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Updated Monday, January 21, 2013 at 11:05 AM

You can believe it now: NBA is coming back

By Steve Kelley
Times staff columnist

Pinch me. Go ahead. Smack me upside the head and remind me this is real. This isn't another one of those dreams where I'm walking into KeyArena and the Sonics and Oklahoma City Thunder are gathering for the opening tip.

Tell me this isn't the moment in that dream where the ball is tossed in the air, the lights go out and when they come back on, the arena is empty and the teams are gone and it's just me and Howard Schultz sitting courtside and wondering what went wrong.

No this isn't a dream. And it isn't another one of those here-come-the-Kings teases.

This time the deal is done. The Sonics are coming back in the form of the Sacramento Kings. After a couple of weeks worth of hemming and hawing the Maloofs have come to their senses and sold their franchise to a Seattle ownership group that includes Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer.

What's the rule on number of exclamation points allowed in a column?

Why is the Hallelujah Chorus playing in my head?

In one flurry of phone calls and Twitter posts, this worst Sunday of sports in Seattle in a long time turned into one of the best.

What is the perfect antidote to the emptiness this town's sports fans felt Sunday as they watched two teams that weren't the Seahawks playing for the NFC championship?

How about the return of the NBA to Seattle? How about a couple of years of nostalgia in the Key before the team moves into the new arena in SoDo?

How about the return home of former Seattleites Isaiah Thomas and Aaron Brooks, who play in the Kings' backcourt? And, are you sitting down? How about the return to the NBA of Phil Jackson?

The rumor floating in NBA cyberspace — and there are seemingly hundreds of them right now — is that Jackson would run the team, not from the bench but from the front office.

It might be a Te'o-sized hoax, but imagine the kind of coaching staff Jackson might be able to put together.

Could he be the guy who could convince Mike Krzyzewski to leave Duke? Or Tom Izzo to leave Michigan State, or Bill Self to leave Kansas? Would Nate McMillan return to coach this new edition of the Sonics with Jackson as his boss?

It feels like anything is possible in Seattle these days.

Russell Wilson. Pete Carroll. Bobby Wagner. Chris Hansen. Steve Ballmer. Phil Jackson?

Can sports life in Seattle get any better? What a start we've had to 2013!

OK, let's take a breath. These are the Kings who are coming and they're just as bad as the last incarnations of Sonics were.

If he is among the players who will come to Seattle next year, center DeMarcus Cousins will drive us crazy with his fade in, fade out work rate. And are we really going to have to suffer watching Jimmer Fredette try to jump-start his career?

The Kings are 16-25, but on this optimistic night let's look at it in another way. They are only a game and a half behind the Lakers in the Pacific Division.

And remember, the Maloofs, who have tried their best to run this team into the ground, no longer are running this show.

I just have the feeling, judging by the smart and understated way Hansen and his colleagues have gone about the arena proposal and the acquisition of this team, they will be equally good at finding the right people to make the right personnel decisions. These guys are winners.

We may never open our arms to commissioner David Stern, but he wanted this deal to work. He told me four years ago he wanted Ballmer in the league. The league is better with Hansen and Ballmer in it.

And while the Kings/Sonics will continue their struggle through the rebuilding process, we will get to see the best teams and players in the world. LeBron James is coming back to Seattle. Kevin Durant will be here again. And Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony.

Teams that play the game the right way, like the San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls, will return to Seattle, as will homegrown talent like Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson, Spencer Hawes, Martell Webster and Rodney Stuckey. George Karl will return, perhaps wearing that Space Needle tie again.

Most important, parents can take their kids to games again. People who grew up with the Sonics now will have the chance to pass on their love of the game to their kids and their nieces and nephews.

Hansen probably overpaid for the franchise, but that's how committed he is. From the day his name first surfaced early in 2012, he has run his campaign for an arena and a team with grace and without bravado.

Russell Wilson. Chris Hansen.

It just keeps getting better, doesn't it?

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com


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