NBA / Jul 3, 2008 / 12:00 pm

Go Team Go

Gary PaytonGary Payton, the greatest Seattle Supersonic of all-time.

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.

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  • srb

    detlef was the illest

  • http://vendingsystems.com TBone

    Well written Austin. Well played.

  • Celts Fan, “Kobe, Tell me how my @$$ tastes”

    The Glove was THE MAN. Welcome home Austin, wish there was still a team there for you man…

  • yallallreadyknow

    stop ya crying…
    …who didnt see this coming?

    charlotte lost the hornets and gained the bobcats in less than 5yrs

  • yallallreadyknow

    and celts

    get tha ‘kobe, tell me how my @$$ taste’ tagline outta here.
    that nonesense was last week. its too old for you to still be using.
    get something new

  • DaPro

    Good article AB. I’d be pissed for a number of reasons.

    It’s like being robbed in broad daylight during rush hour and everyone can see what’s happening but no one has the balls to do anything

  • Celts Fan, “Kobe, Tell me how my @$$ tastes”

    relax yall. I don’t pay attention to my name every day, bu since you like it so much, it’s staying

  • Sam I Am

    Sucks to be in the rainy capital known as Seattle

  • http://myspace.com/bigfreeze101 Big Freeze

    Yeah man, eating a sausage and egg sandwich before bed time will fuck your dreams up. I noticed anytime I eat right before bed I have the sickest dreams.

    That sucks about the Sonics though. Maybe Seattle will inherit the next NBA team to move…

  • yallallreadyknow

    i liked the sonics; especially the kemp years.
    but that town demoralized players…

    didnt kendall gill and vin baker suffer heavy depression when playing in seattle?

    in fact…they both had every ‘press':
    depressed, repressed, oppressed, supressed….

  • Sam I Am

    when they brought back those ugly jerseys with the Big S in green and yellow…u knew it was a wrap…

    The ones with the Needle in green and red was awesome

  • http://www.myspace.com/carli_borikua4life daquest?on

    well at least u had a team, i grew up not having an nba team and i became a fan with a foreign team, be glad u actually got to see an nba game in person because there are a lot of people like me who are die hard fans who havent

  • http://myspace.com/bigfreeze101 Big Freeze

    lol at post 10

  • Desrat

    Austin,

    Well said, thank you. I will miss the Sonics, and I am very angry that a good ol’ boy system of rich men like Bennett and Stern can force a leave like that. I am proud of Seattle for not succumbing into the bullying, proud that our city would put poorly funded schools at a higher priority than a basketball team. I am proud that our city refused to dedicate money to the circus maximus instead of tending to the needs of the people of Seattle and washington. Mostly I am proud that in one of the few states in our nation that has been operating in the black for so many years that we refused to use the taxes generated by the poor and middle class to subsidise a rich out-of-towner getting richer.

    My son is one. My daughter is six. I will miss taking them to games. I will miss the commrodery, the instant community, of sitting with total strangers and saying, “For tonight we have these green colors in common, for tonight we are strong standing as one. For tonight I do not care if you vote the other side of the Aisle. For tonight I care more about our common interests than any possible differences.”

    I wish the players in the Sonic organazation the best of luck. I hope that the citizens in OKC get as much out of the club as we have. I hope that Bennett loses his ass on the club, and that we have a chance to bring some of these players back to Seattle when we get a team and they are ready to resign.

    R.I.P Sonics

  • D

    AB are you staying with Dime despite the move? You leaving would the true loss.

  • mikenobes

    I can’t lie, it stinks losing them team. I just moved here not too long ago and the Sonics were the first team that I actually attend my first nba game(Lost to the Magic. Even J.J. Reddick got in the game to knock down a 3.) I cringe at the precedent set. If you are rich, you can blatantly break the law and still get what you want.

    Feel bad for the true Sonics fans but hopefully a team will move here or the league will expand in 5 years.

    We’ll see

  • hahns

    “charlotte lost the hornets and gained the bobcats in less than 5yrs”

    haha was that suppose to make seattle fans feel better?? charlotte is a dleague team.

  • Remy N

    Not only does this hurt Seattle, it hurts us too.

    Don’t tell me you never cheered for Sonics!

  • D

    I agree. I think we all knew this was coming. I’m not a Seattle native, nor have I ever even been there. But I can relate in some ways. The Kings potential move always concerns me some. Do I root for them wherever they go? Do I adopt the Warriors (shudder) as my team if they do go? But the older you get, the more jaded you get. The almighty dollar rules. And seeing the Sonics move cities wasn’t really a surprise. We saw it coming. It wasn’t a side-swipe, it wasn’t a sucker-punch (well mostly not a sucker-punch). For every good fan they had, there were thousands who could have cared less. And that goes for every town. And when losing starts to be come your culture? well what incentive do you have to go to the games anymore.

    I liken it to being a kid with a bunch of toys. you have your favorite toys, and then there’s the ones you don’t quite care about as much as the others. But when some other kid comes in and wants to take that toy? suddenly it’s the toy you care the most about and you’ll do anything to get that toy back or replace that toy (see Charlotte). It’s sad. I never liked the Sonics, but I’ve always related the Sonics to Seattle. And it will be weird if the Sonics are never again. As a fan of the NBA as a whole, it is sad in many respects, but nevertheless, we grow accustomed to this sort of thing. And with each one, the callousonly grows thicker.

  • steven

    AB, don’t fight it- BLAZERS! All day;everyday. Besides Portland’s a nice place to visit & it rains almost as damn much.

