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Originally published Thursday, July 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Jerry Brewer

Sonics fans need to keep telling their favorite stories

He can move the franchise. He can try to share the history. But he cannot take your memories. He cannot travel back in time and steal your emotions. They are not for sale, and no matter what, the legend of the Sonics will live as long as people are willing to distribute the narrative.

Seattle Times staff columnist

These eyes never saw a live, meaningful Sonics game. They saw the end of Danny Fortson. They saw the Mickael Gelabale point-guard experiment. They saw Robert Swift's knee tear and Luke Ridnour's confidence dissolve and Donyell Marshall's jersey malfunction while pulling off his warmups.

There are good memories, and then there are ones that should only be revisited while swigging whiskey. Fortunately, the Sonics weren't always a drunken franchise.

So, in this section of memories, please allow a Seattle transplant to explain how he came to understand the Sonics.

It happened in the most classic manner, through stories passed from legends to pupil. The lessons came from everywhere and everyone: Lenny Wilkens, Slick Watts, Sam Perkins, Spencer Haywood, Kevin Calabro, even KeyArena ticket collector Bob Wolf. And, of course, all of you fans who wrote to share stirring tales of hoops and fellowship.

A tradition comes in three parts. First comes the builders, then the innovators and finally the maintenance crew. Through the years, you hope the tales of each travel from group to group, creating a standard, inspiring the next generation to sweat to sustain it. Ultimately, they're all servants to the city whose name is stretched across their jerseys.

"People have to remember this is their team," former Sonic Ray Allen once said. "We're the players, and right now we're in the driver's seat. But we'll move on, retire, get traded, whatever. The one constant is it's their team."

Your team. Not Clay Bennett's. Yours.

He can move the franchise. He can try to share the history. But he cannot take your memories. He cannot travel back in time and steal your emotions. They are not for sale, and no matter what, the legend of the Sonics will live as long as people are willing to distribute the narrative.

I learned Howard Schultz sold the Sonics to Bennett's group two days after I accepted this sports columnist job. For a basketball nut, it was awful news. Upon arriving a month later, I found myself immersed in Sonics lore.

At a coffee shop on the Eastside, Wilkens took me back to the early days and then to the 1979 championship year. Twenty-thousand people waited for the Sonics when they arrived at Sea-Tac Airport after winning the title. Wilkens described it as a feeling so warm "you never want it to leave."

At an event two years ago appreciating Sonics legends, Slick Watts talked of crying the first time the crowd chanted his name. Xavier McDaniel, who played for five teams in his 12-year career, spoke of how everyone remembers him as a Sonics player.

"I guess I'm a Seattleite forever," he said, smiling.

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Old Sonics can't get enough of being Sonics. They stick around after their playing days are over. Or they come back often. This is truly a basketball community.

But nothing is more inspirational than the tales of the common man. For me, reflecting on the Sonics would be wrong without mentioning 73-year-old Bob Wolf, who has worked at Seattle Center since the Sonics' inaugural season in 1967.

More than just stories, Wolf reminds us all to cherish what makes you happy for as long as it lasts. He didn't work in KeyArena for the money. He made $1.67 an hour when he started. Most recently, he made about $10 per hour, which comes to about $40 a game. He worked for joy, to meet new people, to stay young.

The job was his outlet "to socialize and get paid for it." Now, he's at a crossroads. The Sonics are gone. The Thunderbirds, the other games he liked working, will be out soon, too. What's a guy to do to socialize?

It's a question many of you are asking right now. My best advice: Keep talking Sonics, even though there's no longer a basketball bouncing in the background.

Share the memories, so they will never die. There's Shawn Kemp double-pumping and reverse-dunking over Kenny Walker again. There's Gary Payton snarling again. There's Fred Brown shooting from deep again.

Can you see them? Those memories last forever. Those memories are yours.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports. Also check out Jerry's Extra Points blog, where he talks with readers about his columns.
jbrewer@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2277

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