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Originally published April 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 14, 2008 at 10:49 AM

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Sonics' home finale stirs memories, recriminations

On Legends Drive, a KeyArena hallway dressed as a museum of Seattle SuperSonics history, Gary and Jackie Ayers of Edmonds were searching...

Seattle Times staff reporter

On Legends Drive, a KeyArena hallway dressed as a museum of Seattle SuperSonics history, Gary and Jackie Ayers of Edmonds were searching for the face of former Sonics guard Dick Snyder in a collection of framed and faded team photos that date back to 1967-68.

"It's like our whole married history on this wall," Gary Ayers said. The couple, who moved to Seattle around the time the Sonics started, will celebrate their 40th anniversary in June. "We've lived through these names. Remember Dick Snyder? I remember one game when after time expired, the officials called the players back from the locker room and he made an incredible shot to win the game."

Has time run out on the Sonics or is there a chance for one final shot?

The worst Sonics team in history in terms of wins and losses played its final home game of the season at KeyArena on Sunday night, defeating the Dallas Mavericks 99-95 by scoring the final 10 points. The wild finish not only sent the crowd into a frenzy, it kept their focus on basketball and away from the gloomy possibility that those may have been the final 10 points the Sonics ever score in Seattle.

Team owner Clay Bennett wants to move the Sonics to his hometown of Oklahoma City next year, and the NBA's Board of Governors is expected this week to approve the move. The city of Seattle is trying to stop Bennett, filing a federal lawsuit to force the Sonics to stay at KeyArena until their lease expires in 2010. Trial is scheduled for June.

The uncertainty was enough to squelch any official or unofficial commemoration Sunday night. The Save Our Sonics group, which has lobbied to keep the team in Seattle, planned nothing special. The group's official line is this was not the last Sonics home game ever, so to treat it as such would have been akin to giving up -- and giving in to Bennett. And fans don't appear ready to do that.

In Section 118, four friends dressed up in striped jail costumes, each holding a different sign: "OKC," "Bennett," "Stern," "$chultz."

"What's being done to Sonics fans is criminal and each one of these is to blame," said Peter White, 29, of Seattle, holding NBA Commissioner David Stern and former Sonics owner Howard Schultz as equally culpable.

With Sonics guard Earl Watson at the free-throw line with 29.7 seconds left in the first quarter, a chant of "Bennett sucks!" rocked the house. At the start of the second quarter, the first "Save Our Sonics" cheer of the night commenced.

But the fans saved their loudest "Save Our Sonics" for when there was no time left in the game. But check this out: The game really wasn't over. As the fans chanted, the referees consulted with the official timekeeper and put 1.4 seconds back on the clock.

After a missed Sonics free throw, the clock ticked to :00 yet again. But, alas, the officials said the Mavericks had called timeout with 1.1 seconds left.

Game not over. Not yet anyway.

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When the game finally ended, 26-year-old Ben Leong stood solo in row 19, holding up a homemade "Save Our Sonics" sign. The game was not over for Leong.

"It's intense, you know?" he said. "Our first franchise -- leaving."

On Saturday, Leong bowled 29 games at Sunset Bowl in Ballard until his fingers blistered to say goodbye to that cherished institution. Sunday, he may have said goodbye to another.

"I swear to God, I almost cried three times during this game," he said. "It's just so sad."

The arena on Sunday night was maybe three-quarters full, with ticket sales announced at 16,272 -- 800 shy of capacity. Fans stood and cheered loud and long when former Sonics star Gary Payton was introduced during the second quarter as a "special guest in the house." Fred Brown, captain of the 1978-79 NBA championship team, also attended the game, his face flashing on the scoreboard screen with 14.3 seconds left and the crowd already standing and screaming.

Brothers Chris and Reuben Atienza, who grew up in Edmonds, attended for what they hope was not the last time.

"The Sonics have been a bonding thing for us and my dad," said Reuben, 31. "It always has been. We'd watch a game together and then go outside and play basketball. It's the best ever."

Chris, 25, said he remembers going to a game in second grade, at the Kingdome, against the Lakers, and Ricky Pierce hit a game-winning shot with 1.4 seconds left.

"It's like my first memory," he said. "I don't remember anything else from that time, about school or anything. Just 1.4 seconds."

Put some time back on that clock.

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or seskenazi@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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