Why I Am a College Sports Fan: Seattle Gets Screwed

lawvol gate21.netSenior Analyst IJuly 7, 2008

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You hardly have to be a genius to realize that I am a college sports fan.

Whether I qualify as “die-hard” is open to interpretation, I suppose.

Still, as a VASF donor for more than a decade, season ticket holder for Tennessee Volunteers football, and as an individual who travels over six hours one-way to see each football game in Knoxville, I probably fall into the “dyed-in-the-wool” category, placing me in the top tier of college fans when it comes to dedication (or lunacy, depending on your perspective).

Either way, at various times in my life, I have contemplated becoming a more avid fan of professional sports.  At times I have even been a “real” fan of certain teams by most standards.

That being said, no matter what I do, I always seem to lose my interest in professional sports and return to my roots as a college football fan…

… or perhaps professional sports loses interest in me.

No, that last statement is not intended to be a wildly arrogant and self-centered declaration of my importance in the sports world.  On the contrary, it is meant to show my complete insignificance—along with the millions of other sports fans out there.

In case you missed it, after 41 years in the “City Which is Never Dry,” the Seattle Supersonics are pulling up stakes and heading to Oklahoma City to be known as the Oklahoma Clod-kickers, or something along those lines.

The era of the Supersonics is over…

Owing to the fact that I live on the Right-Coast and parted ways with the NBA in the mid-1990s, I was really not tuned into this story until after the final announcement was made.

I make no claims to be a Supersonics fan, and can really only think of two Supersonics players ever: Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel (mainly because he choked Wes Mathews in the middle of a game, which is the sort of thing I tend not to forget).

Still, I feel for the Supersonics’ fans, and I assume that there are a fair number of them, whether they be “die-hard” or not.  While I know that Seattle may potentially get another team some day, as a practical matter they now understand how SMU fans felt when their team got the death penalty for football.

The only difference is that, unlike SMU, who was finally able to resume play, Seattle’s program is gone for good—gonzo, outta here, dead, kaput, snuffed it…

If I am a Seattle Supersonics fan, that just plain sucks…

That got me to thinking (which is so rarely a good thing).  The fact that the Supersonics could up and vanish like a fart in the wind is the reason why I personally will never be anything more than an occasional fan of professional sports.  At so many levels, that disturbs me. It also brings back a few memories.

I still remember the announcement in the late-1980s that, after…well…forever, North Carolina was going to get its first professional sports franchise (unless you count the ABA’s Carolina Cougars, which I don’t) in the form of an expansion team in Charlotte.

The team was to be called the “Charlotte Spirit” and was to begin play in the 1988 season.  Those who were to be fans of the team realized the “Spirit” was a crappy name, and thus the team was re-dubbed the “Charlotte Hornets.”  You may have heard of them.

When the nets went up at the lavish new Charlotte Coliseum in 1988, I became an instant Charlotte Hornets fan.  I was addicted to all things related to the Hornets.

I still remember the very first game I ever got a chance to attend: 7 January 1989, the Washington Bullets vs. the Charlotte Hornets.  Led by Kelly Tripucka, the Hornets managed to edge the Bullets, 107-104, for their ninth win that season.

I was also fortunate enough to catch three more games that season and was elated when the Hornets earned their 20th win versus the New Jersey Nets, en route to finishing their inaugural season with an overall record of 20-62.

Despite the fact that the Hornets hardly wowed the sports world with their wins, the fans in Charlotte were absolutely crazed when it came to “Hornets Hysteria,” and a ticket to a game at “the Hive” was all but impossible to come by.

By the end of the season, 950,064 people had attended games in Charlotte, and the Hornets were named the NBA attendance champions for 1988-89—a feat they would repeat from 1990-91 through 1996-97.

In 1999, however, things started going sour.  Owner George Shinn started demanding a brand-new coliseum to replace the one that had been opened during the Hornets’ first season, which the city simply could not justify.  To make matters worse, Shinn became a pariah due to allegations that he had raped a former employee.

While Shinn ultimately won the lawsuit, the evidence that was presented hardly made him look like the innocent victim.  Overnight, the Hornets went from top of the heap to bottom of the pile in the hearts of many due to Shinn’s actions and statements.

