There’s only one thing to do when you’re down, kicked around and feeling sorrow for yourself:
Get out and look for opportunity.
Yes, Kansas City is taking a hit with the impending break-up of the Big 12 conference, and, yes, business is going to be a little slower, at least for a while, at the Power & Light District.
But I think KC Star columnist Sam Mellinger was too bleak — too defeatist — in his assessment of the sporting landscape in Friday’s paper. Mellinger, in case you haven’t read it, called Friday “our darkest sports hour.”
Mellinger wrote: “Right or wrong, sports are a huge part of a city’s identity, and getting punched in the gut is now as familiar as humidity, potholes and bad public schools. If this is the day our college sports scene is forever diminished, how could it not be our darkest sports hour?”
Well, Mellinger didn’t make much of a case for Kansas City, as a whole, being down and out, did he? I mean, humidity, potholes and bad schools? A lot of cities have those drawbacks…and a lot more. In his hand wringing, Mellinger failed to take into account the bigger picture, the overarching reality: Kansas City is a great city and has been for a long time.
Kansas City has endured bad fires, bad floods, ice storms, the collapse of the Hyatt skywalks, the loss of professional sports franchises (baseball, basketball and hockey), the departure of the FFA and the NCAA, many years of losing Kansas City Chiefs teams, and, now, Mark Funkhouser. And yet, it remains a great city. Why? Because we have a storied history, an indomitable spirit, old and new money, and tens of thousands of young people who are out there scraping and scrapping, determined to succeed and have fun along the way.
I remember so well how Emanuel Cleaver, after being elected mayor in 1991, almost singlehandedly threw aside the pall of dullness that had settled over Kansas City during the 12 long years that Richard Berkley was mayor. I remember Cleaver standing at the podium in the City Council chamber and, more than once, inveighing the council to push for bigger and better things.
“This isn’t some podunk town along I-70,” Cleaver would say, resoundingly, “this is Kansas City!”
And that brings me back to where I started. Opportunity. Mellinger noted that Kansas City’s chances of landing an NBA or NHL team for the Sprint Center have never been lower. Well, we already had one of each (the Kings and the Scouts in the 1970s), and neither worked out. I don’t think much has changed in that regard, either. So, forget it. It’s too big a roll of the dice.
But there is a professional sport that could easily be in Kansas City’s range: women’s professional basketball. The season is short, running from about mid-May to mid-August. The salaries are relatively low ($803,000 salary cap per team), which makes it relatively affordable for an owner. Plus, women’s basketball is on the rise.
What we need is someone (or some group) who has fairly deep pockets and loves women’s basketball to step up and take a chance. So, let’s stop the hand wringing over the loss of the Big 12. Now is the time for the Kansas City Sports Commission and Foundation, city leaders and influential commentators like Mellinger to start stirring up interest in something new, something untried in Kansas City but with a decent reasonable for success. I really believe that with enthusiastic and creative ownership and management, the WNBA could do well here.
Hey, Tulsa got a team this year, the Shock. Tulsa…which, in my opinion, is little more than a podunk town along I-44.