Game 3 was in Oklahoma City, and the Seattle Center was a veritable ghost town.
It was quiet at the Seattle Center late Saturday afternoon. Too quiet.
Imagine what might have been; what should have been on this Saturday afternoon in May.
Spontaneous chants of “Let’s Go Sonics” are breaking out like warning shots.
Lower Queen Anne feels as alive as Times Square. Restaurants are jammed and bars are rocking.
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Despite the chilly temperatures and intermittent showers, the Center is crowded with people wearing green and gold.
Parents and their children, sporting Sonics uniforms — Kevin Durant’s No. 35 and Russell Westbrook’s No. 0 fill the open spaces of one of Seattle’s most enduring landmarks.
A Sonics banner waves insistently from the mast atop the Space Needle.
The air is thick with anticipation for Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, the first conference finals in this city in 15 years.
A basketball generation ago, Seattle thrilled to matchups like Gary Payton against John Stockton and Shawn Kemp against Karl Malone.
This Saturday it will be Durant against Dirk Nowitzki and Westbrook against Jason Kidd. The Sonics against the Dallas Mavericks with the series tied 1-1.
But reality bites.
Game 3 was in Oklahoma City, and the Seattle Center was a veritable ghost town. A few tourists stood in front of the fountain taking pictures. An occasional skateboarder clattered down one of the walkways.
Ninety minutes before tipoff inside The Spectator, a sports bar on Queen Anne Ave., the flat screen TVs were turned on, but nobody was inside watching.
“If Game 3 was here this place would be popping, absolutely popping,” said Katy Kaune, a bartender there. “It would be insanely packed. The whole neighborhood would be popping.
“Even back in the day, when they still were here and they weren’t any good, it was still busy in the neighborhood. There was still stuff going on. But now the whole neighborhood’s been affected.”
Adam Josephsen, a bartender at Floyd’s Place, a block from KeyArena on First Avenue, said he didn’t want to think about how much money he would have made if the Sonics had been playing down the street.
“Thinking about that would just make me sad,” he said. “The loss of income that this place alone is taking has been terrible, let alone there have been businesses along this same block that have had to shut down because they (Sonics) are not around.”
Think about what might have been if the franchise had stayed. How many championship runs will Seattle’s basketball fans miss because the Sonics are gone?
Durant and Westbrook are 22. James Harden and Serge Ibaka are 21. This team that used to be in Seattle is reminiscent of the early days of the San Antonio Spurs’ dynasty. The Thunder looks positively dynastic.
If the Thunder still were the Sonics, the team would own this city. Backup guard Nate Robinson, a 206 loyalist, would be tweeting that Seattle fans, not neophyte OKC fans, are the best on the planet.
And, btw, the intensity of the reaction of Seattle fans to Robinson’s sweetheart tweets about OKC shows just how much people in Seattle still care about the NBA.
In large part, these are young fans that haven’t had the chance to experience playoff basketball the way many of us did. They’ve been cheated out of these opportunities by former owner Howard Schultz, former mayor Greg Nickels, legislative muscleman Frank Chopp, league commissioner David Stern and a host of other shortsighted, unsympathetic sorts.
Seattle fans still care.
Those people who admonish the fans, telling them to stop whining about the loss of the Sonics and start working toward bringing another team to town, aren’t paying attention.
Groups are trying. Efforts are being made.
The guys who created the Webby Award-winning documentary “Sonicsgate: A Requiem for a Team” are admirably relentless and creative in their efforts to keep the dream alive.
This summer, Sonic Team Shop owner Jeff Scoma will launch another hoop advocacy group, “Green and Gold.”
And state legislators Mike Hope and Dave Frockt are creating a task force that will look into ways to bring back a team. It’s the first time since 2009 that anything has percolated in Olympia.
“They need to give us another team,” Kaune said. “We want a team.”
But grass-roots movements can’t do it alone. Bake sales and car washes won’t bring the next incarnation of the Sonics back to Seattle.
It’s going to take real people with real money who are willing to step up and acknowledge this region’s hunger for hoops.
“It used to be so much fun,” Kaune said.