One Sonic fan's Thunderous quandary
A Sonic fan shares his feelings about the Thunder and his beloved Sonics as Oklahoma City opens the NBA Finals at home against the Miami Heat.
On Wednesday night, I was sitting on my roommate’s awesome couch, watching EJ, Shaq, Kenny and Chuck, staring out into nothingness.
I know what just happened: The Oklahoma City Thunder came back from a 15-point halftime deficit to eliminate the San Antonio Spurs, 107-99. Kendrick Perkins fired the final nail into the Spurs coffin with a thunderous dunk. Kevin Durant hugged his mama before the game ended. An arena full of people, all with different backgrounds, were going crazy over a team full of people younger than I exceeding reasonable expectations and forcing a team full of grizzled veterans to lose four consecutive games after winning their previous 20.
Then it happened. As Kenny Smith was talking about how this team was only the 15th team in NBA history to come back from a 2-0 series deficit to win a series, one of the two most hated people in Seattle sports history appeared, on screen, in his Oklahoma City Thunder T-shirt (put on over a classy, button down shirt) and lifted the Western Conference Championship trophy over his head, as if he had solely earned the honor of going to the NBA Finals.
That man, Clay Bennett, would later get the first word in addressing his people at Chesapeake Energy Arena as well as a national audience over on TNT while a legion of jilted Seattle SuperSonics fans simultaneously dry heaved at various locations up and down the Puget Sound.
I am but one 28-year old basketball fan who grew up watching my Sonics, with their energetic brand of basketball under the direction of Bernie Bickerstaff, K.C. Jones, George Karl and Nate McMillan, seemingly make the playoffs every year but somehow underachieve at the same time. (somehow history forgot they were the SuperSonics. I guess when you don’t win a title in 20-plus years, people forget you’re super anything) If they didn’t make the playoffs, our ears were tuned to the dulcet tones of Kevin Calabro and Marques Johnson, two announcers who blended the right amount of homerism and reverence for the game they were covering. I remember Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp showing the world how to throw and catch alley-oops. I remember Detlef Schrempf, a University of Washington product, knowing his role as a catch-and-shoot three-point option. I remember Sam Perkins, a man once described by local radio shows as “the dude who always looks high,” never letting the pressure get to him when he had the ball 24 feet away from the basket, rising up, and canning a clutch jumper. The local prog-rock band (The Presidents of the United States of America) even wrote a song dedicated to this team during their 1996 NBA Finals run, when they had the unenviable task of going against the 72-10 Chicago Bulls.
But my memories aren’t limited to the ultrasuccessful, finals-contending Sonics. I remember how the team let Shawn Kemp go and he immediately became the butt of a lot of jokes. I remember winning a Sonics hat in fifth grade in 1995 that proudly proclaimed the Sonics as being in the “1994 NBA playoffs” and me not caring if that was the year the Sonics lost to the Denver Nuggets in a crippling, crushing playoff series or not. I won a Sonics hat! I remember Dale Ellis being the first Sonic in my mind, not because he was a good three-point shooter, but because he, also, was the butt of everyone’s jokes for a few years. I remember the Vin Baker years -- what a travesty. I remember when the Sonics drafted local boy Luke Ridnour in the first round of the NBA draft, then had a public practice at Western Washington University that became a security nightmare when the overcapacity crowd hit the court after the practice to get autographs, handshakes, and all of that. I remember one girl’s crush on Detlef, and another’s crush on Rashard Lewis. I remember when the Sonics got Ray Allen, who came to Seattle as a good player, but became great with us. I remember the Sonics trading Gary Payton just before he played his 1000th game with Seattle (also Desmond Mason, the NBA’s coolest dude) in exchange for Ray Allen, Flip Murray, and Kevin Ollie. I will never forget the Sonics’ 2004-05 Season, when they went on a tear, won their singular Northwest Division Championship, and beat the Kings in a series that featured Jerome James wearing a trash bag like a superhero’s cape after the Sonics won. They promptly got dispatched by the Spurs in six games.
