship win and the city's first major sports championship since 1979 with a parade, but that hasn't stopped certain elements of the sports world from raining on it.

With the confetti scarcely swept off the streets, Seattle got a fresh layer of dark clouds and new deluge of bad tidings from the National Basketball Association this week -- because of course it did.

The Seahawks' parade could have doubled as a going-away party for longtime NBA Commissioner David Stern, who stepped down at the beginning of this month. Stern had not only signed off on the Seattle SuperSonics move to Oklahoma City in 2008, but last year played an instrumental role in blocking the sale of the Sacramento Kings to an ownership group that would have moved them to Seattle. With Stern gone, it was believed that new commissioner Adam Silver would be more amenable to giving Seattle an expansion team and bringing back the Sonics.

Not quite.

As Silver recently revealed to ESPN, the NBA is not only not planning on expanding right now, but seems to have every intention of bringing Sonics fans' worst nightmare to life. As Sonics fans learned during the proposed Sacramento Kings deal -- which ended with a Sacramento-based group buying the team with promises of massive public subsidies for a new stadium -- Seattle is now the league's bad cop to its benevolent owners. NBA front offices don't want to move their teams because a city won't mortgage its fortune on a new arena: They have to because Seattle's has the money in place and appreciates a franchise more.

In other words, they have leverage and aren't about to let it go. Fans in the National Football League have seen what an empty major market in Los Angeles can do and have watched owners in Minnesota and Buffalo use it to pry hundreds of millions in stadium dollars out of the hands of taxpayers. St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke may be using a similar tactic by purchasing acreage in Inglewood, Calif., just as his team hit a stalemate with its host city over stadium improvements.

Seattle already scared Sacramento into jump-starting its arena rebuilding project, and now it looks as if it's going to do the same for Milwaukee. Seattle hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer offered $420 million for 72% of the Kings and agreed to a $115 million relocation, $200 million to repay bonds issued for a new arena and $80 million to buy land in south Seattle for the new building. Keep that roughly $800 million figure in mind when considering that Commissioner Silver just told the owners of the Milwaukee Bucks in September that their home at the Bradley Center wasn't good enough to host an NBA franchise.