Seattle Sonics Fans Face Conflict of Joy and Sadness on Sale of Sacramento Kings
The SuperSonics are coming back to Seattle—and I don't know whether to be happy.
Chris Hansen and a group of Seattle-based investors announced the purchase of a controlling interest in the Sacramento Kings from the Maloof family on Monday, with the sole intent of returning NBA basketball, in the form of the Sonics, to the city that lost the franchise almost five years ago.
As a Sonics fan, I'm overjoyed at Hansen's victory—yet saddened by Sacramento's impending loss.
The NBA broke my heart when it and then-Sonics owner Clay Bennett spirited the team away to Oklahoma City in 2008. I resolved that day to boycott the league, and that resolve only stiffened as Kevin Durant grew into a superstar and general manager Sam Presti built the Thunder into an elite squad. The initial tenderness of the heartache hardened into bitterness as seasons passed, culminating in perverse gladness at the Thunder's 2012 NBA Finals loss to the Miami Heat.
Underneath the prickly facade, though, I pined for the old days of Sonics success—of Sonics basketball, period.
I reminisced about Ray Allen draining game-winning daggers from deep beyond the arc. Rashard Lewis slowly but surely maturing into a max-contract scorer. From the upper bowl, watching the incredibly athletic Desmond Mason drop 36 on the Clippers in Key Arena to clinch a Sonics playoff berth in 2002.
I recalled hearing Gary Payton bark at anyone and everyone in his sights, the G.O.A.T. included. Sleepy-eyed Sam Perkins lurking on the perimeter. Shawn Kemp's savage disregard for humankind, and his decline into a puffy shadow of himself—a route sadly followed by Vin Baker.
I remembered hanging out in the TV section of my local department store as a 14-year-old to see the Sonics beat the Utah Jazz in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals. I still knew the dull ache of falling in the NBA Finals to Michael Jordan and the incomparable 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.
I felt robbed of the joy—and pain—of those memories when the Sonics skipped town. Images of Clay Bennett and David Stern's mutual admiration tainted my nostalgia. And so, I disengaged from my NBA fandom.
How do you feel about the Sonics returning to Seattle?
I couldn't avoid the NBA altogether, though. My work as a sports editor kept me abreast of happenings in the league. I noted LeBron James' Decision. I observed the Lakers winning back-to-back titles. I read of Derrick Rose's ascent and watched the clip of his ACL injury. Still, for me, the league was simply where events happened—nothing amazing about it.
Then, in February of 2012, a Sonics fan named Chris Hansen introduced himself to the Seattle sports scene. He shared the dream every Sonics fan held somewhere inside—to bring the team back to Seattle. Difference was, he had the financial means, business acumen and people skills to make that come true.
Less than a year later, Hansen has secured city and county approval of a new arena, presented himself as a stable alternative to the Maloof family and now acquired 65 percent of Kings ownership—enough to move the franchise to Seattle and reestablish the NBA in the city.
Part of me revels in Hansen's coup. I can't wait to make the road trip to Seattle to watch the reincarnated Sonics back in Key Arena, and then in their new arena. I eagerly await Oklahoma City's first visit to Seattle—and tremble in anticipation of Sonics fans unleashing years of pent-up sadness and frustration on the stolen franchise (though I'll cheer for Kevin Durant—he'll always be a Sonic to me).
Another part of me, though, thinks of the memories I earned over my years of Sonics fandom and feels heartbroken for Kings fans watching their franchise slip away.
Chris Webber and Jason Williams' "Over 2 Million Served" cover of Slam magazine in March of 2000. Mitch Richmond putting up 21-plus points per game for seven straight seasons. The outrage of losing the 2002 Western Conference finals to the Lakers—exacerbated by Tim Donaghy's allegations that the fix was in.
Sacramento fans earned those memories. Chris Hansen and company can't take them away—but they can taint them with the bitterness of love lost.
Whether it's 28 years in a town or 41 doesn't matter. There's no way to quantify fandom, to measure loyalty—to rationalize love.
So tell me, should I feel happy that the Sonics are coming back? And Thunder fans, tell me when—or if—this dirty feeling will go away.
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