As commentators gush and Seattle aches, imagine how the man feels who sold the Sonics before the NBA franchise moved to Oklahoma City.
Think how former Sonics owner Howard Schultz must have felt Tuesday evening in the minutes before the start of Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Four seasons after he sold the team to Clay Bennett, the team once known as Seattle was playing at home in Oklahoma City against the Miami Heat.
Imagine it’s 5:45. The pregame show is on, and Schultz settles into his favorite chair. In the privacy of his spacious den, he pulls on an old Detlef Schrempf jersey and slides the tall stack of books — all of them “Onward” by Howard Schultz — so they no longer block his view of the large TV screen. He takes a satisfying sip of his Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino and listens to the pundit banter.
“Will this nightmare ever end?” Schultz mutters to himself as he hears his good friend Magic Johnson gush about the Thunder. “This team is in the NBA Finals? Already? This isn’t what I envisioned when I sold it to Clay Bennett. This wasn’t my blueprint. Where are all those 7-foot stiffs we drafted?
“I sold a thirtysomething-win team to Bennett. That team had about as much chance of winning the NBA Finals as the Mariners have of making the World Series this year. How did I know that the kid GM Sam Presti would make magic? They should call him Sam Presto he changed that team so quickly.”
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Schultz listens as more praise is ladled on the Thunder. He begins to suffer Bennett-envy. He’s had these symptoms before.
“Life is so unfair,” Schultz groans. “I should be the toast of Seattle right now, not the espresso roast. I should be there at center court, like I was with the Storm in 2004, basking in the glory of this run. Taking credit for something I had very little to do with. I’m good at that.
“This should be my time. Why did my trigger finger have to get so itchy? Why didn’t I listen to some of my other owners, who begged me not to sell the team to some guy with a roving eye and an ache, like I once had, to be a hometown hero?
“At the very least, where was a local can-do kid like Chris Hansen, the guy who wants to build an arena in Sodo, when I needed him? Gee whiz, if I had sold the team to Hansen, people would still like me. It would have been a win-win for Howard. I would have the hundreds of millions of dollars that I love so much, and Seattle still would have the Sonics. Love, love.
“If only Hansen was walking around five years ago with a few hundred million burning a hole in his pocket. Maybe he even would have hired that guy Presto. Maybe he would have had the foresight to do what I never could bring myself to do: strip the team bare, stockpile draft picks and build from the bottom up.”
Schultz thinks back to an interview conducted earlier in the day. He was on “CBS This Morning” and Charlie Rose had the audacity to ask him if he felt any seller’s remorse watching the Thunder’s rise. He frowns as he remembers that the backdrop over his shoulder included a picture of KeyArena.
“How did I let Charlie Rose blindside me like that?” he asks himself. “I made a killing on that deal. ‘It’s called free enterprise, Charlie.’ That’s what I should have said.
“Instead, I tapped-danced like Gene Kelly, and told Charlie, ‘I wish the NBA well and I wish Oklahoma City well. I’m not here to talk about basketball, Charlie, I’m here to talk about the biggest problem facing America … ‘
“Rose knows that I’m Public Enemy No. 1 in Seattle. Heck people out here even blame me for the rain. A little sympathy, please.
“Yeah, I know, I should have answered his question. He offered me the opportunity to apologize to the residents of Seattle and look human again. The least I could have done is say, ‘I’m sorry,’ to my neighbors. But Howard Schultz apologizes to no man. Just ask Gary Payton.’ “
“Rose gave me the opportunity to say something positive about Hansen’s arena deal,” Schultz continues. “But that arena deal isn’t my idea, and I don’t promote ideas that aren’t mine. You never hear me say anything good about Tully’s, do you?”
Schultz smiles at his bon mot. The smile is fleeting.
“Everywhere I turn, I’m the evil-doer now,” he says to himself. “Gary Payton’s on radio saying I ruined the franchise even before I sold it. And Shawn Kemp is suggesting that fans march from the Thursday rally at Occidental Square to my house. Thank goodness it’s almost summer in the Hamptons. Time for my escape.”
The game is beginning. The ball is thrown into the air. But Schultz can’t take it anymore. He turns off the television and begins rereading his book.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org