David Stern has a legacy. The "Ewing Conspiracy" kicked it off with a bang. And up until this year, his tireless efforts to rebuild not just a franchise from New Orleans, but the actual city itself, would go down as one of the single greatest accomplishments of any commissioner, in any sport, to date.
Forget about his arrogance when speaking to what he feels are lesser minds. Forget the fact he always seems to find joy in things working out suspiciously well for teams when he wants them to (see: Cleveland Cavs-Lebron James).
He put his pride and ego aside and set off on the largest (and possibly most important) community outreach endeavor of any major sporting league to date. After Hurricane Katrina decimated a city and its people he vowed to have the 2007 All-Star Game in the repaired New Orleans Arena, and he delivered on that promise.
He vowed to have the Hornets return from Oklahoma City to their home fan base, the fans that loved them and cheered for them. And he delivered on that promise.
One promise he delivered on in the past year is one that will forever taint his legacy. He promised Clay Bennett, the sheisty owner of the Seattle Supersonics, a once-proud franchise, that he would approve a move to Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City, being Bennett's hometown, got a taste of a pro franchise when they welcomed the Hornets with open arms after the events of Hurricane Katrina. Bennett felt they were slighted when the Hornets left town to move back to New Orleans, and so his quest to bring another franchise to the city began.
Forget the proud legacy of the Seattle Supersonics. Bennett wanted to start a new legacy, the Oklahoma City Supersonics (my how that just rolls off the tongue), and damned are all those fans who dare to disagree.
Bennett had made his decision, there was no way around it. With the backing of the great NBA Commissioner David Stern, the only thing standing between Bennett and ripping the hearts out of millions of Sonics faithful was a judge to rule on Bennett's side and release him from his lease with the city of Seattle.
Now I should state a few things. I am a Knicks fan. I have no ties to Seattle. I actually hate the Seahawks (from the old AFC days), and am indifferent when it comes to the Mariners.
But for some reason I always liked the Sonics. Maybe because as I was growing into my adolescence Shawn Kemp was at his peak. I watched almost every Knicks game, but I actually watched games against the Sonics.
They were fun. They were tough. Payton to Kemp for a thunderous dunk became an everyday Sportscenter highlight. My first jersey was a Sonics jersey (I'm sure you can guess who). When the Sonics made the finals and were matched up against the long-time nemesis of the Knicks, MJ's Bulls, I rooted to the point you would think I was as Seattle as Starbucks and Grunge music.
Fast forward to this past season. Kevin Durant, the savior, comes to a team in turmoil. He doesn't save the franchise, doesn't even win a respectable amount of games.
The fans knew they were dangerously close to losing their beloved team, but never wavered in their support.
Whether it was out of respect for the players, the delusional premise that Bennett had a soul and would back off of his threat to relocate, or the simple fact that they had been a fan for so long they couldn't just abandon a team they loved, the fans showed up.
Game after game, the fans showed up.
They supported a 20-win team with a swindling money-hungry tyrant of an owner. My heart goes out to those fans, it really does, because they can't simply find another team. The Sonics were their team.
They can't go and jump ship to a promising Blazers team, if for no reason but the simple fact that they are geographical rivals (although some fans will, and I will not ridicule or mock them for that decision either).
This fan base, the very same 12th man that makes the Seahawks' home games the hardest to play for a visiting team in the NFL, is being orphaned. I compare it to me living for 22 years with my biological parents, then them pulling the rug out from under me, telling me they don't want me anymore, that they're moving to Phoenix and telling me to go find new ones.
I'm sure people from Seattle could relate.
Now I know I'm spoiled. I'm from New York, the biggest of the "big markets." I'll never have one of my beloved franchises bolt for greener pastures, simply because it doesn't get more green than New York.
But I do love sports. I do love the history of sports. I won't pretend to know the Lenny Wilkins-era Sonics, because I was years away from being alive, but I do know what that title means to the fans that remember it. I know a great deal of Seattle-born people, some of whom are the most loyal and die-hard fans of any team I've ever met.
I asked a few of them recently what this move would mean to them if it happened, then after the decision was announced I asked again how they felt.
"Heartbroken," "like watching Jordan celebrate with our trophy, only multiplied by 1,000," "***silence***," and one even started to tear up.
Those reactions pretty much sum up the feeling in Seattle right now. It's like someone has stolen one of the most prized possessions in the city. No, wait, it IS like someone has stolen one of the most prized possessions in the city. I mean, how can a loyal fan, even a relocated one, root for this team anymore?
It has nothing to do with the players, the coaches, the front office. They all do their jobs, even if not very well. But they show up, do what they're paid to do, and that is all you can ask.
But they're all sadly connected to Clay Bennett, the anti-Kraft, the anti-Rooney, etc. He could honestly not care less about the fans that show up to support his team. I can't believe I'm putting this into print, but he's worse than the infamously horrendous James Dolan himself!
Sports are just games. Fundamentally, we all understand this concept, but sports are games that we all have a special connection with. Some of us were good, some of us awful, some too short, some too slow. But we all connect in some way or another to those larger-than-life characters that gracefully glide around the hardwood, or viciously crash into a quarterback for a sack, or whip 96-mph heater after 96-mph heater.
People say that, deep down, sport is a business. In my mind, that could not be further from the truth. I doubt that James A. Naismith had dollar signs in mind when he threw a ball through a hoop.
Sports provide a way to connect, and a way to grow as a person when you're a child. I learned more lessons about life from being on a football/baseball/basketball team than I ever did in a classroom.
For one reason or another, people don't remember 'that great college party when ____ happened' unless it's tied to some kind of major sporting event.
People don't remember where they were when they found out Bush was re-elected. But I will always remember where I was during certain moments that are frozen in my mind (like Robin Ventura's grand slam single, or Mike Richter stoning Pavel Bure's penalty shot in the '94 Finals).
And if someone was to tell me that I would no longer have the chance to have memories like that from one of my favorite teams, I would feel exactly the same as my friends that I mentioned.
So, if anything, this is a salute to those fans, the ones who stuck with a team that had its bags packed before the 2007-08 season. Those Sonics faithful who saw the guillotine being prepared but pushed forward anyway.
That is what being a fan is all about. That is what sports is, in its purity, should be about. Caring for a team, that in return cares about you, and eventually after the ups and downs of multiple seasons, rewards you with a moment you'll treasure and keep with you always.
Unfortunately, Clay Bennett was never forced by his inner circle to realize this. Not to take anything away from Oklahoma City, but you will never, ever, feel the same way about this team that Seattle did.
Mark this day down on your calendar, the day that greed triumphed over fan's love for a team and its players.