  • http://www.myspace.com/carli_borikua4life daquest?on

    @hans the sonics were worse than the bobcats

  • http://www.dimemag.com Austin Burton

    @D (#15) — I’m still working for Dime, just doing it from home.

  • yoda

    meh, i’m a laker fan, but i’m sad that sonics are leaving seattle. kemp/gp was my favorite duo for a long time.
    btw, for some reason, when someone mentions sonics, i always think of hersey hawkins, don’t know why :S

  • http://dimemag.com Austin Burton

    I remember Hersey raining a bunch of corner threes and being diesel for an older guy. I can see him being one of those guys who’s still in shape and busting kids’ asses at the gym.

  • VQ

    I totally understand the feeling Seattle fans. I feel you for you. I was there with that shithead George Shinn took my Hornets away from me 6 years ago. Even though we got the Bobcats its not the same. Nothing beat the feeling of going to the Hive to watch my Hornets. Now the Hive is not even there anymore, its a clump of dirty and the parking lot has tall grass and weeds all over it. You can see it outside the airplane window when you land at Charlotte Douglas Intl. It sucks and Im sorry to hear about your loss.

  • Luigi

    dem Sonics were sick. especially GP to Reign Man. those were fun in the 90’s.

    i mean i traveled to Seattle to see my cousin one day n i went to one of their games to see Kevin D. n srry but it had no atmosphere whatsoever. no emotion. but i guess thats how regular season games there go but it was only one game n i wudnt know how it really went in the 90’s

    well i hope you get ur team back like the Browns did. but the Browns team now was never the same and when you get your sonics team back. it will nvr be the same.

  • Celts Fan, “Kobe, Tell me how my @$$ tastes”

    It may be Luigi, but just like with the Browns, it’ll take a whole new generation of players for the team to be the same. Anyone connected w/ this Seattle team will have to be retired and this team will have to emerge into contention for it to be the same, I’m sure…

  • sans

    Austin, I know how you feel man. I’m Cleveland through and through, and losing the Browns was devastating. Seriously, I started rooting for the Steelers (whom everyone despises in C-Town) because the Rooney’s were the only owners in football that stood up and said that what Art Modell was doing was fd up. I just wish someone had the balls to do that for your team. Peace.

  • !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Sports are all about $$$$. Greed is out of control!

  • Sonics RIP

    Welcome home AB!

    What’d you think of that lightning storm last night?

    A fitting ending to a dark day in the Emerald City.

    Hold your heads, Seattle ballers

  • Sushi

    I grew to love basketball because of the Sonics of the 90’s, I will always love the game, but until that greedy S.O.B. David Stern is out of power, the NBA is dead to me. It’s not just because we lost the Supes, it’s because of how he handled the entire process, looking down on us, the average sports fan. He’s the reason why the NBA has fallen off in popularity, not the players. It’s him and the rest of the league office trying to bleed every single penny out of the “product” that they can. It’s disgraceful, it’s a sham…it’s just plain sickening. Welcome home, Austin.

  • HBooyah

    As a fan from British Columbia, this totally sucks – even though yes, I did know it was coming. First Heisley lies and gets ownership of the Grizzlies and moves . . . now the Sonics. Who’s a fan in Western Canada supposed to cheer for now?

    Seattle won’t get another team until they get a new arena; the NBA knows it’ll just be the same argument all over again for new owners unfortunately.

    Humbug.

  • sunni

    reign man is a top3 dunker of all time..no-one throws down like that on a regular basis

  • AB_40

    wouldn’t it be ironic if okc’s D leauge team would be instated in seatle. oh I’ma get in trouble for this suggestion haha

  • http://nbaroundtable.wordpress.com/ Dave

    It’s a terrible thing and it never should have happened

  • nowwhatyo

    no more kevin calabro? i feel sick…

  • sammy

    WOW. he is a humor guy,many friends like to chat with him online on tall dating site ___Tallmingle.com___,He often told us some funny jokes. Seems he is famous on that site,especially some hot models talk with him positively.

  • monina

    Well written, AB. What a way to get welcomed back home, huh? I may still have my Sonics rally towel; you can have it if I find it. The guys who compared it to the Browns leaving Cleveland are correct — and look where the Browns are now! 5 primetime games in 2008? Who ever would have imagined that when the Browns returned to Cleveland in 1999? If Seattle gets another team, the same thing could happen to them — even if it takes 10 years. But at least we still have “Nate McMillan” to help us hold on to the memories! ;-)

  • word

    damn, payton g.o.a.t.

    he waited a hot minute before getting a ring, but i think that makes you more respected, cuz u’ve been grinding it out so long and hard
    add kg, pp, and ray allen into there

    too bad AI will never get there… smh.. wtf happened to him he used to be ILL

  • tealish

    word: AI is still “ill”. It’s just that his teammates, in particular – Carmelo, are not as sick as advertised. On paper, they look like they’ve got a 120 degree fever. But really, they’re just suffering from an extremely mild case of the flu. Meanwhile, AI is just illing it out solo.

  • S-SiN

    at least let seattle keep the SONICS name there, know what i’m sayin? ask someone in NO what they think of all that jazz in the state of utah..
    i miss seeing gp jaw it out..

  • S-SiN

    and by the way vin baker shouldn’t even be mentioned around here. talkin bout he was depressed! that dude was softer than a keith sweat record, don’t u know he hated and still HATES basketball, and what was that shit with sucking on a thumb about?
    then, i honestly don’t get how the fuck anyone has a nerve to question A.I. and shit.. he gon be ill when he 65 years old

  • Imperial-Mel

    Who do you all think the top 10 Sonics players of all time, by position!?