Meet Mr. Save Our Sonics
Ballard businessman Brian Robinson grew up cheering for the Seattle Sonics and now he is fighting to keep the team from moving to Oklahoma.
Robinson started the organization Save Our Sonics the day after Clay Bennett and other Oklahoma investors purchased the team for $350 million in 2006. In December, the team announced it was moving to Oklahoma City.
On June 16, 3,000 fans attended a rally at the Federal Courthouse as lawyers from the city of Seattle and the Sonics, now known as the Pro Basketball Club, argued over the remaining two years of the lease at Key Arena.
The Oklahoma group is trying to break the lease. In February, the city turned down a $26 million offer to buy it out.
Since then the owners have tried to show there is little interest in the team by the fans. They traded valuable players away and received little in return.
"The intent was to turn off fans," said Robinson.
The large turnout by the Sonic faithful on June 16 was a good sign to Robinson.
"It was real nice, if you think how bad the team is, how much the fans have endured and they still came out. It was amazing," said Robinson.
Save Our Sonics and the Oklahoma group were allies early on. Robinson and Steven Pyeatt served as spokespersons for Save Our Sonics.
At the time Bennett said his group's intention was to keep the team in Seattle if a new arena was built.
"We offered our support. We wanted to believe he was sincere," said Robinson.
Six days after the sale of the team, Save Our Sonics volunteers were handing out flyers at a Seattle Storm game, to build awareness for a new arena. Robinson went to Olympia to lobby legislators on behalf of the team.
With time running out on the legislative session earlier this year, the Washington State Legislature decided to discuss the arena issue next year.
City attorneys obtained copies of revealing emails in April that showed the ownership group intended to relocate the team all along.
"The emails make it clear they lied and made an effort to steal the team. It was undeniable he (Bennett) was lying. He knew he wanted the team in Oklahoma," said Robinson.
Robinson's father, Ed, owned the FenPro building that was sold to the Nordic Heritage Museum.
The family lived on North132nd Street and Ed Robinson referred to the area as "north Ballard." Ed Robinson graduated from Ballard High in 1958. Son Brian graduated from Shorewood High School.
The family owns Firehouse Coffee in Ballard, along with a real estate investment company, commercial property and apartments.
Brian Robinson says he was "always a Sonics fan growing up."
He joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in various places around the country.
Some of his army buddies were fans of the Houston Rockets when they had center Hakeem Olajuwon and Phoenix Suns with star Charles Barkley.
"When you are around all these guys, you go watch basketball. You cheer for the home team. All of a sudden the team represents you," Robinson said.
The Sonics were lead by guard Gary Payton and power forward Shawn Kemp back in the mid-1990s. They became an unstoppable combination.
Together, they lead the team to the National Basketball Association (NBA) championship series, losing to the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in 1996.
Payton was the star attraction at the June 16 rally along with former player Xavier McDaniel.
Robinson met Payton and spent time with him that day. Payton has told the media he wants his jersey retired as a Sonic, although he has also played in Milwaukee, Los Angeles and Miami where he earned a championship ring in 2006.
"He is a great guy. He is smart and engaging," said Robinson.
Save Our Sonics volunteers thanked Payton for coming to the rally. He in turn, thanked the volunteers for their efforts to save the team.
"He understands the NBA real well. He thinks the team will stay. The battle is just starting," said Robinson.
Spending 25 to 30 hours a week to save the Sonics, Robinson relies on a team of volunteers to send out press releases, raise corporate money, do research for lawyers, meet with politicians, do media coordination and make calls to supporters.
Robinson says the Sonics are a civic asset just like parks and museums. Seattle is a growing market.
He feels the city has a stronger case and hopes they will win.
If the Pro Basketball Club loses in court, it will require significant re-evaluation by the Oklahoma owners and the league, Robinson says.
Bennett has said the Sonics would lose $60 million if they had to honor the last two years of their Key Arena lease.
With a new arena necessary to retain the team in Seattle, Robinson says two years could be enough time to find a viable alternative.
"The city needs a top notch convention center as well as a new building on the Seattle Center grounds. Seattle is world class. The city needs world class amenities," said Robinson.
With two children Bryce, 8 and Kayla, 5, keeping him busy, Robinson gave up his season tickets and now watches on television.
Bryce is now old enough to enjoy basketball, but their North Beach home does not have a level driveway to accommodate a hoop and backboard.
Father and son go to a neighborhood playground to shoot basketballs.
"My next house will have a hoop," Robinson said.
Robinson also has Web site, which covers the team, http://www.sonicscentral.com. He has contributed articles to national basketball Web sites.
Dean Wong may be reached at 783.1244 or firstname.lastname@example.org