AN EXPANSION OF OAKLAND'S DOMAIN
It was a stunning development when a jury in a federal antitrust suit in Los Angeles ruled last May that the NFL couldn't prevent the Oakland Raiders from moving to that city. There was another bombshell last week: With the Raiders poised to relocate in L.A., possibly as early as this season, the California Supreme Court ruled that the City of Oakland could conceivably block the move. Unexpectedly upholding an appeal brought by Oakland city officials, the court cleared the way for the city to try to condemn and purchase the Raiders under its power of eminent domain and to operate the team itself or resell it to private parties that would keep the club in Oakland. Eminent domain has traditionally been used by governments to seize real property for use as freeways, parks and urban-renewal projects, but the California high court broke new legal ground in concluding that maintenance of a sports franchise "may well be an appropriate municipal function" and that a city had the right to acquire by eminent domain "any property necessary to carry out that function."
The immediate effect of the decision was to overturn a ruling by a lower-court judge who had dismissed the city's lawsuit against the Raiders and to send the case back to that court, where a trial must be held to determine whether the city's acquisition of the team would indeed constitute a suitable "public use." Following such a determination, the city would have to pay "just compensation" for the team. In the meantime, the Raiders presumably could go ahead and move—if they dared risk the possibility that they might be obliged to return to Oakland later. A Raider attorney said the club would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the ruling, and a state legislator who favors the Raider move last week introduced a bill to retroactively prohibit eminent domain from being used to condemn sports franchises. Although the NFL has consistently opposed the Raiders' move to Los Angeles, league officials refrained from rejoicing over the decision. One possible reason: The California decision could conceivably be a precedent for communities to block franchise shifts approved by the league.
The NFL wasn't alone in wondering about the implications of the decision. In deciding the case, the California court argued that because cities are free to use eminent domain to build stadiums, they logically should be able to invoke the power to keep teams in those stadiums. But Pete Schabarum, chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, said, "Given that kind of reasoning, the Southern California Rapid Transit District can take over an oil company because it has to have fuel to run its buses." San Francisco Giant owner Bob Lurie, who insists he has no plans to move his team but wants a new publicly financed stadium to replace Candlestick Park, said, "What about free enterprise? What if Sears Roebuck wants to close and move to another city? This decision could apply to any field."
Lost in all this, of course, was the fact that last week's decision dealt with a professional sports franchise—nothing more. The court indicated that it was swayed by the fact that the Raiders had not only produced $30 million in annual economic activity for Oakland but had also given the city a "social, cultural and psychological" identity. In so ruling, the court was establishing the principle that a professional team can be as essential to a city's lifeblood—one that considers itself big league, anyway—as parks and highways. But it's important to note that the Raiders were a successful team supported by their community, which isn't always the case when franchises seek to move. The warnings of dire consequences were scoffed at by David Self, the former Oakland city manager and attorney who masterminded his city's eminent-domain suit. "The idea that now a city can go out and condemn Sears Roebuck is ridiculous," Self said. "People don't dance in the street when Sears reports a good quarter. Cars don't have bumper stickers saying, GO SEARS."
HOW NOT TO GET FAT
The Golden State Warriors were known to covet Arizona State's 6'3" point guard, Lafayette (Fat) Lever, in last week's college draft, but the Warriors, picking 14th, watched helplessly as Lever was taken by Portland, which had the 11th overall choice. But then, Golden State had had trouble connecting with Lever all along, witness the exchange that ensued when The Phoenix Gazette's Joe Gilmartin approached Warrior Coach Al Attles on the subject at the NBA's annual awards luncheon last month in Coronado, Calif. Gilmartin struck up the conversation just as Attles was digging into his meal.
"You going to get Fat?" Gilmartin asked.
Attles looked perplexed. "Well, I wasn't planning to eat that much," he replied.
DEVILS ON ICE
The transplanted Colorado Rockies were renamed last week: They are henceforth the New Jersey Devils. Although the NHL club's new owners were understandably reluctant to allow a franchise now located in East Rutherford, N.J. to retain the name of a mountain range 1,500 miles distant, they failed to appreciate that Devils is an equally inappropriate nickname, and not just because of the religious objections some critics have raised. The name, inspired by a fearsome monster known as Leeds' Devil said to inhabit New Jersey's Pine Barrens, was the choice of nearly one-fourth of the 10,000 entrants in a name-the-team contest, and after combing the dictionary, the team's principal owner, John McMullen, came up with a relatively innocuous definition for devil—"a person of notable energy, recklessness and dashing spirit." But the first meaning for devil listed in Webster's Third is "supreme spirit of evil and unrighteousness," which is an unfortunate association to be invoking in a league marred in recent years by calculated lawlessness.