Sunday, June 17, 2012

Welcome back, NBA.

Father's Day, 2012.  The middle of a nice little five-day vacation from work.  Typical Seattle spring day.  A few clouds, not much rain, low 70s.  Just finished watching the Mariners take the rubber match from the Giants after my Cardinals lose a heartbreaker to KC in 15.  Ernie Els making a charge at the Open with "Boeing" emblazoned on his chest (I'm forever the homie). It's 4:45 and I'm feeling an urge I haven't felt in years.

About four years to be exact.  July 2, 2008.  The day our city fathers sold out our Seattle Supersonics though a settlement that allowed Clay Bennett and his crew to move our basketball team out of Seattle after 41 years.

Sure, the end had been in sight for months by then.  Howard Schultz got frustrated because he couldn't control his team like he did his other employees, the thousands of Starbucks workers.  Even to the point of questioning the character of maybe the greatest Sonic ever, Gary Payton.

It was easy to dislike Bennett, Aubrey McClendon and the "Spurs Northwest" management team that had allowed our team to become the doormat of the Pacific Division.  The real blame lied with Schultz first , David Stern second (for his obvious hand in putting the city in it's place as a warning to any other NBA city that sought to question his will) and, finally, our legislators, both city and state.  But the smug mug of Bennett as he welcomed "his" team to Oklahoma City along with a jovial Stern was really too much to bear.  I decided at that moment that I would never watch this dysfunctional, dishonest league again.

I've kept to that promise.  I have not watched more than just a passing flicker on the monitor of a barroom wall, or some highlights during early morning workouts at the gym.  But watch a game?  Nope, not even interested.  Not interested until today.  Now.  At 5:08 on Father's Day 2012.  I'm watching Game 3 of the 2012 NBA Finals.

How did it come to this?  I guess with the events of the past week I've decided that I'm really only hurting myself at this point.  My friends from other cities are sympathetic but growing weary of my anti-NBA rants.  And, you know, we drafted Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Nick Collison.  The guts of this team team with the funny name (that I still can't get myself to write) was with us in Seattle that last night in Key Arena, when we all knew it was coming to an end. And then three days ago, Chris Hansen, who is the man who would be the savior of pro basketball for Seattle, organized a rally in Pioneer Square. Payton, Kemp, Schrempf, Wilkins, Watts, Colabero, The Presidents of the United States of America were all there.  As were 3000 Sonic faithful, full of hope for the return of our Supersonics.

I moved to Seattle from Columbia, Missouri in January, 1979.  On June 1st of that year Seattle won the second world championship in its history (the first was the Seattle Metropolitans Stanley Cup in 1917).  At that point it was one of the five greatest days of my life.  We beat the Washington Bullets in five for the NBA championship after losing the prior year to that same team.  A good college friend had moved to DC when I headed west to Seattle.  I remember waking him up by calling from a phone booth in the same Pioneer Square where the Hansen rally was set and yelling "Live from Seattle!", car horns blazing, folks screaming, loving every minute.  The only damage I remember was to the "Washington Street" sign at 1st Ave, taken down and paraded among the faithful.

I was hooked.  Basketball quickly became my favorite sport.  I played pick up games whenever I could, patterning my game via an odd combination of Gus Williams ("The Wizard", usually the shortest man on the court, quick, agile) and Lonny Shelton ("The Enforcer",  a rebounding machine).  Finals MVP Dennis Johnson moved on to Boston soon after the championship where he became another Celtic legend.  Even Gus moved on to Washington. Tom Chambers, Dale Ellis, The X-man Xavier McDaniel (my new hero, I wore 34 as my league career continued) continued the high standards set by their predecessors.  But soon came Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, fueling a wonderful period, foiled only by the presence of Michael Jordan.  My memories of playoff games vs Karl Malone, John Stockton and the Utah Jazz are thick, I remember them so vividly. Basketball was my passion, and I loved every game at Key Arena.  The folks that come to NBA games are an interesting, eclectic bunch and thoroughly enjoyable to be with.

Over time Schultz bought the team, Gary left, Ray Allen arrived (class act), we drafted a bunch of tall stiffs.  The rest is well known history.

Which in a roundabout way brings me back to today.  Father's Day 2012. I don't know who I want to win this game, and in a way I can make a case for either team.  But I'm watching.  And I'm not bellyaching.  That is real progress.  And just maybe there are enough of us moving in the same direction to get our new arena built that will bring us NBA and NHL teams.  But I can tell you without doubt, Seattle will approach the "new" Supersonics from wherever they come with respect for the fans, unlike the carpetbaggers that came to our city.  And I hope wherever the team comes from it won't take them four years to enjoy the team they helped to build.

No comments: