“I’m peaking … It’s my time now. It’s our time. … We’re coming out! Guns blazing!”
– Al Pacino, Devil’s Advocate
Lucifer’s soliloquy doubles as the mantra for the avid sports hater during championship competition.
Anybody with an acquired distaste for a particular athlete, team, coach, owner, media member, fan base, school or city – even an entire sport itself – should be hitting their peak form when a title is on the line and the rest of the world is watching.
You want to deliver boxing’s eulogy? You don’t do it during ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights.” You save it for a Mayweather or Pacquiao pay-per-view. You want to shred to pieces the idea that Eli is better than Peyton? Do it during Super Bowl Week, not preseason or the Pro Bowl.
This year’s NBA Finals are a hater’s playground, and of course the top targets are LeBron James and the Miami Heat. The columnists, analysts, morning-after experts and Twitter psychologists who have been picking apart the league’s best player and his team – some with a surgical precision that is admirable, others with the skill of a fifth-grader hacking into a dead frog – see the Finals as the stage to bring their sharpest blades.
The rest of us can wade through that bloodshed to take our shots at everybody from Russell Westbrook and Chris Bosh to Derek Fisher and Mike Miller. Bench players, announcers, wives, fans, national anthem singers … nobody is safe.
Me? I belong to the group that is committed to hating the Oklahoma City Thunder and everything they have to do with.
The relationship between Seattle – where I was born, raised and still reside – and its former NBA team is understandably complicated.
Some people here still root for the Thunder as if they never swapped green and gold for blue and orange. Some root only for the Thunder players and coaches that used to work for the Seattle Supersonics. Some root for all of the Thunder players, and have learned to separate the team from the organization. Some are rooting against LeBron and the Heat so faithfully that they’re temporarily, begrudgingly rooting for the Thunder.
But speaking on behalf of thousands of people I don’t know, my observational skills tell me that popular opinion out here is that we’d prefer Kevin Durant not lead the Thunder to an NBA title.
They don’t have to be the worst team in the league, not even a perennial lottery squad; just not The Champs.
And it’s not because anybody here truly hates Durant or his teammates – we understand that the players had nothing to do with the franchise being whisked out of the city in 2008 – but because the image of local villain OKC owner Clay Bennett and his henchman Aubrey McClendon getting their sticky fingers on that big gold trophy makes a lot of us sick.
And yet one of the (many) unfortunate elements is that for a knowledgeable basketball fan base like Seattle, the Thunder would – under any other circumstance, with any other backstory – be a team we’d love to watch.
Durant’s scoring ability harkens memories of Ray Allen mixed with Dale Ellis mixed with Spencer Haywood mixed with Tom Chambers.
Russell Westbrook’s bravado and tenacity at point guard has shades of Gary Payton.
James Harden’s unpredictable offensive fireworks bring to mind Hersey Hawkins, Sam Perkins and “Downtown” Freddie Brown.
Thabo Sefolosha’s understated perimeter defense would make those who grew up watching Slick Watts and Nate McMillan catch a flashback.
Serge Ibaka’s energy, athleticism and knack for above-the-rim highlights aren’t too far removed from what we saw during Shawn Kemp’s reign in Seattle.
Now if only those guys played for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Or the Washington Wizards. Hell, even the Portland Trail Blazers. We could get behind that.
But it’s just too hard for a lot of Seattleites to get behind this.
Even if we saw Durant and Nick Collison in Sonics uniforms once upon a time … even if Westbrook and Ibaka once wore Seattle draft caps … even if the Thunder might be the nicest collection of players in the NBA … this city that loves to root for nice guys who win ballgames has majority-ruled that we can’t root for these guys like they’re our guys.
So there I was, as the closing seconds of OKC’s series-clinching Game 6 of the Western Conference finals drained from the clock like a New Year’s Eve countdown to my own basketball nightmare, when my sister texted me:
“Do you feel like this could’ve/should’ve been the Sonics?”