The Neverending Fan Base

I remember when I got my first Sonics jersey. The year was 1995. I was in fourth grade, ten years old at the time.

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.

Never forget.

7 thoughts on “The Neverending Fan Base”

  1. I can definitely feel the pain; this postseason has been the most painful since the Sonics left; it’s the first time since then that the NBA has drawn my interest, but that interest only reminds me that there is no silver lining. No matter what angle I look at it, Seattle was screwed over in the worst possible way, and the hits just keep on coming.

    It hurts that only after the Howard’s Great Betrayal did the Sonics get a GM worth a damn. That they drafted in Kevin Durant a player who is everything you could ever hope to have as the face of your franchise; a player may just be the face of the NBA soon, King James or no. It hurts that the Thunder are contending with players who wore Sonic green; at least wait a decade until I don’t recognize anybody.

    It hurts that the Sonics/Thunder could never have been rebuilt as fast as they were if Bennett had any desire to keep them in Seattle. Every other General Manager is hampered by the desire to build a contender balanced with the responsibility to its sponsors and fanbase to field a competitive product. Bennett’s desire to create fan apathy gave Presti complete freedom to bottom out the team and build them up faster than any GM was ever allowed to. Map this kind of turnaround to the Mariners and they’d have been contenders again by 2005.

    Even now after they’ve been gone, Stern gets everything he wants. His buddy Bennett has a team. The Sonics move was his warning to the rest of the country: “This WILL happen to you if we don’t get what we want”. Our desire to have our Sonics back is being pimped out by every owner who wants another sweetheart deal in their own city.

    It would help if the Thunder stunk the way Howard’s Sonics did. It would help if Kevin Durant were as tone-deaf as Allen Iverson, as crazy as Ron Artest, or as unlikable as the Boston-era Kevin Garnett.

    It would help if by now there were some way I could look at the NBA without feeling another knife in my back.

  2. While I grew up in Seattle, attended HS there and the great University of Washington, I admit I was never a huge Sonics fan…My loyalties were more towards individual players than to actual NBA teams. However, as a Seattle guy, I was very disappointed when the Supes were ripped from the city. I love Seattle and I hate to see bad things happen to a great city. I still follow “players” rather than teams in the NBA so it further kills me to see players like Durant and Westbrook (players I like) tearing it up for the Zombie Sonics. I have faith that my city will someday acquire a new NBA team…I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.

  3. I think George Karl should wear his Space Needle tye for a game this post season. I know he wasn’t happy the team left and has no issues ruffling feathers in the NBA.

  4. Three years later and everytime I see the Thunder on TV I get just as angry as I did the day “Coward Shlutz” sold the team to “Clay Bennedict”. I knew that once that transaction was made that my favorite teams time in Seattle was numbered. The Naive people gave Clay the Benefit of the Doubt. I knew that he was setting us up for failure when he introduced a three quarter of a BILLION dollar stadium to the Legislature that obviously NO ONE was going to vote for. I knew when Lenny Wilkens stepped down that something was up. I knew Clay had no intention on keeping the team here. My heart was broken.

    I have written EVERY local and state government official regarding the Sonics situation. When Mike McGinn was supposedly “answering” all emails when he was running for office, Mine seemed to be the one that was NOT answered. I knew he would never get my vote.

    I urged people that if they truly cared about having the Sonics back that they needed to start emailing these government officials, and vote for someone who is passionate about having the NBA back in Seattle. All the indifferent and harsh officials were re-elected and left me shaking my head.

    Then Rumors started to buzz about the Hornets possibly being purchased by Steve Balmer and moved to Seattle. I still don’t know what is happening with this situation but it appears the buzz and rumors have stopped all together and we are still without an NBA team.

    I recalled “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner, and the quote “Build it and they will come” and Aaron Levine from Q it up sports saying that if an arena gets built then the NBA and the NHL will come. But alas, if we can’t get the government on our side then nothing is going to happen.

    Also, if we can’t get a team in place by the year 2013 then we lose our colors, logo, name, history, Championship- EVERYTHING!!! This is only two years away. Three years have passed this quickly. The clock is ticking and time is running out.


  5. Sean – I wasn’t aware of that last paragraph. Yikes. Do you have more info on that?

  6. I too had the McMillan jersey, and I actually chose mine! I was so proud of it. No one at my school had Payton or Kemp though. Everyone had Jordan or Mourning or some other team’s hero. I would battle with them about how the Sonics were the best team just as vigorously as I would battle with them on the schoolyard basketball court. Looking back, I’m even more proud of that McMillan jersey because it shows how much I cared about and loved every player on the team. Back then it seemed like you knew every player. Shoot. I would’ve rocked the heck out of a Scheffler jersey! Remember how loud the crowd would get when he would come in for the final two minutes of a game when the Sonics had already clinched the game? Biggest ‘crowd pleaser’ ever?

  7. I was cleaning out my old closet at my mom’s this week and I found all my old jersey’s just like you describe! Even Sarunas Marciulionis! LOL everything from the Jordan #45 to Detlef, Patyon, a real Kemp jersey, and Kemp’s USA #7! I miss this team….:( F*** you CLAY!

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