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Professional men’s basketball back in Seattle for charity game

Tim Booth Associated Press

SEATTLE – Before Tavio Hobson would spend the time doing the research, getting the clearances and approvals needed and dealing with the added headaches the NBA lockout would provide, he wanted to make sure Brandon Roy and Jamal Crawford were serious about being invested in an event that would re-introduce NBA basketball to the Seattle region.

Soon after, Spencer Hawes and Martell Webster jumped on board with their support and the reality of Saturday’s H206 Charity Basketball Classic became plausible.

“We want to showcase the talent that came from our own backyard and say ‘Look at what we produced,’ ” Hobson said.

For one day, the NBA will be back inside KeyArena this afternoon. The game is a benefit for the A PLUS Youth Program founded by Hobson.

The event also has a grander meaning. It’ll be the first NBA-sanctioned event in Seattle since the messy divorce that saw the SuperSonics leave for Oklahoma City following the 2008 season and become the Thunder.

The Portland Trail Blazers talked of holding a preseason game a year after the Sonics left but eventually changed their plans. Last fall, the Blazers held a one-day practice at Garfield High School – Roy’s alma mater – but otherwise the city has been void of the NBA.

Today’s event could be looked as a tease, or possibly the beginning in healing wounds still stinging from the Sonics’ departure.

“I think there is a void that exists. We’re happy to have a successful men’s basketball team at (Washington), Division I at Seattle U. We’re happy at the fact we have a world championship WNBA team. Those are things we’re excited about,” Hobson said. “But it’s like we have this meal and we left one of the courses out. … The community as a whole does miss having a professional basketball team here.”

The game itself will feature Seattle-area NBA players against a team of others from around the NBA. Roy and Crawford were quick to sign on, followed by Hawes, Webster, recent Sacramento draft pick Isaiah Thomas, Atlanta’s Marvin Williams and Phoenix guard Aaron Brooks.

The “League” team is highlighted by Minnesota’s Michael Beasley and Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings.

“The passion and knowledge of fans here are as good as anyone. That got forgotten before the Sonics left town. I think there are a great number of fans here … that don’t have an opportunity to see it live,” Hawes said. “Even if it’s only for a day to see some of the guys that are from around here they’ve grown up watching live and in person again, that’ll make a huge difference.”

Along with being a benefit for Hobson’s organization – which focuses on academic preparation along with athletic training – the event is helping rekindle talk of basketball’s future in the region. Ultimately, the NBA won’t consider a return to Seattle until the region’s arena situation is solved. Reports surfaced earlier this month of Don Levin, owner of the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, looking into an arena in nearby Bellevue.

Through a spokeswoman, Levin declined to comment on the report. Hawes said around the league Seattle’s lack of a franchise continues to be talked about three years after the Sonics left.

“From teammates to opponents to trainers, coaches, assistants, general managers; we had numerous talks about Seattle,” Hawes said. “It’s a similar tune: We miss Seattle, we miss going up there to play. Everyone loves the building to play in, it’s just from the other side.”

Just getting the game certified by the NBA and the current lockout provided another set of hurdles for Hobson and his group. The league was cautious in making sure the event wouldn’t become a bashing of the NBA based around the hard feelings surrounding the Sonics departure. Because of the lockout, some players and agents were leery about playing due to concerns about how they’re covered if there is an injury. Hobson said individual insurance was arranged for all playing in the event.

“Those are things you have to be sensitive to,” Hobson said. “I think fans just want to see good basketball and say thank you to players from this area.”

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