Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
SEATTLE – Before they became critically acclaimed documentary filmmakers, Adam Brown and Jason Reid were just basketball junkies. And being hoops aficionados, Brown and Reid can appreciate the way the Oklahoma City Thunder play.
But all it takes is one screen shot of owner Clay Bennett or one mention of Oklahoma City’s past incarnation as the Seattle SuperSonics to remind them why they can never cheer for the Thunder.
“If this team was still here, they would be the most fun and exciting team to watch in the league,” said Brown, who was co-director of the “Sonicsgate” documentary that chronicled the SuperSonics’ departure in 2008. “It’s been so hard to root against a team that plays such an exciting brand of basketball.”
Seeing Oklahoma City win the Western Conference crown last week was tough enough for Seattle fans. Now come the NBA finals beginning Tuesday night against Miami and the chance that just four years after a messy divorce from the city of Seattle the Thunder could be NBA champs, which would only twist the figurative knife for Sonics fans still smarting from the franchise’s flight.
Outside of South Florida, there may be no larger collection of Heat fans for the next two weeks than in the Pacific Northwest.
Who knew Seattle could be so crazy for LeBron James and the rest of Miami’s stars?
Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, who has a shrine of Heat jerseys and memorabilia next to his clubhouse locker, said his Twitter feed was filled Saturday night with Seattle fans saying they’d be pulling for the Heat in the Finals.
“I’ll win, they’ll win. We’ll get two wins on Tuesday,” said Hernandez, who’ll be pitching for the Mariners tonight while Game 1 is taking place in Oklahoma City.
There’s little connection remaining between the current Thunder team and the former Sonics.
Nick Collison and Kevin Durant are the only two Thunder players who actually played for the Sonics in Seattle. Collison, who lives in Seattle during the offseason, has been with the franchise since 2004, while Durant played his rookie season in Seattle.
“We still remember everything: the teams in Seattle that were going to the finals and won the finals back in `79, the Gary Paytons, the Shawn Kemps, the Detlef Schrempfs, the guys that played in this organization,” Durant said. “But it feels good to have an opportunity to bring something to Oklahoma City.”
What seems to irritate Seattle residents the most is hearing references to Sonics history, which Oklahoma City owns a share of as part of a settlement reached with Seattle. So when television announcers say it’s the first finals appearance for the Thunder franchise since 1996, when the Sonics lost in six games to the Chicago Bulls, it adds to the heartache.
“They’re the one championship team we’ve had here in Seattle,” said Steven Rupp, who lives in the Queen Anne area around the Sonics’ former home, KeyArena, and remembers when Sonics players lived in the neighborhood. “It would have been good to keep them here.”
For a while, Seattle was numb to the NBA. There was no interest, just bitter feelings about the departure of the Sonics after 41 years and the 1979 title. The championship trophy sits in storage at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry, which is moving to a new facility and hopes to have the trophy on display by the end of the year.
But slowly, an interest in the green and gold has been rekindled.
Jeff Scoma, owner of the Seattle Team Shop, said he stopped carrying any apparel associated with the team when the Sonics left.
About 18 months ago, some fans started inquiring about old Sonics gear. Now, about 5 percent of his sales are related to vintage or throwback hats, shirts and jerseys honoring a franchise that no longer exists.
The timing of Oklahoma City’s run to the finals creates a dichotomy for basketball diehards in the area, who are the midst of throwing their support behind a proposal from hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen for a new $490 million basketball arena, which would include nearly $300 million in private investment. The arena is at the heart of efforts to bring back the NBA.
Drumming up support for the arena proposal means showing that Seattle is a market with a great desire for the NBA to return.
Hansen’s push includes a large public rally in downtown Seattle on Thursday afternoon featuring former Sonics stars Payton and Kemp. It’ll take place just a couple of hours before Game 2 tips off in Oklahoma City.
“I want this city, the city of Seattle, to experience the joy that the citizens of Oklahoma City are experiencing right now,” Kris Brannon, the self-proclaimed “Sonics Guy,” told the Seattle City Council during recent public testimony about the arena. “By bringing an arena and bringing an NBA team back to Seattle, we can make that happen.”
Added Brown: “Maybe all the anger and sadness people are feeling about Oklahoma City winning is the best thing we have to motivate our elected officials to get this deal done.”