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

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Steve Kelley

Losing the magical little moments the Sonics provided will hurt most

These are the small moments, memories like precious stones, that are part of the wonder of having a pro sports franchise in town. Every Sonics fan remembers the deciding game of the 1979 Finals on the road against the Washington Bullets. Every fan remembers Game No. 7 of the 1996 Western Conference finals, when Shawn Kemp and Karl Malone waged their epic battle and Seattle beat Utah. But true fans remember even smaller moments that become part of the bond between the city and its team.

Seattle Times staff columnist

A freak snowstorm had hit Seattle.

Schools were closed. Businesses were closed. Streets were closed. It felt like a holiday.

Queen Anne Avenue resembled something from the Winter X Games. People skied and snowboarded down the Counter Balance. They rode mattresses, garbage-can lids, bikes, tires, toboggans, anything that would slide along the white, icy street.

All day long, there was a party at the top of the hill. And at night, there was a party at the bottom of the hill.

It was Dec. 18, 1990, and the Sonics had a home game against the Orlando Magic.

I remember lightning flashing and thunder rumbling as I slip-slided down the hill toward the Coliseum, which was lit up like a ski lodge at Sun Valley.

It was a surreal and beautiful night.

These are the small moments, memories like precious stones, that are part of the wonder of having a pro sports franchise in town.

Every Sonics fan remembers the deciding game of the 1979 Finals on the road against the Washington Bullets. Every fan remembers Game No. 7 of the 1996 Western Conference finals, when Shawn Kemp and Karl Malone waged their epic battle, with Seattle beating Utah.

But true fans remember even smaller moments that become part of the bond between the city and its team.

I remember the Orlando players mushing from their bus into the Coliseum on that cold December night. It had taken them 45 minutes to get across town. But at least they were there.

At game time only a handful of Sonics had arrived and Magic coach Matt Guokas was furious when officials decided to postpone the start an hour.

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More than 10,000 tickets were sold, but only 1,568 people were in the stands. Sonics officials invited everyone to move down courtside and there was a shared intimacy, a sense of community in the building.

When the game finally started, Sonics coach K.C. Jones still was stuck somewhere on Interstate 90 and in his absence Bob Kloppenberg, the assistant coach and defensive guru, ran the team.

Kloppy had a lot of help.

Every time he called a defensive signal, the fans called it with him. And every time he yelled, "Switch," the chant started, "Switch, switch, switch."

By the time Jones arrived in the second quarter, the Sonics had a big lead. After the game he said it had taken him four hours to get into town from his Issaquah home.

Helplessly sitting in traffic, he listened to the game on the radio.

"K.C. is out there somewhere," broadcaster Kevin Calabro said. And Jones laughed painfully.

Sonics guard Dale Ellis, who had to rely on a limousine service after losing his license because of a DUI conviction, didn't get to the game until the third quarter.

He was greeted with a derisive "What-took-you-so-long?" cheer and played only three minutes.

Hecklers had a dream night because every voice could be heard, and every fan believed he or she was a comedian. Some of the players carried on conversations with this intimate group of fans. Some even laughed at the jokes.

At times it felt more like an office Christmas party than an NBA game.

The Sonics won 122-105, but I had to look that up. What I really remember is the fun inside the arena. The game became an extension of the daylong party on Queen Anne Hill.

Seattle lost a team last week. There might never again be wondrous little moments like that night against the Magic, and that is what saddens me the most.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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