Former Seattle Sonic says setbacks prepared him

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Former Sonic James Donaldson talked candidly about his financial and personal setbacks and how they prepared him for Seattle City Council race.Author: Chris Daniels, KING 5Published: 6:16 PM PDT June 7, 2019Updated: 7:50 PM PDT June 7, 2019

He still towers over most people, and his broad smile is back. However, former Seattle Sonic James Donaldson wants you to know he’s changed a lot since his playing days.

“Basketball has taken me around the world,” the longtime Seattle resident said. “I want to finish up right here.”

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Autozone Press Release

James Donaldson blasts Cop’s suspension decision by Mayor Durkan and SPD Chief Carmen Best

Frequently disciplined Officer Frank Poblacki should have been fired


June 4, 2019

Contact:   James Donaldson  (206) 910-2520  Cindi Laws, Campaign Director (206) 790-4232 

SEATTLE, WA.  James Donaldson called for Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle Police Department Chief Carmen Best to fire Seattle Police Officer Frank Poblacki, a 20-year veteran of SPD who has been suspended twice previously and most recently lied to investigators and the Chief. Standing in front of the same Central District AutoZone store where Poblacki had gone to an African American employee, James detailed how the Chief and the Mayor had failed citizens of Seattle, had failed the police force, and especially had failed people of color. 

“The very day before Officer Poblacki’s latest incident, he had been counseled by Chief Carmen Best about his inappropriate, unprofessional behavior,” said James. “And, despite all the many talks, all the suspensions, all the write ups, Poblacki did what he’s done for decades: he went back on the street to intimidate, threaten and harass African Americans. And as if that weren’t enough, he did so in a premeditated, gleeful manner, and then lied about it repeatedly.

“This city has struggled to get its policing right. It took the United States Department of Justice, the Department’s Civil Rights Division, a year to investigate routine and widespread use of excessive force by SPD officers,” James said. “It was US Attorney Jenny Durkan who opened that investigation nearly a decade ago. It was Jenny Durkan who worked with the independent monitor, Merrick Bobb. It was Jenny Durkan who has met repeatedly with federal Judge James Robart, overseeing Seattle Police Department. It was Jenny Durkan who helped negotiate the consent decree to oversee implementation of new policies and training. And it was Jenny Durkan who abandoned all of that to back another suspension for a cop who has defied the will, the intent, and the letter of these reforms.” 

In a 10-minute video discussion in front of the Central District AutoZone, Donaldson explains how deeply this affects people of color, how deeply it affects people who strive for professionalism, and how sadly common the behavior of Officer Frank Poblacki seems to be among a certain type of police officer.

“We expect good police officers. Not profiling, not intimidating, not retaliating, and not threatening. WE expect professionalism,” said Donaldson. “Seattle is trying to build up a new police force, with good officers, to follow the policies and rules that Jenny Durkan herself worked to get. But by letting Poblacki off with yet another suspension, Durkan and Chief Best have made a horrible decision. Durkan and Best wrote the policies, they worked into the Seattle Police Officers Guild contract the punishment for lying, and then they threw it out the window.

“We need punishment where punishment is due, reprimands where reprimands are due,” Donaldson says with growing intensity. “And we need termination when termination is due. Frank Poblacki deserves termination.”

James Donaldson is the only obvious person of color running for City Council in District 7. “As an African American, I have been profiled, followed, questioned, and harassed by police officers since I was a teen,”  Donaldson explained. “To see, once again, a man in blue getting away with this behavior I’m not afraid to say how disappointed I am. This is a travesty, an insult to accountability, an insult to our citizens, and an insult to the good cops," James said. 

"With the mishandling of Officer Poblacki, we once again had the opportunity to be open, honest and forthright; we had the opportunity to hold someone accountable," James said. "And, once again, the City blew it. When I am elected to the City Council, I will hold people accountable, including the Chief of Police, and including the Mayor. Our City deserves better."

James Donaldson at the Autozone store in the Central District.

James Donaldson at the Autozone store in the Central District.

Current news from james donaldson's team

James Announces His Run for City council

James Donaldson – the most inspiring candidate with the biggest vision for Seattle City Council – enters District 7 race


May 15, 2019

Contact:   James Donaldson  (206) 487-3566  Cindi Laws, Campaign Director (206) 790-4232

SEATTLE, WA.  Pledging to build bridges and tear down walls, small businessman, 20-year pro-basketball player, humanitarian and inspirational speaker James Donaldson today enters the race for Seattle City Council, District 7. Donaldson, an Air Force brat whose father was a tech sergeant, was born in England and raised in Sacramento California. Donaldson has lived in six countries[1]across three continents[2], and speaks five languages[3].

