As the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder were motoring through the playoffs before finally losing to Dallas in the Western Conference finals last night, rumblings in Seattle suggest fans are still cranky about all of this.
At halftime of Game 5, Sonicgate folks were rolling out another video designed to remind the nation that Oklahoma's success was at the expense of what went down in Seattle five years prior.
Meanwhile, fan forums in Oklahoma City and many other NBA cities suggest David Stern’s media campaign of lying and distorting the truth, done prior to the move, was effective in deceiving the national public about Seattle's commitment to it's team.
But the war of words continues, as Seattle’s basketball fans will not drop the issue.
On a newspaper forum in Oklahoma City, “Danny,” a hallucinogenic fan writing as if he represented the average person in Seattle, claimed that folks in the Pacific Northwest did not care about any of this, and were apathetic about their Sonics basketball team.
This, he claimed, was the true reason that the team left after 41 years. A message seen frequently in fan comments in Oklahoma City, as if the Thunder faithful wrestle with guilt at their new-found fortune.
Yet in Seattle, outspoken but powerless fan groups seem to be gaining momentum. Just last week the Washington State legislature assembled a task force to explore building a new NBA/NHL arena in the Seattle area.
Seattle fans have always been the most passionate and loyal in the country. During the early 1980s following the team’s 1978-79 NBA championship season, 35,000-45,000 Seattle fans routinely jammed the rafters of the Kingdome for regular season games.
While the NBA was packing their bags, a rival professional sports league, soccer's MLS, discovered that its most successful and best-supported franchise in league history, was surprisingly located in the very same market the NBA abandoned. Teams have since been added in Vancouver and Portland, creating crazed rivalries between the three Northwest communities.
Five years earlier, basketball fans in Seattle were put in the awkward situation of how to respond to new out-of-town owner Clay Bennett's devious deeds. Bennett, whose emails have since confirmed, was attempting to make the Sonics as terrible as possible to justify moving the team to his hometown.
Players were kept far away from local media interviews, fan favorites like Ray Allen were dealt for draft picks that wouldn’t be productive until years in the future and the team rolled out its worst record in franchise history during its last in Seattle.
Seattle fans had to choose between boycotting games to punish the person trying to move their team or attending games and thereby enabling him to get away with it. Either way, the fans would lose in the end.
Following their appearance in the NBA Finals 1995-96, Seattle had endured what it considered an inept general manager, Wally Walker, making terrible basketball decisions. These included the firing of popular coach George Karl, who had led Seattle to seven straight years of 60-win seasons, plus puzzling free agent signings of mediocre centers, none of whom worked out.
All this was tolerated by an inept owner, Howard Schultz, who eventually traded all-NBA defensive star Gary Payton in a power dispute. The team continued a downward trend, highlighted by the stunning announcement in 2006, that Oklahoman Clay Bennett had purchased the team for $75 million more than it was worth.
But the situation started a decade prior, when then-owner Barry Ackerley demanded a new arena to replace the dilapidated Seattle Coliseum, which was built for the World’s Fair in 1962.
Plans for a new NBA/NHL stadium were rolled out that would be located where today’s Safeco Field now stands, but those plans were discarded when Ackerley picked the option designed specifically to keep the NHL out of Seattle.
Key Arena was built large enough for the best sight lines in the league but small enough to keep it ever from being attractive to professional hockey. The existing hockey floor can only be viewed by half the patrons, running under the west end of the seating area.
Still, the arena was brand-new in 1995, not the remodeled retread that commissioner David Stern claimed in his now infamous New York press conference in April of 2008.
If you remember, during the tug-of-war with Oklahoma City, the NBA Commissioner claimed that Seattle hadn't built the NBA an arena since 1962 and scolded reporters when they tried to correct him. The truth was the paint hadn't dried on Key Arena before the Sonics and the NBA were back demanding another new arena.
Contrary to what Stern claimed, Seattle had actually built the Sonics the first new professional sports stadium, prioritizing the team over the NFL and MLB. The city didn't ignore the demands of the Sonics like Stern claimed, and David Stern and the NBA not only approved the plans for the new 1995 arena, but also enthusiastically endorsed it after it was built—on video too.
Five years later the same David Stern was infuriated when, facing the Washington State legislature while begging for more public funds, representatives like Frank Chopp reminded Mr. Stern in very terse and direct language that they had just built the Sonics a new arena.
Still, that didn’t stop new owner Clay Bennett from demanding a new $500 million arena in 2007—funded entirely by taxpayers, of course—to justify moving the team when the community refused.
This while stripping the team of talent and accumulating draft picks for the future.
Consequently, today’s Thunder team is winning as a direct result of all the deliberate losing in Seattle. The team includes a handful of top-five lottery picks, all attained from losing seasons in Seattle and trading off Sonic veterans.
Most infuriating to fans of Seattle today is that the team has been in Oklahoma for a mere three years but has already enjoyed two years of playoffs, with the latest deep into the Western Conference finals. Clearly Bennett’s plans have worked well, but at the expense of Seattle.
Meanwhile, in other cities, players are teaming up in major markets like typical playground bullies, leaving smaller markets like Cleveland in disarray.
But what the NBA wasn’t counting on were the same abandoned fans in Seattle taking matters into their own hands while educating the masses.
Grassroots organizations like sonicsgate.org continue to show up at games and on national TV, embarrassing the efforts of David Stern and Clay Bennett to sweep all of this under the carpet.
Locating Sonicsgate founders behind the players bench in Denver certainly didn’t help and reminded the powers that be that today’s media options make the Seattle situation impossible to ignore.
As the league moves towards an impending lockout, the last thing David Stern needs are cranky Seattle fans embarrassing the NBA while reminding the country of the corruption that removed a storied pillar team from the Pacific Northwest for what most consider a buddy payback!
Read "Seattle's Lost Supersonics and The Ironic Message Sent By The NBA" by the same author at http://bleacherreport.com/articles/483219-seattle-and-the-message-sent-by-the-nba-by-banning-key-arena