The morning after my city lost its NBA franchise, I woke up in a panic from a bad dream in which I’d been stabbed in the back. Despite my writer’s eye for the symbolism of the whole thing, that probably had more to do with me eating a sausage-and-egg sandwich too soon before going to bed than it had to do with me grieving the loss of the Seattle Supersonics. A few hours later, however, I woke up again to the sounds of a thunderstorm. The scene reminded me of my favorite Sonics commercial from back in the day, a comic book-themed ad where Shawn Kemp stood as a giant underneath lighting and thunderclaps and was fictitiously bestowed his “Reign Man” nickname.
Narrator: And he came and he grew and he fed on the rain. Oh, sweet rain!
Kemp: I like this place…
When I open my personal bank of Sonics memories, I think first of Kemp, Gary Payton, Ricky Pierce, Sam Perkins, Nate McMillan, Derrick McKey, Dana Barros and 12th-man Steve Scheffler, the Brian Scalabrine of my childhood who was coach George Karl‘s human victory cigar. I think of Eddie Johnson and Michael Cage, who I met at the Seafirst Jammin’ Hoops Camp, my first up-close experience with professional athletes. That was the Sonics team who, in 1993, took Charles Barkley and the Suns to Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. That was the team that made me a pro basketball fan.
Two days ago, I moved back to my hometown of Seattle after having lived in New York for more than two years. About 24 hours after I touched down, news came from the King Country courthouse that the Sonics were officially leaving, thanks to a settlement reached between the team and the city just before the judge was supposed to come back with a ruling in their lawsuit.
This morning, I’m not quite sure how I feel. Referencing some of the analogies I’ve heard from Sonics fans, I don’t feel like I’ve been dumped by a longtime girlfriend. I don’t feel like a family member died. I’m not heartbroken. And even if that means I’m being a bad fan, it’s just not that bad for me, and I can’t lie and say it is.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been able to work within the realm of pro sports that I’ve developed a callous to things like this. Maybe I was able to build up a shell because I saw this coming from the moment Howard Schultz sold the team to the Clay Bennett-led ownership group. Maybe it’s because I’ve already watched the Mariners almost leave and the Seahawks get to the point of literally loading a fleet of moving trucks headed for L.A. before last-second miracles saved both teams, that I figured we couldn’t get so lucky three times in a row. Maybe it’s because when I came home for a Christmas-time visit last year and sat in a damn-near empty and lifeless KeyArena watching the Sonics get destroyed by Chris Paul and the Hornets, I knew that that wasn’t the Sonics culture I’d grown up with. Maybe it’s all a matter of perspective.
As cynical as I learned to be in New York, at heart I’m still a Seattleite who inevitably looks for the silver lining in everything. In this case, in losing the Sonics, there are elements that make it not as devastating as it could have been. We’re losing a team whose front-office and management situation was deteriorating even before the intentional tank job led by Bennett’s people. We’re losing players who — aside from Blaine, Wash., native Luke Ridnour and instant sensation Kevin Durant, weren’t really “our” guys, at least not to the extent of Seattle staples like McMillan and Detlef Schrempf and Slick Watts and even Rashard Lewis. It looks like there’s a good chance we’ll get another NBA team to re-establish the Sonics’ name and colors while I’m relatively young, and if not, that $75 million buyout money from Bennett can maybe be used for something positive and more important than sports, like improving some of the poorer schools around here.
Personally, not having the Sonics doesn’t kill the NBA for me like it has for so many people in my city. Even if it wasn’t part of my job, I love watching basketball and will always have the playground, high school, college and NBA League Pass to follow my favorite players. I have my “other” favorite team, the Spurs, who I suppose I can adopt for the time being. (The Blazers are appealing, due to the fact that they’re the next-closest team, they have a number of Seattle-based guys like Brandon Roy, Martell Webster and Coach McMillan, not to mention they’re going to be REALLY good, but it seems weird to root for the rival right now.)
I don’t feel sorry for myself.
I feel sorry for my younger brother and my cousins, ranging from ages eight to 19, who just got their first lesson in how professional sports really works. I watched them become fans of the team and fans of the sport because of the Sonics, and I wonder if they’ll be as jaded as the rest of us even if another team dons the Sonics’ uniforms again.
I feel sorry for my Dad, who was seven years old when the Sonics played their first game and grew to know basketball through them.
I feel sorry for my friends, colleagues and mentors who work in the media covering the Sonics and what the move means for their future.
I feel sorry for the small-business owners who relied on the Sonics’ presence to survive.
I feel sorry for the season-ticket holders and families who made the Sonics an integral part of their lives and legacies.
When I was packing my things in the days before I left New York, I came across an old rally towel, one of those things they give away at games to fans coming through the door. This one was from 1996, commemorating the Western Conference championship team. Without really stopping to think about it, with my mind simply on compartmentalizing as much as possible preparing for the move, I threw the towel away.
Right now, I wish I would have kept it.