And then it happened. I was sitting at a sports bar when I had heard Nate McMillan accepted the Portland Trail Blazers head-coaching position. From there it was a slow twist of the knife: The Sonics promoted longtime assistant Bob Weiss to head coach, which was a disaster. They then brought Bob Hill in to salvage the season. Local ownership had backed out and sold the franchise to a group based in Oklahoma City. The Sonics drafted Saer Sene. The second season of the Bob Hill experiment ended badly. P.J. Carlesimo was brought in to coach the team. The Sonics drafted Kevin Durant. I spent my 24th birthday in the upper deck of KeyArena watching the Sonics lose to the New Jersey Nets. The Sonics would lose 60 more games that year before the city of Seattle settled with the Oklahoma City group right before the economy collapsed. (As a bonus, guess who was a basketball-camp counselor the day after the Sonics moved? Yeah, yours truly.)
For me, it’s not about the current team. Sure, Oklahoma City has a young group of players who really do kick ass. Their veteran leader is Derek Fisher, who’s been in thousands of battles both on and off the court and five championship rings to show for it. Their best player is three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant, their center is a beast, they have a dude with the nickname “I-block-a”, their sixth man looks like Poseidon, they have fellows who can shoot the basketball from anywhere inside 25 feet, they have amazing, unbelievable, years of tradition chemistry and they are all (seemingly) younger than you are.
But, boy oh boy, when Clay Bennett shows up, a lot of emotions come steaming to the forefront.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, for all rights and reasons, will always have the history of the Seattle SuperSonics until the day the SuperSonics regain a franchise. When that day comes, the Thunder will become the Baltimore Ravens of the NBA: A team with a history that relocated and started their own history as a new franchise with an amazing fan base. Until that day, in a ton of people’s eyes, the Oklahoma City Thunder will always be the team that moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City and became wildly successful. You may scream out and say, “But Oklahoma City only has two former Sonics!” which may be fair, but … Who was the original team that drafted Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka? Who was an assistant under P.J. Carlesimo during the last season in Seattle? Yeah, Scott Brooks, the current head coach of the Thunder. Durant said in a tweet way back on July 27, 2010, that “I low-key miss Seattle and KeyArena”.
If you are an Oklahoma City Thunder fan, I do hope you recognize that your team didn’t materialize out of thin air. Yes, Seattle lost the team they had for 41 years. No, it wasn’t because of the fans. Their former owner was someone I didn’t vote for (Howard Schultz), the mayor of Seattle wasn’t somebody I voted for (Greg Nickels) and the governor, who “promised’ to have the Sonics back in Seattle, was someone I didn’t vote for either (Chris Gregoire). Yet, their apathy, along with plenty of well-written speeches by councilmen and councilwomen, have placed this basketball team where they are: Oklahoma City. Everyone here could go back and watch Sonicsgate from start to finish (and you should. You really should!) but that doesn’t dissuade from the fact that we fans supported the team through dark times for years and all of a sudden it left us, under very, VERY bad terms. Oklahoma City fans have yet to experience the bad. They are grateful for the experience, so far.
I have two Seattle SuperSonics T-shirts in my dresser. They have holes in them, which is OK because they’re old shirts. Though they are tattered, the memories they bring back make them more than suitable to wear, proudly, in public. That’s sort of like being a Sonics fan. Though our public perception is tattered/uncertain, we wear our pride in public, because of what memories we have of our team.
For a SuperSonics fan, the legacy of the Oklahoma City Thunder will be like the Auburn Tigers’ legacy of Toomer’s Corner’s trees: Sure, there’s a ton of good about them, but everyone will always remember they were poisoned at some point, and that fact will remain. I’m not rooting for the Thunder to perish. No, I want them to thrive. But when the SuperSonics come back, there will be some very bad blood between the two teams. As a Sonics fan, I hope for that moment, and know it will be the next one in my multitude of memories. I know Minnesota Wild fans and Winnipeg Jets fans held on for a very long time to get their next memorable moment. I will wait for mine for as long as it takes. Not bad for one 28 year-old Sonics fan.
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