Sonics still here, but the joy has left town
At Sonics games these days, it's the cops who suggest where the real action is. Two dozen Seattle police officers stand warily around the...
Seattle Times staff columnist
At Sonics games these days, it's the cops who suggest where the real action is.
Two dozen Seattle police officers stand warily around the KeyArena court, eyeing not the aimless games but the crowd."They're worried that fans are going to storm the court," an usher told me during Sunday's loss to Sacramento. "Does it feel to you like anyone here is about to do any storming?"
It felt like a hospital waiting room when you know the patient is terminal. You sit there hushed. Not much to do but figure out how to say goodbye.
It's over for the Sonics in Seattle. Everybody knows it. It's likely there are only four home games left for this city's longest-lived, and greatest, pro sports franchise.
So I went to one last game. My heart wasn't much in it. I was there ... why, exactly? I guess to pay my respects.
Others are doing the same. Rafael Calonzo, a 36-year-old digital artist, spoke of Sunday's game as if it were a wake.
He first saw the Sonics in 1974, when he was 2. He was a 7-year-old dreamer in Maple Valley when the Sonics won it all in '79.
"That was like a religious experience for me," he says. "But this — it's agonizing. I don't know why I come, why I'm subjecting myself to it, except out of some feeling of obligation. Or nostalgia."
There are lots like him. People who come to stand vigil at KeyArena but can't explain why. Maybe they fell for Slick Watts when they were kids. Or they remember when the Sonics were all Seattle had.
I had a flashback of my own as I sat in the half-empty upper bowl. Here I saw one of the epic dunks in basketball history.
It was in a 1992 playoff game with Golden State. Forward Shawn Kemp caught a pass far out on the court and barreled in, though three defenders blocked his way. He eluded two, then leaped from 10 feet away, preposterously seeking to scale a 7-footer named Alton Lister.
Swinging the ball like a hammer he tomahawked it in over Lister, sending the 250-pound center sprawling.
It was naked athleticism and showmanship. Kemp loved the dunk so much he named it the "Lister Blister." It haunts Lister to this day. The guy had an 18-year NBA career, but if you Google him, two of the first four items are videos of that dunk.
What I recall most, though, was the primal, communal joy. Grown men howled, then hopped around like fools. This paper described the atmosphere as a "fantasyland."
Sure, that's childish. It's the mirage of sports. You get to feel like kids again, together.
And that's what is going to hurt about losing the Sonics.
On the one hand, some city had to stand up to the NBA's extortionist ways. I'm proud it was us. Seeing a game at the perfectly fine KeyArena reminded me how outrageous it is that the NBA has blackmailed us for more. Saying no was definitely the sober, the sane, the adult thing to do.
But what of Seattle's inner kid?
You won't find it at the Key anymore. It's adults watching other adults listlessly engaged in bizutainment. The naive joy is gone. About all that's left now is for the team that grew up with Seattle to follow.
Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
email@example.com | 206-464-2086
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.