I grew up with the NBA. Watched it every Saturday morning on NBC. Watched Sonics games on KSTW, channel 11. Watched All-Star Weekend religiously. Even watched NBA Inside Stuff with Ahmad Rashad, who, if you’re my age or younger, is better associated with basketball than football.
I love the NBA enough to watch Portland Trailblazers games as often as possible, whenever they happen to be broadcast in the Seattle area. And I like the Blazers on top of that. Been to a few games in person, in fact. I know that’s absolute blasphemy to some Sonics fans, but it’s generational.
Back in the ’70s and ’80s it was impossible to root for both the Sonics and Blazers. But from about 1990 on, the I-5 rivalry lost its luster. Neither team was particularly great at the same time as the other. When the Blazers were up, the Sonics were down, and vice versa. And now the Sonics are gone. So what’s left to hate, really?
I still have all my Sonics apparel from before the team departed. Shorts. T-shirts. Sweatshirts. Jerseys. Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, and Ray Allen. I might not wear them much, but they aren’t going anywhere.
My favorite pair of basketball shorts belonged at one time to Randy Livingston, the journeyman point guard who spent parts of a few seasons with the team in the middle of the decade. They have a No. 9 on the side, run a little big, but are the real thing. Some people might put something like that in a frame, or sell it to a collector. I’ll just wear the hell out of those shorts until they get beyond raggedy.
I love college basketball just as much as I love the pro game, maybe even more. But there’s something about the NBA that can’t be replaced by any other level of the sport. The way the game is played, the size of the arenas, the overwhelming nature of the crowds, the players themselves. Something about the NBA is just different, and without it, there’s a void that cannot be filled by any other level of basketball competition.
The NBA business model, unfortunately, is garbage. The league should never have allowed a team to leave Seattle, but they did, because they’re desperate for income. David Stern panicked, and did whatever he could to salvage the prospect of money. A decade of exorbitant contracts, failed endeavors in multiple cities, and receding crowds has put the league in a tough spot. Eventually they’ll entertain the idea of returning to the Emerald City. But who knows when that will be. And what the league will look like by then. To say they’ve screwed some things up would be an understatement.
I feel like those women you see on the daytime talk shows. Maury, Montell, Oprah. The women who have been cheated on, yet still return to their husbands or boyfriends. You can’t understand it until you’ve been in the position, I suppose. But the NBA cheated on me. The NBA cheated on us. And I still keep coming back. I find games on TNT, ABC, ESPN. Find Blazers games. And I watch. And I enjoy what I see. And I don’t regret it. It is what it is.
I had my heart ripped out by the NBA, but I’m always willing to give the league another chance. I’m like Kourtney Kardashian in that way. And the NBA is my Scott Disick.
When the NBA returns, I’ll go to ballgames. Because there’s a mutual love between the team and its fans that all the higher-ups cannot understand. The Howard Schultzes, Clay Bennetts, Greg Nickelses, David Sterns. To them, the game of basketball is one big dollar sign, a commodity, and nothing more. Guys like Stern and Schultz may claim to love the sport, but you’ll never catch them taking in a game for fun. And we already know that a guy like Nickels won’t take in a game at all. It’s all about the money to them, and that won’t change.
We had something special, the NBA and Seattle. Like Romeo and Juliet, we were the starcrossed lovers who only wanted to be together. But it wasn’t destined to be. Not with the Montagues and Capulets of our world — Stern, Bennett, Schultz, the Seattle City Council — fighting to tear us apart. In the end, just like in Shakespeare’s infamous work of theater, we could not carry out our relationship any longer, in spite of our mutual desire. It’s business. It sucks. It hurts.
In a perfect world, the rich guys with all the power would take a backseat to the sanctity of the game and the presence of the fans. But what does that even mean anymore? Fans are pawns. Consumers who are being asked to buy in, despite bad customer service.
To me, though, it’s about one thing: the game. And while you can get the game anywhere — a college campus, a high school gym, even your local Boys and Girls Club — I think we deserve the highest level of the sport in this city. We do. Because we had it, and then it was taken from us. And until you’ve had something special and watched it disappear, you can’t possibly fathom how much you truly appreciate that one thing, whatever it may be. The fans in Oklahoma City can’t understand that, no matter how passionate they consider themselves to be. They just can’t, and that’s one thing we will always have separating us.
The worst part is, people here don’t even seem to care that much, and that really hurts. We’re more about expressing our disdain for this situation through an overpriced t-shirt than by actually saying or doing anything. Like the NBA gives a damn about what Nordstrom is selling these days. You can’t make people care. I can’t make people care. We can’t make people care.
But there are those of us out there who do care. Deeply. And together, we’ll bring back the NBA. It will happen. Even in spite of all these laws, these initiatives, propositions, obstacles, hurdles. One day. It’s only a matter of time.
Until then, we wait. We hurt. But we do it together. Because even though each of us has been scarred in our own way throughout all this, we’re not alone. We have this city. We have each other. We’ll get through it. And one day, we’ll have our happy ending.