Mission impossible: Enjoying NBA in angry Seattle
With the NBA gone to Oklahoma City and sports fans still seething over that departure, it isn't easy following pro basketball.
Seattle Times staff columnist
The mission: To enjoy the NBA playoffs.
The problem: That #&!@%&*!! league plundered us less than a year ago.
The conclusion: If bitterness is an acquired taste, Seattle will be having seconds. With a little indifference on the side.
It has been a pretty stellar playoffs in the League You Used To Care About. Boston and Chicago staged one of the all-time great playoff series, complete with seven overtime periods in seven games. Houston pushed the Los Angeles Lakers to the brink without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. LeBron James turned superhuman, Aaron Brooks became a star, and Mark Cuban dissed Kenyon Martin's mama.
And if we're lucky — or if the referees blow their whistles in favor of the right teams — this memorable postseason will end with the most fascinating matchup since Magic and MJ met 18 years ago: Kobe versus LeBron.
Somewhere, David Stern is giving a toast. Unfortunately, Clay Bennett is probably in the room with his glass in the air, too.
There's no escaping the resentment of losing the Sonics, which has led to some awkwardness for hoop heads like myself. As Seattle stews, the game moves on without us, and if you love basketball, here's the question: Does your love of the game outweigh your hatred for the crime of the Sonics' theft?
During the long, sometimes boring regular season, it was easy to suppress the disappointment. Now that the playoffs are putting the NBA in your face every day, the raw feelings have resurfaced. Over the past month, I've experienced them — anger, bitterness and indifference mostly — because my basketball jones has me frequenting sports bars to watch the NBA.
It has been quite interesting to observe. But here's the gist of how quickly the NBA has devolved from a focal point to an afterthought: Last month, on the first Saturday of the playoffs, one bar replaced the game with UFC 97.
"Can we get one of these TVs turned back to the NBA game?" I asked.
"What for?" another patron wondered. "UFC is way more exciting. The Sonics are gone, man. Deal with it."
I went to the next bar, and it was only showing the Sounders FC game. I went to a third bar, and it refused to switch from the Mariners' game. I went to a fourth bar, and the bartender put the NBA on one television in the corner, in a spot where I could barely see it. So I watched the Sounders FC and Mariners on the big screens and peeked at the NBA on my way to the bathroom.
It's impossible to live in Seattle and enjoy the NBA without feeling a little strange. Or maybe even guilty. We all knew the healing process would be long and trying, but even with those dire predictions, we likely underestimated the impact.
"I think the majority of the fans were Sonics fans, not necessarily fans of pro basketball," said Francis Williams, a former coach, a local hoops expert and a fan of all levels of basketball. "So, for them, there's no place to go, really. They're out of the NBA altogether. The Sonics fan base is not going to jump on the Portland Trail Blazers bandwagon anytime soon. They're not going to follow another team. They're just done. There are a lot of people that are very bitter. They're bitter toward the Oklahoma City ownership group and toward the league because it sat back and let it happen. It will be hard for them to get rid of that bitterness and resentment."
I asked Williams if, as a fellow hoop head, he ever gets upset that locals refuse to appreciate the NBA because of what happened to the Sonics.
"How people choose to deal with that is kind of up to them," he said. "But being bitter and having a lot of resentment isn't going to change anything.
"I don't think the NBA will be back, probably ever, and if it does return, it won't be soon."
Not after the latest KeyArena renovation plan flopped before the state Legislature. So we're left, divided and conquered, awkward and bitter, sneaking in our basketball fix or raging for everyone to stop caring.
Not even Kobe versus LeBron can save us.
Game 3 of the Lakers-Nuggets series is Saturday, but I'll stay home. Don't want to be disappointed. UFC 98 is also on that day.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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