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Pacific Northwest travelblog: Clay Bennett was right about Seattle

The Seattle skyline from the 27th floor of the Renaissance Hotel. [Berry Tramel/The Oklahoman]
The Seattle skyline from the 27th floor of the Renaissance Hotel. [Berry Tramel/The Oklahoman]

Clay Bennett and Co. bought the Seattle SuperSonics in 2006. We were chatting one day soonafter, and Bennett just raved about Seattle. This wasn’t a PR ploy to maneuver an exit to Oklahoma City. Sure, Bennett made no secret of his desires for an NBA franchise for his hometown, and he eventually moved the Sonics to OKC.

But in the early days of Bennett’s ownership, he wasn’t sure what the future held. The NBA didn’t really want to leave Seattle, despite commissioner David Stern’s declared frustration with the city. Seattle had built the NFL Seahawks a new stadium and the MLB Mariners a new stadium. But not the NBA Sonics. Both the NBA and previous Sonics owner Howard Schultz thought selling the franchise to Oklahomans hungry for an Oklahoma franchise would be sufficient threat to motivate Seattle to build a new arena.

Turns out, no, and the Sonics became the Thunder. But in the early days, no one knew the future of the Sonics. And Bennett was amazed every time he journeyed to Seattle, at what a world-class city it was.

I thought of Bennett on Friday night, as our Lyft driver took Trish the Dish and I came Sea-Tac Airport to downtown Seattle. As you come around a bend of Interstate 5, and get your first look at the Emerald City hard by Puget Sound, the view is spectacular. For a curtain-raising view, Seattle ranks probably behind only New York and Pittsburgh.

Especially at night, with the towering skyscrapers lit spectacularly against a backdrop of beautiful sky and distant evergreens and the ever-present water.

We have returned to the Pacific Northwest courtesy of the Oklahoma State-Oregon State season opener on August 30. I’m headed to Corvallis, Oregon, next weekend, and since trips to this gorgeous corner of America are few, the Dish and I came early.

We’ve decided to return to Victoria, British Columbia, the Canadian jewel we visited last year. But Victoria, which sits just north across the water from Washington state, comes Saturday. On Friday, it was Seattle.

Our Southwest flight was supposed to get us to Seattle at 6:30 p.m., enough for a little Friday adventure. Instead, our flight out of OKC to Denver was late, our flight from Denver to Seattle was late, and we didn’t land until about 7:45 p.m. We waited awhile for our luggage and then our ride, so we didn’t get to the downtown Renaissance Hotel until 9 p.m.

Our only excursion was walking three blocks up to Vito’s, an Italian joint in the First Hill district of the city, not far from Seattle University, where Elgin Baylor played college basketball.

Our Renaissance desk clerk recommended Vito’s, and what a jewel it was. Had an old-fashioned night club feel, with a vintage jazz band, and moderate prices and superb food. The Dish got lasagna, I had mushroom fettucine and both were outstanding. We each ate half of the others’ plate.

By the time we finished dinner, it was 10:15 p.m. Pacific, which is past midnight Oklahoma time, so it was time to crash on the 27th floor of the Renaissance, overlooking downtown. We are taking the Victoria Clipper to Canada, but it doesn’t leave until 3:15 p.m. Saturday, so we’ve got some Seattle time left.

San Francisco probably ranks as America’s most beautiful city from a geography standpoint. But Seattle might rank second. The mountains in the distance. The Sound. The evergreens everywhere.

No wonder it’s so crowded. Greater Seattle is up to 3.9 million residents, making it the 15th-most populated metropolitan in the U.S.

Seattle was a cool city of 80,000 in 1900. But the Klondike Gold Rush had spurred massive migration. By 1910, Seattle’s population was up to 237,000. In that crazy era, all kinds of landmark businesses were started. The American Messenger Co., which became UPS. Nordstrom’s. Eddie Bauer.

A century later, Seattle is a glittering city, with big-city problems, of course, ranging from overcrowdedness to homelessness, but still, a vibrant metropolis. And it’s even going to get a new arena.

The Seattle Center Arena is set to open June 2021, is a $900 million makeover of KeyArena, which was the home to the Sonics. Long before Bennett bought the franchise, KeyArena underwent a moderate makeover, and the city figured that was its contribution to the NBA. I’m not saying Seattle was wrong. But that renovation of the arena didn’t do much to keep the Sonics up to NBA speed, and the franchise left. The city is not on the hook for the majority of the renovated Seattle Center, and the National Hockey League has awarded Seattle an expansion franchise for the 2022-23 season.

Still, Seattle’s loss of the NBA was our gain, and we’re not giving back the Thunder. There has been speculation that either the New Orleans Pelicans or Memphis Grizzlies eventually could be candidates to move to Seattle. We’ll see.

All I know is that Bennett was right. Seattle is a beautiful, world-class city. We’re going to enjoy a little of it Saturday before taking off for Victoria.

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Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›