Donaldson is frank about Seattle’s challenges. “How can a city, a region, which birthed so many of the greatest innovations, the most ground-breaking discoveries, and some of the globes largest companies, have so many problems with basic issues?” he asks. “We have the nation’s third-largest population of people experiencing homelessness; about 1% of Seattle residents. We continue to second- and third-guess transit investments, killing projects, slowing projects, and being afraid of new projects, because of costs, without looking at the long term economic, climactic and health benefits of reducing cars. We have growing inequity and unaffordability for those with low and moderate income, living under the most unfair tax system in America, and our City Council leadership keeps making it worse. I want to change all that and more.”

“I have lived around the world, in cities millennia old that have found solutions that seem to put Seattle leaders in the fetal position. I’ve learned a few things, and I’m not afraid to use my personal, deeply painful experiences and apply my life lessons,” Donaldson says. “I have been open, honest and completely transparent throughout my life; our civic government has not. I want to change that and more.”

“One of my top goals is to upend the way we approach homelessness. We must face the fact that half of those experiencing homelessness self-identify as having a disability. 66% of those have two or more disabilities. And yet we are not adequately addressing these many varying disabilities,” Donaldson notes. “Far too many people on our streets suffer mental illness, or other disabling conditions brought on by trauma. Homelessness itself is traumatic, and people have turned to drugs to self-medicate, and become addicted. But Seattle doesn’t just enable drug addiction, it facilitates it. We need triage, more Mobile Crisis Response Services, and more supported living residences. We cannot criminalize mental illness.” 

Donaldson has taken on mental illness and suicide prevention as his career in recent years.  “Many people might look at me and say, ‘James Donaldson has it all.’ Well, the truth is that I almost ended it all,” confesses Donaldson. “I nearly lost it all. I was in a coma and in the ICU for months following emergency surgery for an aortic dissection (less than 5% survivor rate). I had to close my business, my family left me, and, despite the NBA Players’ Union Cadillac-level health plan, have several hundred thousand dollars in out-of-pocket medical costs. For a long time, suicide was not far from my mind. 

“Despite my history, my education, my life, I was willing to give up on life,” James says. “I’ve been there, and I know the level of support it takes to make one willing to not give up. I know it takes work, patience, and prodding. Because when you are sick, you cannot always make the best decisions on your own. Life doesn’t have to fade to black. We can turn the page on our policies. We must.”

Donaldson is calling for an Aging and Disability Justice Initiative, based upon Seattle’s successful Race and Social Justice Initiative, to change the way the City works with these constituencies.


Donaldson believes that if we are going to build bridges, we should invest in bridge design that protects pedestrians and bicyclists, and provides the structure to absorb the requirements of future rail lines. “Super-size cruise ships are coming to District 7 this year, currently generating more than $16 million in tax revenue. And yet the cruise ship terminals have very limited transit,” Donaldson points out. “If we can get tourists downtown and to other attractions, those tourists’ spending will help fund better transit investments, transit that directly benefits our residents. This is just one simple idea; one of many, that shift the infrastructure investment from the backs off low and moderate income residents.”  

About James Donaldson

40 years ago next month, Washington State University star Center James Donaldson was drafted by the NBA Champion Seattle Supersonics. Using his first paycheck, Donaldson purchased a home in Magnolia, a neighborhood that had covenants against African American residents[4]. James lives in the same house he purchased in 1981[5].

James started Donaldson Fitness and Physical Therapy midway through his NBA career (1989) after a career threatening knee injury and operated three clinics for more than 20 years.

He has been involved in community work since his earliest days as a Seattle Sonic. He has been especially engaged in underserved and neglected communities, such as Seattle’s Central Area and the Hill Top area in Tacoma. He volunteers in education programs, regularly tutors young children, is a strong advocate for Women and Minority owned business development and is active in the Chamber of Commerce promoting programs that help small businesses survive and thrive. He is also a motivational speaker, often being asked to speak to younger audiences in disadvantaged communities. Among his many roles, James is active in Mount Zion Church, is a Board member of the Greater Seattle, South Snohomish and the Tacoma Chambers of Commerce, is an Executive member of the Washington State Mentors, is a loyal WSU Cougar and as a dog owner is active in the Humane Society. 

A business consultant and partner with several entities in China including Tsinghua University, the China Service Centre for Friendship and Cooperation and several others, where Donaldson focused on preparing students for educational, sports, cultural exchange and study abroad experiences in the USA.

He also is CEO of a startup business called Athletes Playbook, a mentorship program made up of veteran athletes helping younger ones. His other passion project, Your Gift of Life Foundation, addresses mental illness and suicide prevention. He is also a Board Member of National Basketball Retired Players Association.

