Almost no one challenged NBA commissioner David Stern's motives with the Sonics. The same people who professed love for this city ignored it when Seattle needed their help the most. Bill Simmons was the exception.
Throughout the painful, insulting process of losing the Sonics, it always bothered me how little the national media seemed to care.
The same people who always said they loved coming to Seattle, the people who remembered the KeyArena crowds from the 1996 Finals against Chicago as among the most electric they’d ever felt, practically ignored this grand theft.
Almost no one challenged NBA commissioner David Stern’s motives. The same people who professed love for this city ignored it when Seattle needed their help the most.
The one loud, insistent exception was ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons. He took up the cause when too few others would. He did his homework. He was the noise in the midst of the media silence.
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“It was really a hijacking,” Simmons said of the Seattle franchise’s move to Oklahoma City.
Simmons is one of the best in our business. He’s funny. He’s informed. He’s prolific. And he’s over-the-top popular.
He has 980,000 people following him on Twitter. Over the past six months, his column has averaged 1.4 million page views a month. At age 40 he has become the Kobe Bryant of sportswriting.
And he’s a basketball fan who cared about what was happening in Seattle.
“I was kind of dismissive of it initially,” Simmons said, “but I got a lot of e-mails from Sonics fans asking me to ‘actually look at what’s happening out here.’ “
Simmons paid attention and called the move “the biggest blemish on Stern’s legacy.”
“Maybe he didn’t willingly conspire,” Simmons said by telephone Thursday morning, “but by not doing anything, it made him a conspirator. He’s the commissioner and he’s supposed to stop stuff like this and didn’t.
“It was a case of a guy [Clay Bennett] who bought the team and never really wanted to keep it there and stole the team. I love basketball and I felt like Seattle had really good fans. It just didn’t seem fair to me that somebody bought this team with no intention of keeping it in Seattle and the rules were in place so that nobody could stop him. I continue to feel bad for the fans.”
Simmons is coming to town Tuesday to sign copies of his new 697-page book, “The Book of Basketball.”
He will be at Sport Restaurant & Bar, beginning at 7 p.m.
“I think a lot of fans are going to show up in Sonics jerseys,” he said. “I don’t want to say it will be a Viking funeral, but it will have a couple of those elements.”
When he was planning this book tour, the No. 1 city Simmons wanted to visit was Boston, home of his beloved Celtics. But, he said, Seattle was the second city on his list.
“It’s hard for me to believe that Seattle’s not one of the 30 cities that has a team,” he said. “I think there are maybe six, seven, eight cities in the NBA that really got the NBA and really understood the history and it resonated. And I think Seattle was one of those cities.”
Simmons promised Seattle’s NBA fans he never would mention the Oklahoma City franchise by its NBA-given name. Even now, he calls them the “Zombie Sonics,” or “The Team That Shall Not Be Named.”
“As I dove into this issue more, I was very surprised that it wasn’t a bigger story,” he said. “I thought it was the kind of story that should be leading SportsCenter and should be on the cover of S.I. I didn’t get it and I still don’t get it.
“It’s crazy to me, that this wasn’t a bigger story, especially when you think of all the stuff we blow out of proportion. This was a story that was at the heart of American sports. The fact that owners can extort fans and get whatever they want.”
Simmons’ father began taking his son to Celtics games when Simmons was 4 years old. He says that many of the greatest moments in his life occurred in the old Boston Garden. Like all of us who fell in love with the game before we were teenagers, we carry that love forever.
“For me it’s the only game I totally understand,” he said. “I can go to the games, and I can see everything. I can see all the guys at once. I can see all the angles. I can read the body language. I feel like it’s the one sport that I get.”
And when Seattle lost the Sonics, when the game was taken from us, Bill Simmons was the one sports writer who got it, the one who truly understood our pain.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists