When you watch Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals this season, you may feel more than a bit nostalgic for what once was, what might have been, and what could possibly be once again. You may also feel the urge to put down a thunderous slam dunk, Sean Kemp style!
If so, you should join the Seattle Supersonics’ faithful in Pioneer Square’s Occidental Park (Thursday, June 14), for a “Bring Back the Sonics” rally. The story arc of the world championship NBA team Seattle fans lost and cried “Foul on the play!” is hard to forget.
Our fondest Sonics’ memories float above the rim, above the backboard, above the crowd, like a soaring three-point play, launched from the fantastic fingers of “Downtown” Freddie Brown, Dale Ellis, Sam Perkins or Ray Allen. These were long distance deliveries sent straight from the heart of Seattle Sonics’ history that sailed through the hoop at the split-second moment of the final buzzer. Brown, Ellis, Perkins, Allen? Was there ever more 3-point shooting prowess on a single team anywhere in NBA history? Why did time have to run out for Seattle?
Whether you were a longtime season ticket holder like so many, or simply treated your family and friends to a game or two during the many seasons of professional basketball at “The Key.” you felt it. The electricity, the surge – and then (zap!) the power outage. The final insult dealt by “coffee bean counter” Howard Schultz, perhaps the most vilified team owner (by Sonics players and Seattle fans) in the history of professional sports. It was Schultz who headed the ownership group that traded a community’s pride and legacy to the “wrong” outside investor, Clay Bennett, who came to Seattle with leaving on his mind.
Can you picture the same scenario today with the Seattle Mariners or Seahawks? The owners would be ridden out of town on a rail. Let’s be clear about the bureaucracy of city officials and the state legislature. Those were all “red herrings.”
Clay Bennett never had any intention of keeping the Sonics in Seattle. He understood that the demands he would instill could not possibly be met in the necessary timeframe. No, it was the original sin of selling “out” to an “outside,” out-of-state investor instead of the many times richer Puget Sound investment community, especially in Redmond, that was the crime. Schultz will take that one with him, like the ghost of George Mikan, Mr. Basketball, to judgment day. Schultz even mounted a mock counter-suit against OKC as if to suggest he honestly believed OKC owners wanted to manage a team in Seattle.
At least Clay Bennett could not abscond with the Sonics 1979 NBA championship trophy or the Sonics banners or the retired jerseys to Oklahoma. No, the city of Seattle has preserved all of those items on display at the Museum of History and Industry.
But OKC stole something else from Seattle. The tradition of a hard-working World Championship team and the devotion of countless Northwest fans and families. Those things are priceless!
That the “Green and Gold” changed kid’s lives is a sentiment shared by such Northwest natives as former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton, NBA star Doug Christie, and award-winning author Sherman Alexie, to name but a few.
Gary Payton, the perennial NBA all-star, aka “The Glove,” may have said it best, “He [Howard Schulz] tried to run a basketball team like a coffee business. You can’t do it that way!” For his part, Schultz felt disrespected by Payton. But the other Sonics players didn’t “respect” Schultz either. So Schultz extracted sweet revenge by trading Payton to the Milwaukee Bucks for a cadre of players. ”At the end of the day,” intoned Sonics veteren announcer, Kevin Calabro, in the Webby award-winning film “SonicsGate, the franchise was mismanaged. Schultz violated the public trust!”
To reignite the emotion of those fateful events – the civic pride, the fan fervor, the sorrow and the pity of what will go down in history as the “Seattle Supersonic Sell-Out” – start by nuking some popcorn.
Then stream the film that became an Internet Webby Oscar-winner, “Sonicsgate,” from any computer, smartphone or set-top Internet TV box via YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9Dp20ydm1E .
Sonicsgate retraces the fiasco play-by-play. After failing in Seattle with local Initiative 91, OKC businessman Clay Bennett took his chicanery to the Wa. state legislature in Olympia asking the state to spend $500 million on what would be the most expensive arena in the NBA at the worst traffic intersection in the state of Washington, right in the middle of the S-Curves in Renton.
“These guys weren’t serious,” said Rep. Ross Hunter, the House Finance Committee Chair, in retrospect. Ross sat across the desk from the new owners, face-to-face, and took the full measure of their sincerity. “They made no significant effort to pass the bill. Nothing.”
Bennett then began to gut the team, cut salaries, and prepare for evacuation.
“Everything was so controlled, and it was all to turn us off, and turn the city off,” said Seattle Times sportswriter Steve Kelley. ”Their whole ‘Game Plan’ was to get out of town and create as much ill-will in the process as they could.” The only fast break left for the Okies was to break the lease at Key Arena.
Steven Pyeatt, the co-founder of Save Our Sonics, related, “[The new owners] did everything but lock the doors to keep people out of the building.”
“It was psychic pain,” said author Sherman Alexie.
Even a white knight like Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer who came forward with $150 million dollars to put toward arena renovations was “too little, too late.”
Brian Robinson, co-founder of Save Our Sonics, rallied a crew of Sonics fans to travel to Olympia and lobby the state congress. Their chants fell on deaf ears. The decision never even came to a vote in Olympia. Speaker of the House Frank Chopp simply did not approve it, did not put it on the docket, and gave no “assist” on the play. The deadline for public investment had been missed.
Fast break to present day. Hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen is the latest “Seattle Sonics All-Star” to move the ball ahead and mount a plan for a state-of-the-art sporting arena in downtown Seattle. And he has company. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has thrown his hat in the ring as part of the investment group looking to return both the NBA and NHL to Seattle. Also part of the investment group will be Erik and Peter Nordstrom, who’s family owned the Seattle Seahawks from 1976-1988. The Nordstrom duo will also invest in both the arena and a franchise.
The project will need about $290 million in private funds and around $200 million more from the city and county through 30-year bonds. Any franchise that comes to Seattle and uses the arena would be required to sign a non-relocation agreement that would last for the life of those bonds.
Sonicsgate, Requiem for a Team was named ”Best Sports Film” at the 2010 Webby Awards and winner of the Audience Choice Silver Medal for Excellence at the Park City Film Music Festival.
When this two-hour free internet release of “Sonicsgate” won the Webby Award for Best Sports Film in 2010, director Jason Reid and producer Adam Brown brought legendary Sonics point guard Gary Payton with them to accept the award and deliver the customary five-word Webby Awards speech: “Bring Back Our Seattle SuperSonics.” The film and associated bonus features have received more than one million online views.
The film will, once again, gain national TV broadcast on June 15 when it will air twice on CNBC. The “Directos’s Cut” can be viewed on the Web at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9Dp20ydm1E [24x7]
To connect with Bring Back Our Sonics, visit the Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/BringBackOurSonics
41 Reasons Seattle Deserves To Have The Sonics Back
- Seattle Much More Than a Farm(-ville) Team for Mark Pincus of Zynga
- SEO Team Manager, ADP Cobalt Seattle
- A Meeting of Seattle Minds: Seattle’s “Mind Camp” Organizer Promoted 24 Hours of Face Space
- Product Copy Team Manager, Zulily
- Web Team Manager/Senior Developer, Va Mason
Category: Pioneer Squared
About the Author (Author Profile)
Larry Sivitz is founder, publisher and managing editor of Seattle24x7, the founder of SearchWrite Search Marketing, an SEO, PPC and Social Media Thought Leader, and an SPJ award winner for Seattle magazine.