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Originally published Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Sonics' exit hits home in Beijing

Watching the U.S. men's basketball team, which may be the best of its kind since the original Dream Team, the reality of what every Seattle NBA fan is going to miss next season materializes. The loss feels more personal than ever.

Seattle Times staff columnist

BEIJING — Half a world away, this is where the loss starts feeling like a sucker punch.

Watching the U.S. men's basketball team, which may be the best of its kind since the original Dream Team, the reality of what every Seattle NBA fan is going to miss next season materializes. The loss feels more personal than ever.

Kobe Bryant won't be coming to town next season, neither will LeBron James. Ditto Dwyane Wade.

This is the emptiness fans will feel in November.

The next great generation of players like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Chris Bosh and Deron Williams may never play another game in Seattle.

The sense of sadness I've felt watching Team USA through its first two games surprised me.

The NBA has gone to Oklahoma City. This is what we're missing:

Wade's crossover dribbles, practically breaking the ankles of Angolan guard Armando Costa, then a no-look pass to Howard for a dunk. James volleyball-kills a jump hook from Joaquim Gomes.

Those plays are gone to OKC. And watching this team on a Tuesday night in China is a nasty reminder of the games that will be missed in Seattle.

"It's sad to see a franchise that has had so much tradition and success just disappear as if it was some expansion team," said Nate McMillan, in the hallway outside of the Americans' locker room after their 97-76 dismantling of Angola.

McMillan is Team USA's assistant coach. He's also the coach of the Portland Trail Blazers and one of the most recognizable names in Sonics history. His retired No. 10 still hangs from the rafters at KeyArena.

"To have that happen to a team like that with the tradition that Seattle has... it's still strange to know that I won't go to Seattle to play this season," he said. "It's not right. I think the city deserves a team."

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But let's be honest. Chris Paul could be long-retired before another team relocates to Seattle. There are no guarantees that Memphis or New Orleans or some other struggling team will come to town, even if KeyArena is remodeled.

"Look, I know it's a business," McMillan said. "And I started thinking the move was going to happen when the team first was sold to an owner who wasn't from there. I was hoping that it wouldn't, but I felt like it would."

It is clear where McMillan's heart is. His family lives in Seattle. He made his reputation in Seattle. He is part of Sonics history, and he doesn't want that history traveling to the Southwest.

McMillan said he has no intention of allowing owner Clay Bennett and his boys to rehang his uniform in OKC.

"I never played in Oklahoma City," he said. "I spent my whole career in Seattle, you know. I just don't see that happening. And that's fine with me."

McMillan is inviting all Seattle fans to switch allegiances to his Blazers. In many respects they are Seattle's team. Paul Allen, the owner, is from Seattle. Brandon Roy and Martell Webster are both products of Seattle's hoop system.

"I don't think we want to come in there and try to just step over the Sonics and what they've done. But I'm saying to Seattle, 'Come on down,' " said McMillan, who will be starting his fourth season in Portland. "The whole plan when I went down there was to rebuild the Trail Blazers, and now we're starting to see the future of that organization.

"I just think the style of basketball that we're going to bring to the floor, it will grab some fans from the Northwest. We've got good guys. We've got a good group of players, and a lot of our guys are familiar to people in Seattle. My approach will be, as it's always been, 'Play the game the right way and play hard.' And we'd love to share it and grab the fans of Seattle."

Thinking Sonics in Beijing. The loss can hit you in the strangest places.

Steve Kelley: 20skelley@seattletimes.com. Read his blog at www.seattletimes.com/Olympics

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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