Donaldson, a high school scholar who did not begin playing basketball until his senior year, has long worked with organizations promoting higher education, including the College Success Foundation. 

About the District

District 7 includes Magnolia, Queen Anne, Belltown, Downtown, Pioneer Square, and parts of South Lake Union and Chinatown/International District. The District has extensive shorelines, including several salmon recovery areas and tide flats, the fishing fleet, and also includes numerous industrial areas and Seattle’s largest sewage treatment plant. District 7 includes Seattle’s largest park, many of its most iconic corporations, and many thousands of small businesses. 

Featuring many of Seattle’s most popular tourist venues, District 7 includes the Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Aquarium and the Waterfront attractions, Seattle Center, Pike Place Market, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Victoria Clipper, music, historic and architecture tours, and exterior sites of major TV shows and movies. The District also hosts 1.2 million visitors through six cruise ship berths.  

Rarely thought of for its diversity, District 7 nonetheless reflects the true face and history of Seattle. Seattle’s oldest neighborhood in Pioneer Square was home to two Indian villages; United Indians of All Tribes gather at Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center. Chinatown and the International District reflect more than 150 years of immigration and segregation of dozens of ethnicities into compact neighborhoods. The Great Migration drew African Americans to Jackson Street, the birthplace of a multiracial musical community.  Home to the some of the wealthiest and the poorest residents of Seattle, its denizens reside in spectacular view homes, glittering high-rises, and thousands seeking protection in tents, doorways, shelters and supported living communities. 

District 7 also brings together all major forms of transit and transportation: the Highway 99 tunnel, Interstate 5, four major bridges, three ferry systems, the monorail, hundreds of bus routes, four Link light rail stations, two streetcar lines with a third line in final planning. Amtrak, Bolt and Greyhound are just a few blocks south of the District.

Early Endorsements

“I have worked with James Donaldson on issues for inner city youth and endorse him for City Council District 7. He will bring a needed diversity perspective to the Council.” – Justice Faith Ireland, Washington State Supreme Court (Ret.)

“ Now more than ever Seattle needs its brightest minds, its biggest hearts and its bravest leaders. That’s a tall order.  James Donaldson more than fills it.  He has stood with Seattle in its proudest moments. He knows how to win. And he knows how to work as a team so that all of us can reach our goals.”  – George Toles, Executive Director, His Deal; former PA announcer for the Sonics

“I endorse James Donaldson for Position 7 based on more than 10 years of knowing him and following his work. James and I have worked on several projects related to education and athletics. I know him to be wise, compassionate and committed to excellence. His experiences locally and abroad have prepared him uniquely to serve the people of Seattle.” – Erin Jones, Education and Systems Consultant, Obama White House Champion of Change, 2013; WA PTA Outstanding Educator, 2015

“I have known James for the past 45 years. He is one of the most sincere and honest human beings I have known. His leadership and influence has extended from the NBA to the local community. He is a true ‘winner’.” – Mark Edwards 46 years as a College Basketball Coach at Washington State University (Assistant Coach 9 years) and Washington University in St. Louis (Head Coach 37 years) 

“We need a leader like James Donaldson. His team building and business skills, and respect for people, is exactly the kind of leader we need on Seattle City Council at this time.” – Gayle A. Johnson, Business Owner, EVOLVE Life Coaching

“I've known James since he was a student athlete at Washington State University. James is a very self- disciplined individual. If elected he will work very hard to solve the problems that has created the perspective "Seattle is dying" atmosphere that exists today. James has taken the time to go out into the neighborhoods and study the problems first hand.” – Stan Coe, DVM, Past President of Washington state Veterinary Medical Association; Past President of Washington State University Alumni Association  

“The most dangerous challenge we have is to do nothing and assume that nothing will change. When we assume that nothing will change, we doom ourselves to that fate. We must carefully select our representative for a seat on the Seattle City Council District 7. James Donaldson is a person who is aware of certain concerns the district has, not just general concerns, but specific concerns. I firmly endorse James Donaldson for Seattle City Council.” – Arif Khatib, Founder and President Emeritus, Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame

"James Donaldson is a good draft pick for Seattle City Council this year.  Donaldson will bring to the Council Chambers experience with basketball, business, and resilience making him as well rounded as a properly inflated NBA regulation basketball.  I am also confident Donaldson will also help his colleagues restore a sense of team in this region in tackling transit and transportation, homelessness, addiction and congestion to restore a sense of community." – Joe A. Kunzler, Regional Transit Advocate

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[1]England, United States, Italy, Greece, Spain and China

[2]Europe, North America and Asia

[3]English, Italian, Greek, Spanish and Mandarin


[5]Complete with the original kitchen, although the shag carpet was recently removed