Since the end of World War II, eight teams in the four major sports have moved, then won a title.
Misery might be a tame word to describe the feelings of many Sonics fans as the team that used to call Seattle home — the Oklahoma City Thunder — begins play Tuesday night in the NBA Finals.
The thought of the Thunder winning a title so soon after leaving Seattle has reopened the wounds of a painful departure, leaving many struggling with how to deal with their emotions.
But if misery loves company, Sonics fans might be surprised to find out how much of that they have.
“I feel bad for the Seattle fans because OKC is really their team,” Sal Martinez, a barber in Westminster, Calif., said Monday morning. “It’s hard when a team has success after they leave.”
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Martinez would know. Now 49, he began following the Los Angeles Rams when he was 7. Eventually, he named his place of business the Golden Ram Barber Shop, making it a shrine to all things Rams.
Like other Rams fans, Martinez had to figure out how to deal with it when the team won the Super Bowl following the 1999 season. That came just five years after leaving Los Angeles. The franchise never won a title in Southern California.
“It was pretty tough,” Martinez said. “But they were still my team.”
From afar, Martinez shared in the glory of a long-sought Super Bowl title for his beloved Rams. But he said he thinks “75 percent” of Rams fans felt otherwise, either indifferent or actively cheering against the team.
“There were people who had Super Bowl parties and dressed all in black and rooted against the Rams,” he said. “I felt like I had invested so much in the Rams that that was still my championship. But every fan views it differently.”
The experience of Martinez then and Sonics fans today is, sadly, far from unique in a professional sports landscape littered with teams that have moved.
In the post-World War II era, almost 50 franchises in Major League Baseball, NFL, NBA and NHL have relocated.
Eight won titles within five years of moving, leaving a trail of broken hearts and conflicted feelings.
There are entire sections of libraries seemingly devoted to the plight of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who in 1958 relocated to Los Angeles. A year later the Dodgers began a string of three World Series crowns in seven years after winning just one in 57 years in Brooklyn.
Feelings there were somewhat soothed by the birth of the New York Mets a few years later. Still, the name “Walter O’Malley” is greeted by many in Brooklyn with the same kind of derision as Clay Bennett in Seattle.
Proof, though, of how the emotions engendered by such moves can greatly differ is the case of the NHL’s Quebec Nordiques, who relocated to Denver in 1995 and in their first year won their first Stanley Cup after doing nothing more than advancing to the conference finals twice in 16 years in Quebec City.
Vincent Cauchon, a lifelong Quebec City native and radio personality, says fans there largely blamed politicians for the move and instead of hoping the team would lose, or becoming indifferent, almost unanimously cheered the Avalanche when it won the title. It helped, he said, that one of the first moves made by the Avalanche was to trade for goalie Patrick Roy, a native of Quebec City who had been playing for the rival Montreal Canadiens and proved the missing piece in a Stanley Cup title.
“It (the team leaving) was hard to take, but people were happy for them and especially Roy because it was such a major punch in the face to the Canadiens,” he said.
(One wonders how Seattle fans would feel if, say, Isaiah Thomas and Jamal Crawford were leading the Thunder to the title.)
Some cities already had another team when one future title-winner left. Boston lost the Braves (and a young minor-league outfielder named Hank Aaron, who had just been signed) to Milwaukee in 1953, but still had the Red Sox. And the pain in some cities was soothed by quickly getting another team, such as Cleveland, which was promised another team within months of losing the Browns to Baltimore (where they became the Ravens and quickly won a Super Bowl).
More ominous for Seattle, though, might be how eerily similar is its scenario with that of another team that has gone on to become an NBA dynasty — the Minneapolis Lakers, who moved to Los Angeles in 1959. When the Lakers left, Elgin Baylor had just completed his second season and the team had just drafted Jerry West.
Spurned fans in Minneapolis could at least take solace that the West-Baylor Lakers needed more than a decade to actually win a title, stymied annually throughout the 1960s by the Celtics.
They also eventually got a team back, even if it took 30 years.
In Los Angeles, Rams fans are still waiting. Martinez is in the group “Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams.” Their Facebook page includes links to stories noting the issues facing the current Rams ownership in St. Louis, which has led to rumors the team might return.
Dennis Bateman, a 41-year-old sports writer in Santa Barbara, is another member of “Bring Back the Rams.” He said he initially was indifferent toward the team when it left, then found old passions stirred when it won the Super Bowl. That feeling dimmed quickly, though, when owner Georgia Frontiere said almost immediately upon accepting the trophy that winning the title proved the team had made the right decision to leave.
Now, with rumors the team could again be on the move, Bateman says he’s a fan of the Rams.
“It’s a weird thing and I can understand what the fans in Seattle are feeling like,” he said. “When the Rams left, some fans simply parted ways and couldn’t deal with it, like a bad breakup or a divorce. Then there were some who just couldn’t quit the Rams. Because it’s the Rams, I still do (care) — for better or worse.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.