Thus, in 2002, George Shinn picked up his ball and went home—his new home, that is, in New Orleans…

Of course, Shinn falling out of favor with the citizens of Charlotte was probably as much to blame as anything, but Shinn hardly ennobled himself when—in the wake of Hurricane Katrina—he quietly considered the possibility of relocating the Hornets permanently to Oklahoma City, their temporary home while New Orleans tried to rebuild.

Bowing to pressure from the NBA Commissioner David Stern, the Hornets did return to New Orleans.  What’s more, in recognition of the fact that Shinn had completely alienated every living soul in Charlotte, the NBA did award Charlotte a new franchise—the Charlotte Bobcats—only two years after the Hornets left town.

Regardless of how things turned out in the end, the whole process of watching the team pull up and leave left me with a lingering bad taste in my mouth.  After that, I decided that I simply wasn’t willing to invest the time, effort, or dedication into any professional team.

Now make no mistake, the right to have a professional sports franchise in your hometown is anything but a right—it is a privilege.  Still, the list of teams which were plucked from their fans is long.  Some were moved because the town simply did not support the team—I really do not have much of a quarrel with that.

Most, however, have been taken because the owners simply wanted more money than the city and the fans could (as opposed to would) fork over.

Enter the Seattle Supersonics…

I really hate it for the people of Seattle because—to the best of my knowledge—they always supported their team.  Clay Bennett wanted to move the team to his hometown—again, Oklahoma City—and there was really little that the Sonics faithful could do about it.

Bennett’s mind was made up and there was nothing that was going to keep him or the team in Seattle—not even the city’s attempts to stop the move in court.

In the end, the city had little choice but to take the settlement and try to lure another team to town in the near future.  Sure, they have their memories, but that’s about it.

As a dedicated sports fan, I know that the few professional teams that I support (the Carolina Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes, to name a few) could leave town at any time.  That is why I will pull for them, occasionally go to a game, and maybe even buy a t-shirt with their logo on it— but I will never be a true fan.

That brings me back around to where I started…

While I often complain about the prices I have to pay to get my season tickets in Knoxville, it’s part of the deal.  While I get tired of having to lose all of your best players every four years (or sooner) because of eligibility and graduation, it comes with the territory.

I will freely agree that the level of play in Neyland Stadium is not and will never be on par with the play at any of the NFL stadiums, but I can live with it.  There are a lot of peculiarities about athletic department administrations, sacred cows, and the NCAA which, at times, make following a college team maddening.  There are not many food courts in college venues.

Ignoring all of the “amateur versus professional” arguments and how that impacts the true nature of sport (and I feel that some of those arguments are amazingly powerful and meaningful), there are a lot of things about college sports which make it inferior to professional sports.

Still, when I don my orange and white, I know that no matter what happens, the University of Tennessee will always be the University of Tennessee.  I know that the same will always be the case for the Alabama Crimson Tide, Kentucky Wildcats, Georgia Bulldogs, the Tarheads, and even the Florida Gators.

I know that no matter how lousy the team is, no matter how bad the facilities may be, no matter how awful the city may look, those teams—and hundreds of others—will always be in the same place.

While I like to complain that in the post Big Dickey era, you have to “pay to stay” at Tennessee—at least in terms of your seats—I know it is a necessary evil.  The bright side, however, is that even if I don’t pay, the Volunteers are not going anywhere.

In that regard, small as I may be on their radar, I guess I matter to the University of Tennessee—enough for them to stay put.  That is precisely why, first and foremost, I am a fan of college sports.

So to all of you Seattle Supersonics fans, I know you are upset—you got a raw deal.

Still, the University of Washington is just down the road…

– Go Figure …

Gate 21 Tags: Alabama Crimson Tide, Bad Behavior, Big Dickey, Charlotte, Charlotte Bobcats, Charlotte Hornets, Clay Bennett, College Basketball, College Football, College Sports, Florida Gators, Football, George Shinn, Georgia Bulldogs, Greed, Hornets, Kentucky Wildcats, Knoxville, NBA, NBA, NBA Basketball, New Orleans Hornets, No Pass Out Checks, No Pass Out Checks, Oklahoma City, Professional Sports, Seattle, Seattle Supersonics, SEC Sports, Tarheads, Tennessee Volunteers, University of Tennessee, VASF, Washington Huskies

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