While the NBA’s grand old gatekeepers take their time weighing the option of keeping the Sacramento Kings in California’s capital versus relocating the franchise to Seattle, the strongest reason for my pro-Emerald City optimism is that the league ultimately will not escape Seattle’s presence.
Like a ghost unable to stay hidden in a closet of skeletons, the Sonics – the team taken from its home in 2008 and moved to Oklahoma City – will haunt the league until that particular wrong is righted. And while I can envision Sacramento joining the likes of Buffalo, Vancouver and Fort Wayne in the pro basketball history books, I cannot envision the NBA in 10 years without a Seattle franchise.
The latest reminder of the Sonics’ omnipresent legacy was issued this week, with the news that Gary Payton has been voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Growing up in Seattle during the prime of Payton’s career, my biases say he is the greatest Sonic of all time. But even if I were objective, that wouldn’t be a bold statement.
Payton reigns as the franchise’s career leader in at least 10 major categories, including points, assists and steals. Alongside Shawn Kemp he spearheaded the last great Seattle teams, peaking at an NBA Finals appearance in 1996 and surrounded by a handful of 50- and 60-win seasons. Payton was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year in ’96; he made nine All-Star teams, nine All-Defensive Teams and nine All-NBA teams with the Sonics; and he played on the ’96 and 2000 U.S. Olympic gold-medal squads.
The numbers – including his key role on the Miami Heat’s 2006 NBA championship team – certainly say GP is a Hall of Famer.
And yet ironically, in this stat-obsessed basketball culture, I do not remember one standout stat line belonging to my favorite player. For Tim Duncan, I won’t forget his 21-point, 20-rebound, 10-assist, 8-block effort in Game Six of the 2003 Finals. For Tracy McGrady, it’s 13 points in 33 seconds. For Allen Iverson, 31.1 points per game during his 2001 MVP campaign. For Reggie Miller, 25 points in the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. For Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, it’s the 38,387 career points that rank No. 1 in league history. For LeBron James, it’s the all-around brilliance of 36 (and counting) triple-doubles.