The Seattle Sonics left town and changed names. But the team's fans didn't. They're still here, and a video titled "Bring ’Em Back" captures their enduring spirit.
It’s less than two minutes long, but “Bring ’Em Back” sure packs a punch — and, all at once, breaks and fills the heart of anyone who still carries a torch for the Seattle SuperSonics.
The video — released on the day the regular NBA season opened by a Seattle production company called World Famous — features Sonics highlights intercut with choice words from fans in restaurants and barbershops, cars and street corners. They name-check Slick Watts, “Downtown” Freddie Brown, Gary “The Glove” Payton and Shawn Kemp.
In between, there’s a voice-over that sounds like a closing argument in a case that we already lost: “We found ourselves on that court,” it says. “We defined ourselves on that court. It’s been hard out here without you. What we have you can’t take away.
“‘Cause in the city where rain’s supreme, there ain’t no fair-weather fans. It’s been tough out here, but we never left.”
“The Sounders are awesome and the Seahawks are awesome, but the NBA is its own special thing,” said Alan Nay, president of World Famous, which makes commercials, short films and music videos for clients such as the Washington Lottery and Odesza.
“And the love for the Sonics … ,” he said. “It’s been 10 years and it’s still just as strong.”
The Sonics have been gone since 2008 — stolen, some will say, by an Oklahoma City businessman named Clay Bennett. He bought the team in 2006 for $350 million from an owners group that included former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. Two years later, Bennett relocated the team to Oklahoma City and renamed it the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But the Sonics fans never relocated and changed their names. They’re still here, steeped in memories and the belief that it ain’t over.
“I never really wanted to lean into the ‘We got screwed,’ narrative,” said World Famous managing director Chris Volckmann, who passed the team on its way out of the city as he was moving to Seattle in 2008.
“What struck me was how the city has, as a fan base, stayed committed to this team,” he said, “and how much the team remained part of the cultural identity.”
The jerseys. Green Fridays.
“People still talk about the team like it’s still here,” Volckmann said. “And that says a lot about what it meant to the city.
“It’s still a sold-out crowd. We’re just spread out now.”
“Bring ’Em Back” is an online valentine to the Sonics that includes a website featuring a clock that notes how many days Seattle has lived without basketball (3,844, as of Oct. 25, 2018) and an Instagram account featuring fans and their stories.
There’s an ex-military man named “Beaver” who noted that the Sonics played their first game on Friday, Oct. 13, 1967 — “Friday the 13th,” he noted. Former Mayor Mike McGinn posted about taping games to watch after his kids went to bed, and marveling at Nate McMillan’s defense. A man named William wrote of belonging to the same health club as some of his favorite players (“I learned that these magnificent athletes were even better people than they were athletes”).
“The story is still told, the passion is still there and the connection to the team is as vibrant as it ever was,” Volckmann said. “That connection to the team is the emotion that we wear more on our sleeve since they were taken away from us.”
There’s no initiative afoot, Nay said. Nothing to sign. They just want people to share the video and the site.
“There’s no end goal other than to communicate the spirit of the thing,” Nay said, “And keep the dialogue alive.”
City officials, though, seem to have moved on to other team sports.
Mayor Jenny Durkan just got back from New York, where the NHL’s executive committee voted 9-0 to forward Seattle’s expansion bid to a full board of governor’s vote in December. While they wait for the final vote, fans continue to bandy about names for the team.
Meanwhile over at City Hall, pencil pushers have been busy doing the math over how much it would cost taxpayers for Seattle to potentially host the 2026 FIFA World Cup (up to $10.5 million for five games, which the city would be reimbursed or recoup).
What gets lost in it all are the individual stories of what it means to the fans, their families and their everyday lives, Volckmann said.
“That’s what sports is,” he said. “The table that we gather around.”
It’s just that with the Sonics, it’s more like a grave in a cemetery. Right?
Volckmann and Nay are not so sure.
“Obviously, we want the Sonics to come back to Seattle,” Volckmann said. “That’s a no-brainer. But that was the main thing we wanted to stay clear of. It turns into a political conversation that we didn’t want to latch onto.
“We just felt like this was the component that was lacking in that conversation,” he said. “The smaller stories.
“We’re not leading the charge, we are the puzzle piece to let people know that we’re still here. And we never left.”