Monday, February 23, 2009

San Diego, The NBA, Sunshine and Race

With the help of some grammatically inappropriate subterfuge, I'd like to come clean and say: I don't not like's Bill Simmons. I admit this while conceding there are things about him and his style that just…OK, OK, Simmons criticism has been done to death.

I come to praise Bill Simmons and – specifically – his often-excellent podcasts. I download his stuff to my iPod and spend the AM answering work-related emails while listening to him riff on sports and pop culture. Look, I'm not trying to sell anyone on the guy. You either like him and read him or claim to not like him (while still reading him). That's cool.

Last Monday, Simmons and his buddy Joe House spent more than an hour talking about the NBA's All Star Weekend. Since I haven't regularly followed the NBA in over 15 years, I mostly zoned in and out, counting down the minutes until my earbuds could play Crooked I or The Game again (sorry, Mathan).

Towards the end, Simmons segued on to the subject of San Diego and my adopted hometown's lack of an NBA team. According to Simmons, there are a handful of teams in the league that could be candidates to relocate in the next few years. However, Simmons shot down the notion that the Memphis Grizzlies or New Orleans Hornets could be dialing "619" any time soon.

Simmons offered up two reasons – from a "connected" NBA source – for San Diego's relative unattractiveness to the NBA. The first (and I'm paraphrasing here) is that the city's perfect climate and infinite year-round outdoor opportunities tamps down any desire San Diego's denizens might have to go indoors for a few hours. The second reason was tied to San Diego's absence of a "financial industry" to buy up club seating and luxury suites.

If I may rebut.

As to the first point…it's about 120 miles from San Diego to Los Angeles. I'm not a meteorologist, so you'll just have to take my word on this: the weather in LA is eerily similar to the weather in San Diego. According to, Monday's forecast for San Diego is 71 degrees and partly cloudy. Monday's forecast for Los Angeles is…71 degrees and partly cloudy. The Lakers (and, ironically, the Clippers) draw pretty damn well considering LA gets the same 338 days of mild sunshine as we do in San Diego.

I don't even know what to make of the second point. Sure, San Diego doesn't have the ubiquitous financial district of NBA economic powers like New York, Boston…and Oklahoma City. Bastions of fiscal stability, one and all. All we've got is Qualcomm – the largest private-sector technology employer in the county and secure enough to buy out the naming rights to Jack Murphy Stadium for 20 years (through 2017). San Diego is also home to the strongest biotech industry in the country, to say nothing of the enormously lucrative defense (woo!) and manufacturing industries here.

When the Padres conned San Diego into building Petco Park, the team sold out all 6,000 personal seat licenses to well-heeled businesses and individuals. An amazing accomplishment considering that PSLs are a sucker-bet investment for those who buy them – all of the future risk is on the buyer. In fact, there's no shortage of PSL resellers looking to get out from under these cash siphons.

That said, Simmons is actually right about the NBA and San Diego. It's just his reasoning that's wrong.

The NBA had a team in San Diego for ten seasons. The Rockets played here from 1968-1971 before leaving for Houston. They were followed by the Buffalo Braves, who moved to San Diego in 1978, changed their name to the Clippers then moved north in 1984. Those teams combined for a .372 winning percentage here with one winning season.

The only thing worse than the basketball was the home court where it was played.

The San Diego Sports Arena opened in November 1966 and I'm reasonably certain that's the last time it was cleaned. It's a filthy eyesore that – to put it kindly – is the JFK Airport of indoor entertainment locations. Unfortunately, the only other basketball venues in town are Cox Arena (on the campus of San Diego State) and the Jenny Craig Pavilion (University of San Diego). The former seats about 12,000 (~7,000 more than the latter) but neither possesses the infrastructure or practicality to host pro ball.

Second, and more importantly, San Diego would never support the perception of the NBA. Y'see, I've lived in this city since 1995. I met my wife here, we're raising our son here, I love it here. This is also one of the most conservative enclaves in the country and one that would never get behind the tatted-up urban streetball league that everyone thinks the NBA has become.

This city likes its African-American athletes to be humble, soft-spoken and non-threatening with an absence of bling, body art and bombast. This is why Tony Gwynn is "Mr. Padre" despite his couldn't-give-a-damn approach to conditioning. This is why LaDanian Tomlinson gets a lifetime pass for his playoff MIAs and infamous "classy" comment. San Diego sports fans would rather their teams lose with a squad of choir boys than win with ONE bad apple.

Or someone that looks like one.

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