Gameday Grievances – Death of the Sonics

Eric Flatness <br> Sports Editor
Eric Flatness Sports Editor

It has now been well over a year since Seattle was neutered of most storied professional sports franchise, the Seattle Supersonics, and the wound still bleeds. The hurt is evident throughout the city as people who grew up loving basketball now search for a new love to fill the void.

The entire tragedy is brought back into the light by “Sonicsgate” a documentary brought to us by Jason Reid and Adam Brown. The movie recaps both the successes and failures of the franchise, and covers nearly every aspect of the saddest day in Seattle sports. Sonicsgate was released for free on its website to be sure that as many fans as possible can get a chance to see it.

The movie is very informative and has gotten nothing but praise from both fans and critics alike. It is jammed full of interviews with local writers, players and lawmakers, all of whom were close to the team. Soundbites from former broadcaster Kevin Collabro and lifetime fan Shermin Alexie are both particularly powerful and moving.

Basketball was never really my sport. I played for a pair of seasons back in the day, but it never really touched me the same way baseball, football or soccer did. As such, it is amazing that the movie made me feel as bad about losing the Sonics as I would have felt about watching the Mariners and Seahawks move back in the 90s. I am under the impression that this movie can similarly affect any sports fan from any background the same way.

The disaster first started when a disgruntled coffee mogul decided that a bunch of Oklahoma City businessmen seemed like the type to “make a good faith effort” to keep the team in Seattle. That mogul, Howard Schultz, and those Oklahoma City businessmen, headed by the now infamous Clay Bennett, became the two most obvious villains in the end of Seattle’s most successful team.

It has always seemed clear to me that the biggest villain in the whole situation was NBA commissioner David Stern. He and Bennett had a working relationship even before the team was sold, and emails between them proved the two were far closer than they wanted anyone to believe. He constantly played hardball with the state, demanding that any new stadium be mostly built with public funding.

When Stern didn’t get approval for a new 500 million dollar arena, he and the owners of the NBA approved Bennetts request to move the team (the only two owners that voted against the move were Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen). It was he who got the final ball rolling by threatening to never bring a team to Seattle again if the city and mayor Greg Nickels didn’t drop their lawsuit to keep the team in Key Arena. With that move the league has nearly finished pillaging the northwest of the NBA, with only the unmovable Portland Trailblazers left.

The mishandling of the lawsuit could be considered the end of Nickels’ time in Seattle. Earlier this year, he lost in the mayoral race by only a few thousand votes. Seems like a safe bet that at least a few thousand jilted Sonics fans took his actions to heart. Don’t think that he is unfairly maligned though. He completely failed to keep the names and numbers of the franchise. The teams stats are “shared” by the team in Oklahoma, meaning that Gary Payton and Ray Allen are as much Oklahomans as Seattleites. On top of that, if an arena deal isn’t finalized before the end of 2009, no Seattle team will ever be able to claim those players as their own ever again.

Bennett would be forced to pay 30 million dollars to the city if they managed to get an arena deal in place (and don’t get a team) but he gets to keep that money and take the 1979 NBA title for himself. There is little momentum behind such action, but all Seattle fans should take the opportunity to let Olympia know exactly how important the Sonics are.