Surviving The Sonics: A Personal Story Of Basketball Loss

Andrew WillinghamContributor IMay 5, 2010

Note: If you have yet to watch Sonicsgate, a documentary about the Sonics leaving Seattle, I suggest you do. It will help you understand the facts behind many of the issues I mention in this article. You can see it free online at

As many of you probably know, Beckley and I grew up in Seattle and are die-hard Supersonics fans. Following the Sonics’ sale to Clay Bennett and the subsequent move to Oklahoma City, I have had to redefine myself as a basketball fan. I am often asked, “What does it feel like to lose your favorite team?” Let me tell you, it doesn’t feel good.

How did we get here?

In 2005, Seattle lets its young, talented coach leave. They trade away their best player, Ray Allen, who also happens to be one of the best 3-point shooters of all time, for rookie Jeff Green and some bench players. They trade away their second best player, Rashard Lewis, for Kurt Thomas and a couple of 2nd round draft picks. The team drafts future Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant. The team is sold to a bunch of people from out of town. The new ownership purposefully tanks, alienating Seattle fans. The team marches out to their worst record in history. In 2008, The Sonics move to Oklahoma City.

How do you sleep at night, Clay?

That is a hell of a couple years.

What transpired between 2005 and team’s move in 2008 is a terrible and supremely unfitting ending to not only Seattle’s most successful and storied professional franchise, but also one of the top-tier NBA teams.

My personal history with the Sonics

So why write about the Sonics? Well, to start, they remain my favorite sports team. As you may have guessed, basketball is my favorite sport, and the Sonics were my favorite team. I grew up going to Sonics games and spent the summers at Sonics basketball camp.

When the Sonics made it to the NBA finals in 1996, theSports Illustrated cover featured a picture of Gary Payton with the header “Mission: Impossible?” I cut out the cover and put it on my wall, with the “Im” and “?” crossed-out. I kept a bulletin board on which I posted many Sonics articles and cutouts from the 1996 playoffs run. My family went to the games together and sat in the upper deck. During the 1996 finals, we sat in the last row and watched the Sonics beat Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

Later, in high school, my Mom had season tickets and I went to every home game between 2000-2004. My Mom and I often went to the games together, and it was the only thing we regularly did to “spend time together.” I got to see Gary, Brent, and Rashard play. I was forced to see Jerome James, Calvin Booth, and Vitaly Potapenko “play.”

I have spent hundreds of hours at Key Arena watching the Sonics. I have booed Jordan and counted to 10 while Karl Malone attempted free throws. I have cheered for The Hawk and Big Smooth. I remember the sound of Kevin Calabro calling a Sonics game and it brings me back to my Seattle childhood.

I think that is the biggest loss for Sonics fans, not the team itself, but the connection to memories of childhood, of friends and family, and of the city itself. There are few experiences as unifying as sports. Anyone who attended a playoff game at Key Arena knows how it felt to be in the energy of the crowd, how connected you felt to the city and its people.

Emotional impact of losing a franchise

I don’t think one can accurately describe what it feels like to lose your favorite sports team. It’s an emptiness that is never filled. Kind of a like a friend you lost long ago who you expect to run into one day but never do. I’m still hurt about their leaving. I’m mad. I’m sad. I’ve cried about it many times. I still can barely watch the finals introswithout getting emotional. I was at this game. I get goose bumps watching it every time. Just listen to how loud it is, especially considering we were facing Jordan and the Bulls!

This duo inspired the entire Emerald City

This doesn’t happen in Seattle anymore. You think Quest Field is loud? Please. The Sonics were, and unfortunately it appears always will be, Seattle’s most successful sports team. Seattle used to be known as a basketball town. Current NBA stars Nate Robinson, Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford, Marvin Williams, Spencer Hawes, and Brandon Roy all grew up in Seattle.

NBA greats with links to Seattle include Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Slick Watts, Jack Sikma, Detlef Schrempf, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, “Downtown” Freddy Brown, not to mention Bill Russell and Lenny Wilkins. These players are not just a special part of the team’s legacy, but that of the city itself.

Why should you care?

Every basketball fan should care about the Sonics leaving Seattle, if only because it shows that, no matter how new your arena is, no matter how storied the franchise’s history is, the NBA cares about money more than its fans. Maybe I was naïve to think that this was not the case, for thinking that money was not the greatest motivating factor in the NBA. I was wrong. Basketball is a business, and the desire for more money is the ugly state of professional sports today. Sacramento, New Orleans, Golden State, Memphis, you have been warned. Your teams could be next. Why else should you care?

This has never happened before.

Let me repeat that. No team in any major sport has relocated after winning a world championship. Not in baseball. Not in football. Not in hockey. Never. The Seattle Supersonics are the first major professional team to move having won a world championship. This is completely new territory in sports history, and unfortunately I am experiencing its effects first hand.

Finally, you should care because of the corruption, politics, and money involved in this situation. You should care about the crooked dealing of Clay Bennett and his associates. The revealed e-mails that proved they never had any intention to keep the team in Seattle. Clay Bennett’s questionable relationship with David Stern. The purposeful tanking. The brazen BS that comes out of David Stern’s mouth. The shameless gall of Howard Shultz to sell the team after claiming it was a “public trust.” Not to mention his talk about losing money while selling the team to Bennett for a profit of 50 million.

You should care about the fact that Gary Payton will never have his number retired at a Sonics game. A “shared history” with Oklahoma City. Really? Gary Payton is the Thunder’s career leader in games played? You couldn’t make this stuff up.

The worst part of this entire fiasco is that—gulp!—I  love the Thunder. They are the youngest, most promising and exciting team in the league. I love Durant. I love Westbrook. I love their GM. Hell, I even miss Saer Sene. That hurts. Bad.

What now?

Now that Seattle is without an NBA team, former Sonics fans must make some tough decisions about their future as a fan. People fall into one of three categories:

1.    I will never watch another NBA game (The Quitters)

2.    I will root for the Portland Trailblazers (The Traitors)

3.    I will root for some other NBA team (The Addicts)

I wish I were a Quitter. I wish I could drop the NBA and stop watching professional basketball all together. It would be so satisfying to channel my anger from losing the Sonics against the NBA, and never have to think about it again. Many former Sonics fans have done just this—swore off NBA basketball until we get a team again. Some have even vowed never to watch an NBA game ever again. I respect the Quitters; they have tried to take some control over this whole messed up situation by deleting professional basketball from their lives. But I’m sure many Quitters miss basketball, and for most of us, quitting cold turkey is not a realistic option.

Now AW roots for fellow 206er Jamal Crawford in Atlanta

The second group is the Traitors. They are the Seattleites who are now Portland fans. I hate Traitors. The Trailblazers are such a bandwagon team right now and to just switch allegiances from the Sonics to our former rival, in my opinion, is not respecting the Sonics’ legacy. Sure, it’s not like they’re rooting for the Thunder (which literally no one in Seattle does), but my objection still stands. Traitors are quick to point out that Portland is the closest team, Seattle TV stations air the Portland games, Paul Allen owns them, blah blah blah.

Let me provide an example to illustrate my point. Let’s say you are a Washington Huskies fan. If UW closed, would you cheer for Washington State? They’re the closest pac-10 school right? Who cares if they used to be your rival? Any self-respecting Husky would scoff at this suggestion, and I think former Seattle fans should think twice before rooting for Portland.

The Traitors are the worst group of former Sonic fans. Portland sucks! Pick another team! Don’t insult the Sonics memory by rooting for a former rival, or if you do at least don’t be so damn enthusiastic about it.

Lastly, we have The Addicts. This is the depressing group of fans who just can’t give up the NBA, even after being betrayed. What a sorry bunch! Unfortunately, this is the category I fall into. When the Sonics first moved, I swore I would be a Quitter, but I was wrong. While living in the Bay Area, I briefly became a Warriors fan. Now that I live in Atlanta, I’m a Hawks fan, but it’s not the same as having your own team. I root for the Hawks, but I’m not devastated if they lose. I somewhat enjoy going to games, but they are nothing compared to what I remember Sonics games being like. So I’m stuck in NBA fan no-man’s land, half-heartedly rooting for a team I don’t really care about. It’s sad really, but I love basketball too much to ignore the league that showcases its finest players.

As for me, my walls are still covered in Sonics posters. Gary Payton is still my favorite player. Now that I don’t live in Seattle, my daily life may not be that different without the Sonics, but every time I come home, it hurts to not be able to go to a game.

Now, instead of wearing Sonics jerseys, I wear my Sonics R.I.P t-shirt. Instead of supporting The Glove and the Reignman, I support Sonicsgate ( Instead of hating Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant, I hate David Stern and Clay Bennett. I am confined to collecting Seattle Supersonics merchandise and having to talk to other NBA fans about why the Sonics left and how that makes me feel. I, along with the city of Seattle, am left with nothing but grotesquely altered memories of our former team, the Seattle Supersonics.


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