Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Return of the Sonics: A Friendly Reminder to Appreciate the Team

After five excruciatingly long seasons, where we watched the rise, rise, and continued rise of the Oklahoma City Thunder, grudgingly scattered our fandom among the other 29 teams, and even dealt with the demise of top local product Brandon Roy, the Seattle SuperSonics are finally returning for the 2013-14 NBA season, to the immense relief of Washington's basketball faithful. Chris Hansen, aka my hero, purchased the Sacramento Kings for $525 million (time out...525 million. Let that sink in. 525 million! We owe Chris Hansen a gift basket or Macy's gift card, at least). They will spend two or three years playing in the once-deemed NBA unsuitable Key Arena before moving into the under-construction new arena (Check out this sick ass design template here). For all of us buying merchandise, attending rallies, and complaining on Facebook, the reincarnation of the Sonics is a second coming of Adidas proportions, a chance to apologize to and make up with an estranged lover. But herein lies my only concern; a douchebag ex boyfriend might beg for the return of his girlfriend, promising her that this time, things will be different, that he's a changed man, that things weren't so bad in the first place. And, inevitably, when she falls for the smiles and the words ("all the right things"), she takes him back, he takes advantage of her, and she's miserable again.

All of us in Washington see the "Robbed" t-shirts, and everyone nationwide knows how badly we want a team again. But let's not forget how much we want them after a few losing seasons go by. The Kings haven't made the playoffs since 2006, and with their current record (16-26), aren't showing signs of breaking that streak anytime soon. Their best player, DeMarcus Cousins, is possibly the least mature member of the League, former #4 overall pick Tyreke Evans' game slips a little every year, and Jimmer Fredette is barely a factor. Let's say that, despite the new management's best efforts to revamp the roster, the Sonics incur 5 consecutive losing seasons; are we still as excited in 2018 after those losing seasons?

I know, I know, I'm offending anyone reading this with a "Bring Em Back!" sign on their wall. Seattleites, and really Washingtonians in general, pride themselves on being the rowdiest, loudest, most passionate sports fans in the nation, and the empirical evidence seems to support that assessment. The 12th Man, the nickname of the Seahawks crowd, upholds a national reputation for making Seattle the most nightmarish of football destinations, a Mordor of the NFL in which opponents always play Smeagol (finishing 0-8 in the Northwest in 2012). The Sounders pull in 43,000 fans a game. For comparison's sake, the 2nd top drawing soccer league in the world, the English Premier League, sees an average of 32,000 attendees a game. Yeah. Seattle draws a full 25% more than the average EPL team. Even the Mariners used to draw in that same 43,000 back in 2001 and 2002. Unfortunately for the franchise, as the team's performance sagged, the attendance figures followed suit, dropping all the way to 23,000 per game in 2011 (full attendance figures here). The effect of losing on a fan base can be devastating, and the Kings are the best example of all. After a flourishing period of decadent passing from Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic and Jason Williams/Mike Bibby, the Kings finally missed the playoffs in 2007. In 2007-08, despite an improved record, the Kings failed to sell out every home game for the first time since 1999(!). The once-intimidating crowd, the standard by which every NBA team measured themselves, sank to a pitiful 13,500 fans per game in a 17,500 capacity arena. And now their team is headed to Seattle.

A lot of factors, most of which can be seen in the excellent documentary Sonicsgate, contributed to the departure of the Northwest's most mystical team. Understandably, also, it became difficult to cheer for a team we all knew wouldn't be staying around much longer (I personally hardly watched and never attended games during 2007-08, the last season of the Sonics, despite the presence of Kevin Durant; it was just too painful). But the fact is that Seattle didn't provide the same support for the Sonics as it did (and does) with other teams. The city funded expansions to both Safeco Field (home of the Mariners) and Qwest/CenturyLink Field (Sounders/Seahawks housing), but felt drained of change after those two and refuted a similar proposal by the snake that is Howard Schultz. The Sonics filled KeyArena from 1995-1999, yet came within 1,000 ticket sales of replicating this feat only two seasons after that stretch (2004-05, a 50 win and playoff season, and 2005-06; attendance figures here). Remember, this is the smallest arena in the NBA, and the Sonics weren't exactly slouches in the 21st century, featuring stars like Gary Payton, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis (plus my favorite player, Vladimir Radmanovic). Again, I'm not even talking about the time after the equally snakish Clay Bennett bought the team; he worked his hardest to alienate the local fanbase, and there wasn't a sober fan around who thought the Sonics would stay in Seattle, as much as we hoped and prayed for such a reality.

However, I promise I'm not trying to write a giant kick in the nuts to all Sonics fans; far from it. The Sonics departure has brought Northwest sports fans together the same way Beast Mode runs and Eddie Johnson goals do. The collective orgasm enjoyed by Facebook and Twitter when Adrian Wojnarowski's report of the Kings' sale sprang up on Yahoo! rivaled any Russell Wilson pass. Sonics merchandise still regularly outsells several active teams' gear. The Sonics are undoubtedly more popular today than they were when they left, and a couple of Isaiah Thomas three pointers should be the Listerine for the tabasco, gravy and mayo Starbucks blend Schultz and Bennett fed the South Puget Sound in 2006. There's no way the team doesn't sell out in 2013-14, and the advent of the new arena should draw even more attention. And for all my California friends who've seen my support for what they see as something as non-existent as Dr. Dre's Detox album, well, I can promise that most of the Seattle metropolitan area is as excited as I am for the reincarnation of our most intriguing franchise. Again, the purpose of this post is not to criticize the fans; I've suffered through the same span of eight years of Oklahoma City ownership of our team as the rest of us have. This is only a reminder that having a basketball team is a privilege, not a right. For all the hype and excitement surrounding the relocation, let's keep the enthusiasm unconditional; I don't want to hear about the possibility of the Sonics leaving EVER AGAIN, even if they're owned by Clay Bennett and go 0-82. Pro basketball is pro basketball, and there's nothing quite like it. So I implore you, Sonics fans, to never let your support wane, even after DeMarcus picks up a 7 years suspension for throwing Metta World Peace and Mike D'Antoni into the Lakers' broadcast team, sending the whole crew to the hospital, before taking a piss on the entire Staples Center crowd (just kidding, I hope). We'll never be accused of being that douchebag again, because we legitimately love our girl. And, in all fairness, she was flirting with another guy, and he was kind of a tool. But we love her all the same, and she got it figured out.

Also, before your next drink, pour one out for the Sacramento Kings and their fans (Ryan Gregory, if you're reading this, I'm looking at you). Though their ownership situation has been a mess for years and their franchise has a long history of movement (from Rochester to Cincinnati to Kansas City to Sacramento in 1985), the fans don't deserve this. We're essentially doing to them what they did to us. And we feel for you guys. At least you have the Warriors an hour southwest. And hey, they're doing way better than the Kings are!

In conclusion, THE SONICS ARE BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D

1 comment:

  1. And the Warriors are doing better than the Lakers only an hour south by plane (Matt Cervera)