The Five Stages of Grief | Depression — losing team means misery
Sonics fans are bombarded by the misery of their play and planned departure.
Seattle Times staff columnist
The arena was quiet, the game over, and yet four painful minutes remained. Even worse, Donyell Marshall had decided to pretend he was a point guard.
The forward, once a quality NBA role player, led a fast break that ended with an errant pass off the rim. His turnover was actually one of the Sonics' better shot attempts on this night, as they scored a season-low 66 points.
Marshall wasn't done, however. Only seconds later, he tried to play Steve Nash again. This time, the 6-foot-10 Marshall took a dribble that bounced so high it nearly attacked his right ear.
I looked to my right and saw a fan with his head in his hands. The poor kid stayed that way for the next two minutes.
The Sonics aren't an NBA franchise anymore. They ceased being one in July 2006, when Howard Schultz allowed Clay Bennett to raid them. For the past 21 months, the Sonics have been a multimillion-dollar depressant, purposely so, delivering demoralizing low on top of demoralizing low to a proud basketball city.
The depressing part isn't just that this team is the worst in Sonics history. It isn't just that the owner is disingenuous. It isn't just that the franchise has one sneaker out the door, or that state lawmakers foolishly ignored Steve Ballmer, or that you can't watch a game without thinking about The End.
The depressing part is that all these things have converged at once, cornering every aspect of your NBA experience, wringing out most all of the joy.
There's no separating the dismay. There's no ignoring it, either. It's all in an unavoidable clump. And for faithful followers, it can be a health hazard.
"I've been through more medical situations this year than ever before," superfan Lorin "Big Lo" Sandretzky said. "I got the flu, pneumonia, a bladder infection. I've never been so sick. This Sonics situation has got me physically sick, as well as mentally sick."
Four years ago, while working in Orlando and watching the Magic suffer through a miserable season, I studied the effects a losing team can have on a city. It was quite revealing, and Dr. Herndon Harding, a Florida-based psychiatrist, explained to me how that same galvanizing spirit of enjoying a championship team can turn upside down for a city mired in losing.
Basically, Harding suggested, a stinker of a team can make an entire community miserable. Not just oh-we-lost-so-let's-sulk-for-a-few-hours miserable, but downright depressed. In Orlando's case, there was significant evidence to support his claim.
And Orlando didn't even have a moving van hanging over its head.
The difference is that Seattle has about seven more dire courses on its plate. The fan base keeps getting pelted with disappointing news.
Even the good days come with bad attached. After the Sonics received the luck of the No. 2 overall draft pick last May, Bennett began making biting remarks about relocation. On the day the Sonics used that pick to draft Kevin Durant, they traded Ray Allen, and later let Rashard Lewis drift away in free agency. And there went the hope of a competitive season.
For the long-term stability of the franchise, the Sonics needed to rebuild the roster. They were going nowhere with Allen and Lewis, and adding Durant meant there would be too much duplication among the three. When Bennett hired general manager Sam Presti, it was obvious he would try something different. His formula: Lose now, win later.
"One game, we look like we're completely out of it, like we might not win another game," Sonics guard Earl Watson said. "The next game, we spoil a potential playoff team."
Any other franchise could sell the hard times as a bridge to a spectacular future. For Seattle, however, rebuilding feels like the cruelest ending ever.
The games all resemble exhibitions, just an opportunity to develop young players. Most of the team's performances are between mediocre and terrible. Some are encouraging, but even that can be depressing. As you think of what the Sonics could be in the future, you sigh and remember you might never see the fruits of this struggle.
Big Lo remembers Bennett approaching him after a game about six weeks ago.
"Do you hate me yet?" Bennett asked him sheepishly.
"No," Big Lo said. "Why would I hate you, Clay? You're a businessman."
Big Lo directs his ire toward Schultz for selling the team to out-of-towners. Other fans wonder why local businessmen didn't consummate a deal to buy the Sonics from Schultz back then.
Every argument leads to a counterargument. Every bit of hope gets squashed by reality. Shovel through the angst, and there's only more angst.
Brian Robinson, the co-founder of Save Our Sonics, has often mentioned the challenge of rallying a beaten-down fan base. Resignation starts to settle. The group keeps imploring people to keep the faith, but it's almost impossible.
Right now, the best hope to retain the Sonics involves the city winning its battle with Bennett over the KeyArena lease, which doesn't expire until 2010. Optimists say it buys this community two more years for a miracle comeback. Pessimists say it means two more years like this one, with a lame-duck team planning for a future Seattle will never experience.
It's not often that a team manages two polar lows in the same season: Allow 168 points in one game, score only 66 in another.
Please, no more.
But wait: Life would be so empty without the Sonics.
With all the controversy, it gets increasingly difficult to recall the joy. The mental struggle continues.
"It's going to be one hell of a tug-of-war if they grant them permission to leave," said Big Lo, who is 6 feet 8 and weighs more than 400 pounds, "because I'm going to be pulling on that bus."
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.