As the team formerly known as the Sonics opens the Western Conference finals, a reporter realizes he can't stand the Oklahoma City Thunder. Any room on the Dallas bandwagon?
No cheering in the press box.
It’s one of the seminal rules in the sports-reporting racket.
But what about booing? Is that grounds for having your working-press credentials pulled?
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I have to ask because over the past two weeks I have suffered a very visceral and heartfelt aversion to the franchise formerly known as the Seattle Sonics. That team is in the Western Conference finals, which begin Tuesday with Game 1 in Dallas.
This isn’t about Oklahoma City. Not the town, not the fans and not the group of businessmen who high-tailed it out of here in 2008 with our city’s first big-league champion.
This is about me and my feelings for that basketball franchise in particular. I don’t want it to win another game. Ever. Well, OK. That’s an exaggeration, but only slightly.
I don’t wish for misfortune per se, and certainly not tragedy. Only for a prolonged and pronounced lack of success, and in lieu of that, gut-wrenching disappointment. So the only thing better than a four-game sweep at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks would be for Oklahoma City to lose a Game 7 by the final score of 109-3.
This is a new feeling, and one I’m not altogether proud of. It shows that I’m kind of ugly on the inside with more than a tinge of Old Testament tendencies. You know, an eye for an eye and all that. I don’t want to see that team celebrate, and I don’t want to see anyone celebrating that team.
Now, a little bit of history. I covered the team daily from 2002 to 2005 as a newspaper reporter, and I did it without pom-poms. The Sonics have not — at any point in my life — been my favorite basketball team and, in fact, I felt more relief than I’m comfortable admitting when the Sonics lost to the Spurs in the second round of the NBA playoffs in 2005 because I was pretty darn exhausted.
When the Sonics left town, I was disappointed. I thought it was bad for the city in general and for me in particular because I very much enjoy watching the NBA.
But as far as sports hijackings go, it was pretty standard stuff, really. A rich guy (Howard Schultz) wants public-subsidy handouts for a new arena, similar to the help the rich guys who own the Mariners and Seahawks got. He doesn’t get it. Rich guy (still Schultz) gets mad, sells to other rich guys (Clay Bennett, Aubrey McClendon, et al) who happen to live in Oklahoma. Now, they’ll either get that new Taj Mahal of an arena — which they don’t — or they’ll tow the whole thing back to Oklahoma — which they do.
It wasn’t any more sinister or underhanded than the Colts being ripped out of Baltimore or the Browns leaving Cleveland.
Professional sports franchises depend on the whims of rich guys more than anything else, so it’s not exactly unprecedented that a piece of our city’s sporting heart was ripped out and transplanted into the American flatlands.
And, strangely enough, I didn’t suffer any knee-jerk revulsion. In fact, I kind of liked the way the team was constructed with so many versatile players. I loved its up-tempo offense. I didn’t dislike any of the players. Nick Collison was as decent and honest as any pro athlete I’ve covered in the past 10 years, and the team now includes Nate Robinson, who is only one of the best athletes ever to attend high school in Washington.
I wasn’t even bitter about the team’s success last year when it won 50 games and pushed the Lakers to six games in the first round.
But something happened this year in that team’s first-round series against Denver. I started out hoping for a good, exciting series, and by the time Kevin Durant put on his serial-killer mask and scored 41 in the Game 5 finale, I had developed an undeniable gut-level aversion. Not to the player — who was drafted and played a season in Seattle — but to the success. Watching his new home ride the emotional wave of playoff success produced an antagonism that I can’t deny.
As Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer wrote on Sunday, watching Oklahoma City frolic in this playoff success is like losing a beautiful girlfriend to an ugly dude. I’m not here to gripe about Oklahoma City’s suitability as a mate or to wish people would stop complimenting the fervor of its crowd. I just want that ex-girlfriend of a team to be more miserable than me at all times and in every way.
See? Ugly on the inside.
The team moved on. I haven’t. Neither has the city of Seattle, really. So I couldn’t watch the end of Sunday’s Game 7 in Oklahoma City. I turned it off once it became clear the Memphis Grizzlies didn’t have a second-half comeback in them.
So now it’s on to the Western Conference finals, where the team will play the Dallas Mavericks, who belong to Mark Cuban. He was one of two NBA owners to vote against the franchise’s move from Seattle to Oklahoma City. Portland’s Paul Allen was the other.
So is there room on the Mavericks’ bandwagon for estranged Seattle supporters? Can a Dallas team that includes Jason Terry of Seattle’s Franklin High School become the knight selected to fight for our city’s honor while the rest of the country watches?
“The more Mavs fans the better!” Cuban wrote me in an email.
Oh, and is it OK to boo in the press box? Just kidding. Kind of.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org