Wednesday night the Oklahoma City Thunder closed out the top seeded San Antonio Spurs, winning their fourth straight game in the series, to advance the NBA Finals.
As the clock ran down, the announcers said "The Oklahoma City Thunder are headed to the Finals for the first time since 1996." It was a great moment, watching Kevin Durant embrace his mother and family as the woman next them was crying tears of joy.
If you weren’t a Spurs fan, or even if you were, it was a great moment as the proverbial torch was passed from the old guard San Antonio team to the young guns in OKC.
Every basketball fan not rooting for the Heat or the Celtics (or the Spurs) probably enjoyed that moment a little bit — wait a second. Back up. What did the announcer say? "The Oklahoma City Thunder are headed to the Finals for the first time since 1996.”
What? That isn’t a thing because in 1996 the Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t a thing. As soon as I heard that, I immediately thought of the Pacific Northwest, because I remember who was in the 1996 NBA Finals.
In case you forgot, it is the Seattle Supersonics, or the Seattle Sonics, whichever you prefer. What it is not is the Oklahoma City Thunder. When the franchise moved and left their name, their colors and their fans in Seattle, they left all the records and results, too. With the sale of the team to Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett’s group, they left their old owners behind as well. If that isn’t a clean break, I don’t know what it is.
But as any breakup goes, one party usually moves on first while the other hates the fact she did so already. I mean come on, it’s been like two weeks and she’s already on a date?
And isn’t that the guy from my statistics class? How did she even meet him. I mean…
Sorry, that was not about me in college. At all.
Anyway, I thought of Seattle as OKC celebrated, and it got me thinking about how angry I would be if I were a true Sonics fan.
It was a messy divorce in the land of Pearl Jam if you don’t remember. The team was owned by Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks. Wanting to expand the smallest arena in the league, Schultz wanted the city and state to build him a new arena. He entertained offers from groups in Anaheim, Las Vegas, Kansas City and OKC.
Eventually Schultz settled on the OKC group for $350 million. After Bennett’s group pitched a voter-funded $500 million suburban arena that was rejected, he petitioned to move the team to Oklahoma City and break his lease at Key Arena.
The city said no, but liking money like cities do, they settled out of court on July 2, 2008, and Sonics and Seattle were officially each single. The fans went nuts, feeling left out of the process (even though they chose not help pay for a new arena twice) and were loud and vocal in their displeasure with Bennett, who took the brunt of the blame for the move, not Howard Schultz who sold the team to out-of-towners looking for a team of their own.
But, hey, when have the facts (like not voting to approve a new arena) ever made a breakup easier? They haven't.
Fans in Seattle feel like their team was ripped out from under them, and it pretty much was. The NBA did nothing to help them; they will block a trade by the Lakers for Chris Paul, but they won’t help a city that’s has 40+ years keep their franchise, and it’s safe to say Bennett’s public sentiment to keep the team in Seattle was less-than-sincere.
Some former players agreed. Shawn Kemp declined an invitation from the Thunder to sit courtside for the Memphis/OKC playoff game last year, explaining, "I live out here in Seattle, I’ll carry the Sonics in my heart for the rest of my life, but I have a problem rooting for Oklahoma…It’s loyalty man… The people back here deserve basketball, and it was taken and robbed from the people in this area. So my loyalty remains in this area and these people until they get a team back. I won’t be sitting in anyone’s front row until the Sonics are back in action.”
Gary Payton turned down a similar offer, endearing those two even more to the fans in Seattle. Are their fans in Seattle? There have to be, right? I can’t imagine who they root for since they just don’t have a team. It’s hard enough for me to root for anyone in the playoffs since the Mavericks are out (who was the last opponent for the Seattle Sonics in Key Arena? The Dallas Mavericks) so I can’t imagine who they get behind now.
As OKC prepares for their first trip to the Finals, I had to say something about the forgotten ex, struggling far away. Keep your head up, Sonics fans, something good will happen for you. Right? Maybe not.
But hey, why don’t you get some Mavericks gear? We play OKC, and as a bitter ex, isn’t the enemy of your enemy your friend? Just an idea.