Every fan who has ever experienced it has “that moment”
etched in their minds. For the folks who loved the Brooklyn Dodgers, it was the
demolition of Ebbets Field by a wrecking ball that was painted to look like a
For fans of the Baltimore Colts, it was the Mayflower moving
vans tearing ass out of town under the cover of night.
The Raiders, understanding that you can actually unmake a
mistake, moved from Oakland to L.A. and then back to Oakland. The Cardinals
flew the coop from St. Louis and landed in Phoenix. (Shortly there after, they
were renamed the Arizona Cardinals, in order to diffuse the blame for this
horrific assemblage of misery. Hey, why should Phoenix alone have to suffer?)
For me, it was a cartoon on the cover of Sports Illustrated:
A caricature of Art Modell sucker punching a Cleveland Browns “dog pound” fan.
The article spoke of hope that the city could some way stop Modell from
squiring the Browns out of town. In the end, it couldn’t. My team was gone. It
would never be the same again.
Basketball has been no exception to this, even if you
discount the ridiculous ABA days when teams seemed to move more often than most
people change socks.
The only reason there is jazz in Utah is because the Utah
Jazz were taken away from New Orleans. The same thing is true of the Los
Angeles Lakers, as they came from Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes and ended
up in the land of 10,000 flakes.
The list of “who-came-from-where-and-landed-over-there” is
endless. Some of this stuff is easy enough to understand: teams were losing
money or teams couldn’t find local owners. The Brooklyn Dodger president,
Walter O’Malley, had an ongoing feud with New York “Don” Robert Moses as he
attempted to build a new stadium in Flatbush. When years of efforts had failed,
he took the advice most notably attributed to Horace Greeley: “Go West, young
What is a lot less easy to understand are the cities that
are pillaged who return and pillage others. In one of its few cock-block moves
in the last 112 years, the NBA vetoed the sale of the Sacramento Kings to an
investment group that would move the team to Seattle.The group was attempting
to replace the lost NBA team (the Supersonics/Sonics) that left when Clay
Bennett bought the team and moved it to Oklahoma City. Sacramento and its
mayor, former NBA star Kevin Johnson, were fighting to keep the team local and
pushing for the Maloof (if ever there was a perfect dumb-ass rich-guy name,
that’s it) brothers to sell to a local group. Finally, after the NBA owners refused
to let them move, the Maloofs agreed in principle to sell the team locally.
Seattle rich guy Chris Hansen expressed disappointment in
the decision but swore he’d bring basketball back to Seattle. As much as this
probably makes the Seattle fans happy, it should worry the hell out of everyone
else. Any team that needs a free new arena, isn’t getting 41 sellouts per
season or a fan base that’s not pouring buckets of cash onto a sub .500 squad
will likely have Hansen circling like a beneficent buzzard.
And after he snakes it away from it’s current home, the
carousel of “who’s-going-where” will start all over again.
And that sucks.
Say what you want to about my Cleveland Browns, but at least
Cleveland didn’t steal someone else’s team to replace its own. We came by this
steaming pile of poor play honestly. The fans there knew how much it sucked to
have a team pulled out from under them, so they got on the expansion wagon and
got a team as part of a really bad deal.
Of all the places I thought my Browns would land, Baltimore
was the LAST place I would have imagined. The fans in Maryland had the image of
those damned moving vans etched into their brains as their team fled to
Indiana. The fact they would be OK with someone else doing this to someone else
on their behalf was mindboggling.
L.A. went from having two football teams to having none in a
matter of years. In the case of the Raiders, at least Oakland was taking back
what was once its own. The Rams? They fled to St. Louis, which had lost the
Cardinals to Phoenix.
The same is true of New Orleans, who got a kick in the balls
back in 1979. That year, the team not only moved to Mormonville, but kept the
city’s moniker and colors. When the city smelled blood in the water, it grabbed
up the Hornets from Charlotte. (Of course, they had to take owner George Shinn
as well, so I guess the punishment might fit the crime.)
I now live in one of the last truly safe vestiges of team
sport: Wisconsin, where the Green Bay Packers are community owned. Of course,
after the NFL became big business, the owners grandfathered in this concept for
us and outlawed it from ever happening again. Still, somehow, we keep doing OK.
The facilities are nice, the team is good and people are happy, shocking as
that may be.
For the rest of the world, happiness is apparently only one
rich guy away, if he’s willing to steal someone else’s team for you.