It wasn’t the jersey I really, truly wanted. Every kid in school wore KEMP or PAYTON on his back. I wanted to wear KEMP or PAYTON, too. But I had to settle for McMILLAN. These replica jerseys — watered-down mesh imitations made by Champion — sold for forty dollars at regular price. This particular jersey, bearing the name and number of the team’s most unsung player, was on clearance, and therefore affordable enough to go home with me on this day. Thus, I became the only kid at Medina Elementary with the uniform of one Nate McMillan.
(My little brother, meanwhile, became quite possibly the only kid in history with a Sarunas Marciulionis Sonics’ jersey…it was the only jersey they had on sale in his size.)
I loved that jersey. It was the team’s home jersey. White, with green lettering. Size 40. Number 10. It was big and baggy. It was perfect. I still have it to this day.
It’s just a thing, of course. Material. It could be destroyed in seconds, vaporized into the past tense. Even if that were to occur, however, I’d still remember that day. The day I got the jersey. I’d remember the emotion and the excitement of putting it on for the first time. I’d remember the feeling of pride that overwhelmed me. I’d remember how happy I was. Over something that might not seem like a big deal to many people, but was, and still is, a big deal to me.
It was a cheap article of clothing by any stretch of the imagination. More than that, though, it was a symbol. A symbol of my undying love for a team that I could call my own. Because I watched them on television, because I went to their games, because I pretended to be them at recess. Sure, I had t-shirts and sweatshirts and caps adorned with their logo. But this was a jersey! This was what the Sonics really wore during games! Well…kind of. It was a replica, after all. An inexpensive one, at that. But it didn’t matter. This was my heart and soul, represented through color and clothing.
That’s what David Stern didn’t get when he let Clay Bennett steal our Sonics. He didn’t understand the attachment we had to memories like this. He tried to quantify our passion in terms of revenue figures and arena funding. He failed to realize that none of those things mattered when it came to devotion.
Stern figured that we’d let it go. That we’d stop caring. That the initial wave of anger and disappointment would eventually be replaced by apathy. He couldn’t have been more wrong.
It’s been almost three years now since the Sonics were taken from us. Nobody’s forgotten. Nobody’s moved on. A ton of credit is due, of course, to the good people behind Sonicsgate. They’ve given us a group to rally around in demanding our team be returned to us. They refuse to give up, and in turn, so do we. It’s a battle that won’t cease until our ballclub comes home for good.
Stern isn’t stupid. For as much as we’d like to believe he is, he isn’t. Over the past thirty-four months since our franchise went on vacation, the commissioner has begun to retreat from the harsh criticisms he once directed at our fan base. He’s even gone so far as to admit that Seattle has proven itself worthy of a team and is a market, believe it or not, that deserves the NBA in its own backyard. It’s nice to see the head honcho display some humility, but it’s all posturing. Every warm-blooded Sonics fan would still love to punch that little man square in the jaw. And every one of us knows that we didn’t need to prove anything to be worthy of our team. Our team should never have left in the first place.
The 2011 NBA Playoffs got underway this past week. For the second straight year, our ballclub made the postseason. Only problem is, they weren’t wearing the right jerseys. Blue and orange and stained by the name of a municipality that couldn’t be farther from Seattle. It’s easy to say that should have been us. It’s easy to be upset, and rightfully so. It’s not nearly as easy to accept the fact that the Oklahoma City Thunder are an established power in the league’s Western Conference. To say it hurts would be an understatement.
While we can’t change the present, and as we fondly recall the past, we’re doing everything we can to modify the future on a daily basis. No one has forgotten about us because we refuse to give up. We’re united as a fan base, in spite of the fact that we have no physical entity to cheer for.
No, we’re much different. We’re unique in our own right. A replica Nate McMillan jersey in a sea of Paytons and Kemps.
As every other NBA fan base roots for a team, we root for something else entirely. It’s represented in a green-and-gold logo, in memories, in photos and videos of days gone by. It’s represented in our collective anger, in our continued frustration, in our passion, in our quest for justice. So long as we keep fighting, what we root for now can never be taken from us, no matter the circumstances.
It is immaterial, it is unremitting, it is unattainable to those who don’t believe.
Quite simply, the thing we root for as one, as Sonics fans, is hope.