Why the Sonics need to come back to Seattle.

EDIT: I know Grantland has covered this topic pretty extensively but being that I am actually here to witness, I decided to go ahead and write my own on the subject. In other words, it’s pretty much what has been talked about on Simmon’s site.

If you aren’t aware, I have been spending the past 4 weeks, give or take, out on the west coast in a city that most east-coasters probably know very little about: Seattle, WA. We all know about the rain (which is true, but it’s mostly just drizzly/overcast until the afternoon and it clears up) and Starbucks, which are everywhere, but one thing we don’t all know about Seattle is how great of a sports market it truly is.

Being from the east coast, you never hear much about west coast sports teams when they are anywhere between awful and mediocre. I’ve always thought, There’s no way Seattle is can live up to the New York;s, or Chicago’s size cities. Or carry the true passion held by cities like Buffalo (Go Bills.). But after being out here for nearly 4 weeks, I now know this city lives and breathes sports. When the Mariners stomped the Texas Rangers 21-8, the citizens here were jumping for joy; they were ecstatic that not only they won (which the Mariners took 2/3 that series), but they just brought a shalacking (sp?) to the fightin’ Ron Washington’s. They are pumped about the Seahawks as much as any NFL city (sorta. Go Bills.) and break down their QB situation persistently. They even had beloved ex-Seahawk and NFC champ QB Matt Hasselbeck on a talk radio show and he had nothing but praise for the city, despite signing with the Titans in 2011. They even go crazy for, get this, SOCCER. The Seattle Sounders easily have the highest attendance of any MLS team. The games rival European matches (I just watched my credibility drop (as if I had any)).

But the Mariners, Seahawks, and Sounders are not why I am writing this. No, the team I am writing about exists only in nostalgia among the citizens of Seattle. Never have I heard about so much pride and loyalty in a team that isn’t there. Maybe being tucked away in the Seattle sound keeps the tight knit passion out from the outside world. Assuming you read the title, I am going to talk about the Seattle Supersonics.

You might be saying, “They just moved to OKC, which has a great fan base and they’re in the NBA Finals. How can they not be rooting for what is essentially THEIR team?” I made the same mistake. I was wondering how they could root against the beloved Kevin Durant, I mean, he loved the city of Seattle. It wasn’t his fault the team left. Then as I was processing these thoughts more, I took a perspective of someone living there, rather than as an outsider and it hit me like KGJ smacking a homer in Safeco: The Seattle Supersonics are to Seattle what the Buffalo Bills are to Buffalo.

The Buffalo Bills currently have the longest active streak of a playoff drought which brings along talks about relocating. Los Angeles wants a team and even Toronto has been in the mix. Every time I think that the Bills could leave, I cringe. I would rather an atom bomb be dropped on Orchard Park with Ralph Wilson at the 50 yard line than have the Bills leave. The team leaving on its own is terrible as it is, but then 3 years later, THEY’RE IN THE SUPERBOWL. I am not just saying this to keep my dramatic theme going, I whole-heartedly believe that if this were to happen to buffalo, riots would break out and the city would just implode emotionally (I also believe whole-heartedly that if the Bills were to win the Superbowl, this would happen too).

I just imagined Ryan Fitzpatrick in L.A. throwing the most T.D. passes in NFL history followed by him leading the Bills to the Superbowl and how I would feel in that situation. Fortunately for me, these are just hypothetical’s. Unfortunately for Seattleites, (that’s really what they’re called. I wish I could say I made it up) this is currently happening. Every other day they get to see THEIR mvp lead the Thunder to a hopeful championship and watch the passionate OKC fans cheer for THEIR team. This is when my appreciation for the city truly set-in. I would be the same way toward the Bills. I know none of it would be Fitzy’s, SJ13, or Action Jackson’s fault, but I would wish the worst NFL season in history on them. And not even because of them but because of the fans. (Check out this article. one of the best articles I’ve ever read).

