The accountant who leases the office space in my company’s building has never said much more than a casual “Hello” to me in two-and-a-half years. I always politely greet him in return, and we’ll occasionally share a “How ya doing?” followed by a “Good, good. You?” We may have exchanged comments on the weather a few times, and perhaps even celebrated the occasional TGIF moment as we’ve checked out for the weekend. But in all, we’ve never really talked about anything of substance.
There’s a clerk at the grocery store I stop at on my way to work. He’s silver-haired, probably in his early-fifties. I’ve watched him interact with other patrons, as well as his coworkers. He has a sense of humor and a gregarious personality. He’s likable and appears to be well-liked. He can deliver a joke and is quick with a laugh. We had never spoken before, until one day when I stood in the aisle perusing cold drinks and heard to my left an abrupt, “Hey!”
At a different supermarket, a pretty, dark-haired girl who appears to be in her early-twenties rings up my late-night purchases one evening. I’m the lone person in line, and only a handful of nocturnal shoppers populate the landscape around us. As she runs a few unhealthy snacks across the scanner, the checker notices my shirt. “So,” she inquires, “do you think they’re coming back?”
I look through old photos of my childhood and find one of my brother and myself standing in a field. The field seems to greet the horizon, miles and miles away. I am probably 10 years of age in this picture, my brother no more than seven. The year is 1994.
We’re in Kenmare, North Dakota, a small mill town in the western part of the state. You’d barely notice it on a map. It’s where my relatives lived, and here in this picture we stand amidst knee-high grass across a gravel road from my great-grandfather’s farm. It’s the middle of summer, probably late-July or early-August.
Summers in Kenmare are hot, sticky, infested by mosquitoes who riddle your body with itchy, swelling bumps. Over the course of that summer trip, as well as trips before and after it, I build collections of mosquito bites and tally the wounds on a nightly basis. To a 10-year-old without a care in the world, each bite is like a trophy I wear upon my skin, a badge worthy of sharing with anyone who will give me two seconds of their time.
Twilight lingers around us as a single blemish dots the graying sky above our heads. The moon hangs there, a telltale sign of the time of day this photo was captured.
In the waning light you can make out the logos on our t-shirts. Green-and-gold semi-circles are stamped upon each garment.
“Hey, how ya doing?” The accountant waits by the elevator as I exit the nearby staircase.
“Good,” I reply. “You?”
“Good,” he responds. “I like that shirt.”
I’m wearing a kelly green Supersonics sweatshirt, crewneck, early-nineties style. It’s colorful, it’s loud, it’s exactly how I feel about the basketball team we used to have here in Seattle.
“Oh yeah?” I laugh. “Thanks!”
“They’re coming back soon,” he affirms.
With a grin, I agree. “Yep, they’ll be back shortly.”
We go our separate ways. It’s a ten-second interaction. It’s filled with more substance than any interaction we’ve previously had over the past 31 months.
Thanks to the occasional UPS package that’s been left in our care as office space neighbors to the accountant, I know his name is Brad. And after today, I know that Brad, like me, is a Sonics fan.
“You think we’re gonna get the Kings?” asks the silver-haired clerk.
“Man, I hope so,” I respond. I’m wearing a bright green Sonics t-shirt on this day, a throwback to two decades earlier.
“I bet we do. And here’s what I think should happen…” He goes off into a well-thought-out mission statement of sorts on what the Sonics will do once they return to Seattle. He alludes to draft picks and free agents — “What do you think about Durant? You think we can get him back?” — and unleashes as much knowledge as any NBA fan could possibly have.
I nod. I listen. I offer what I know.
We speak for almost 10 minutes in front of chilled sodas and bottles of water. We’re beaming from ear to ear as we talk, getting ourselves excited over nothing more than a hope, a possibility.
As our conversation comes to a close, he pauses, then remarks, “It was great talking with you.”
“Likewise,” I say. And it was, too. There’s no hint of forced exaggeration in either of our voices. We’re just two fans, chatting.
He goes back to stocking shelves. I grab my drink and head to the front of the store. We acknowledge one another each time we meet thereafter.
“They’re coming back,” I assert. I’m sporting a grey hooded sweatshirt with a Sonics logo on it, a purchase I made just days after the team moved to Oklahoma City back in 2008.
“Really?” asks the dark-haired checker. “Good. I can’t wait to go back to games.”
“Yeah, it’s not done yet,” I admit, “but it’ll happen soon enough.”
“That’s awesome. I’m excited!” She smiles wide as she hands me my receipt. “Have a good night!”
“You too,” I reply.
I can’t suppress a half-smirk as I walk away. People are excited about this. People are excited about the Sonics.
The photo tells the story. From a young age, I grew up a Sonics fan. So did my brother. So did my friends. We were all Sonics fans.
There was this portrayal by the nation’s media in the aftermath of the team’s departure that this region was littered with apathetic pseudo-fans. That no one here really cared that the team left. Even in our own city, where lawmakers publicly questioned the value of the basketball team, there were those who didn’t know just how important the Sonics were to us.
As time has passed, people’s eyes have been opened. They’ve seen how much this matters to us. They’ve seen how badly we miss our team, and how eagerly we await their return.
It’s not so much if they return, but when. And a week ago, when news broke that this was it, that it was finally on the verge of happening, well, we rejoiced.
This is more than a basketball organization. It’s more than a logo and colors. It’s more than a few players, more than a uniform. For Seattleities, the Sonics have embodied what it means to hope, what it means to dream, what it means to believe in something. We bond over their memory. We unite over their future. We share moments of memorable interaction over a team.
Losing the Sonics was the worst thing that’s ever happened to sports fans in this town. But now, in the wake of their revival, we can reflect on the past four years and see them for what they’ve been. The adversity that came along with our collective loss brought us all together. And no quantity of statistics, no congregation of naysayers, no antagonists of our fight can refute that.
We are stronger than we were five years ago. We deserve this team. We deserve the Seattle Supersonics.