Gary Payton drew a standing ovation as he accepted a Webby award in New York for the documentary "Sonicsgate." The former Sonic vowed to raise a Sonics jersey if he makes the Hall of Fame.
NEW YORK — The rule for acceptance speeches at Monday night’s 14th annual Webby Awards was exact, which is what made it so difficult.
The person accepting the award, given by the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences, could only speak five words.
That was the challenge for Gary Payton and the makers of “Sonicsgate,” which won the Webby for Sports Documentary.
As host B.J. Novak from “The Office” introduced him, Payton came on stage to loud applause. (Only Buzz Aldrin received a louder ovation, and he walked on the moon, for crying out loud.)
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Payton, dressed in a gray suit, strode to the microphone and said what everyone associated with the film, everybody who came to its showings in Seattle and most everybody who has taken the time to watch it on the Internet, wants most.
“Bring back our Seattle SuperSonics,” Payton said forcefully, and this mostly-New York crowd stood and cheered as if he’d just said, “Bring back Willis Reed.”
Standing alongside Payton, wearing Sonics T-shirts, were the film’s executive producer Camp Jones and director Jason Reid. They unfurled a Sonics banner just before Payton’s “speech.”
“It blew me away,” Reid said of the standing ovation.
Sonicsgate was an unconventional piece of filmmaking. It was a full-length documentary, released for free on the Internet. It encapsulated everything this night was about — openness and a new way of expression.
For Sonicsgate, the night was a tribute to the filmmakers, but also a tribute to everyone who cheered for that team and felt a profound sense of loss when the franchise left for Oklahoma City.
“What I’m really concerned about is the fans,” Payton said before the show, in a crowd of celebrities that included Isabella Rossellini, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler, Jimmy Fallon and Roger Ebert. “They were so great for us, and then for somebody to come in and take the Sonics away from them, that really hurts me. That’s why I’m always going to be a part of this until a team comes back.”
Even two years later the pain remains.
“It was really sad for me that we even had to make this documentary,” Payton said. “The film just brought back a lot of memories for me. It hurts me to think we don’t have a team and that we had to do this (film) as part of trying to get a team back.
“I didn’t ever think that there wouldn’t be a team in Seattle. But I’m glad these guys did this to show everybody that Seattle has a lot of great fans up there who want a team to come back.”
The film is a remarkable piece of journalism. Step-by-step it shows how the NBA basketball fans in Seattle were abandoned by the league’s hierarchy, the state and city’s politicians, the prevaricating former owner Howard Schultz and his successor Clay Bennett.
It has won wide acclaim and established its makers as forces in the documentary world.
Yet Jones wished he hadn’t had to make the film.
“For me, it was not worth it at all, losing the team,” Jones said. “It was great doing this, but it’s just a case, like anything in life, of making lemonade out of lemons.
“I’m proud of this movie and now the stage that we’re on and the message we’re sending. It’s beautiful, but it’s still sad because we don’t have a team.”`
When the project began they only expected to make a 10-minute YouTube video.
“We weren’t trying to pick through the bones of our old team to try to further our own careers,” Jones said. “We just wanted a team back. I’m a Sonics fan. I grew up on Queen Anne. And we thought we really needed to have this story told.”
They’d rather be watching the NBA Finals and wondering how long it would be before the Sonics make another championship run.
“It’s absolutely not worth it,” said Colin White, producer and website manager. “As fun as it’s been, I’d rather be thinking about draft picks right now and the crazy free-agent market we’re about to be in.”
Their hope is the hope of so many Northwest fans. They want the NBA back. They want the chance to celebrate the careers of people like George Karl, Shawn Kemp, Sam Perkins, Detlef Schrempf and Payton. They want to see Payton’s No. 20 jersey raised to the rafters of a renovated KeyArena.
“I’d like that for the fans,” Payton said of having his number retired. “But I’ll be eligible to be nominated for the Hall of Fame in two years and if I make it, then I can raise the Seattle SuperSonic jersey at the Hall of Fame. That will be a big thing for me.
“I’m going to go up to the podium with that Seattle jersey. I want to be able to say that maybe my team’s not here any more, but I want to go into the Hall of Fame wearing a Seattle SuperSonics jersey.”
In the meantime, this in-between time, when nobody knows if, when or how the NBA will return, a New York crowd cheered the Sonics’ history. It reminds us that, somehow, the game still is alive in Seattle.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org