In a sick way, it took millions of dollars’ worth of damage, jobs and even lives for OKC to get the Thunder. Had Katrina never happened, the Sonics would be battling for their second NBA title as we speak and I would have been asleep 2 hours ago. The fact that Oklahoma City, a city in its own right that has had terrible luck and a catastrophe that united them, all of a sudden gets a conference championship and a chance at the title 3 agonizing years later is disgusting to a Seattleite. They had put in the hard work for decades supporting the team and then, because of something that is out of their hands, people halfway across the country who don’t have any major professional sport in the state waltz their way into fandom for a great franchise.

On June 14th, there was a rally in Occidental Park that I was fortunate enough to attend. It was a rally to bring the Sonics back. There were bands, rappers, radio stations, local celebrities, REAL celebrities and just about anything that had any sort of connection to the Supersonics.

It was wild; it was pretty much a concert that, in between songs (which were all related to the Sonics, mind you) had someone come out and say how much they wanted to bring the team back. But these weren’t just regular people that only the most die-hard of die-hard fans would get. These were huge names. Here, I’ll name a few: Gary Payton, Detlef Schremp, Nate Robinson, and Shawn Kemp. And they weren’t there just to get people to show up; they were there because they want the team back as much as the citizens. Chris Hansen, (not the online rape-catcher), the bazzilionaire leading ownership circle was in attendance as well and claims to have been broken to tears over the support.

Each of these people came on stage and pretty much paraphrased the person before them but each time, the cheers were as if the first person just came on stage. Even some Washington State officials came on and if their spiel about their childhood memories of skipping school to watch the 1979 world champs parade the streets of Seattle was a political stunt, they hid it very well. However, my favorite moment of the rally was when Shawn Kemp came on stage. He got up there and discussed his desire to get the team back, but then he went on to say how he was offended that OKC wanted to retire his jersey. If that doesn’t boost morale, I don’t know what will. The crowd was elated with Kemp. A passion like that in an athlete is seldom, but as a fan of sport, you are always so excited to see it when it happens.

And that really what the rally was about. Not that they want their stars to be honored or the recognition or even revenge. But that the Seattle Supersonics was their team. It’s their team to cheer for when they are in the NBA finals and it’s their team to hate when they miss the playoffs 12 seasons in a row. No one else gets to have these emotions about their team. The Supersonics is this cities child and they just want it back to nurture and punish on their own terms. And after what I saw, they deserve that.

My only criticism of this event is that it seemed to move the city from “high hopes” to “ok, I already have some AWESOME plays written up for the new team.” And the fact of the matter is that none of this is set in stone. There is a solid ownership group in Hansen, Steve Balmer (CEO Microsoft) and the Nordstrom Family (of Nordstrom department stores) but I’ve read that the new arena won’t even be ready until 2017 at the earliest. Even that is considering they start the process now. Another issue is, the arena construction won’t start until the team is finalized which it isn’t even close. Do they expand (less likely) or take a team from Sacramento or Memphis (more likely)? Then there are issues facing traffic and the SODO area (South Of DOwntown) considering there are 2 stadiums there. Clearly, there is a lot yet to be figured out.

In summary, Seattle deserves to have an NBA team again but whether or not it gets it is a test of time. Because of my hypothetical empathy, I would love to see them get a team. I am not a big NBA fan but, needless to say, I will always root for the Sonics when they return. (To clear up any confusion, this city WILL get a team sooner or later. My criticism earlier is that I don’t know if it will happen this time around).

So as of now, OKC is down 3 games to 1 with Game 5 left to be played in Miami. It’s not looking good for KD and the Thunder which leaves this city bigger Heat fans than Miami, which very well could be true. I personally am not upset at OKC or the situation. Kevin Durant definitely deserves the title and I’d like to see him get it. This is just how the people of Seattle feel. Obviously, if a professional team comes to your city, you’re going to root for them. But to Seattle, it’s like someone just plucked their baby from their arms and placed it in a home where they are receiving equally as much love and care and the baby is enjoying it without even remembering its biological parents.

– Joe Leathersich

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