The thought sparks a fire that could warm any winter night. Would a Sonics fan root for the Portland Trail Blazers? Seattle connections are everywhere...
The thought sparks a fire that could warm any winter night.
Would a Sonics fan root for the Portland Trail Blazers? Seattle connections are everywhere.
The Blazers’ best player, Brandon Roy, starred at Garfield and Washington. Martell Webster, another young Blazer, played with Spencer Hawes at Seattle Prep. The team is owned by Microsoft co-founder and Seahawks owner Paul Allen.
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The Blazers are even coached by the guy Seattleites used to call Mr. Sonic, Nate McMillan. You can’t get any more Seattle than that.
And the local team is unrecognizable. The Sonics are coming off a 31-51 season, have traded away Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis and are owned by a bunch of guys who want to move the franchise to their home state, Oklahoma, if they don’t get a new arena.
Seattle, after 41 years with the Sonics, could find itself without an NBA team.
So would fans look south for their fix, maybe even root for the Blazers?
Please. For many, the only thing Oregon is good for is Oregonians’ delightful service of pumping a Washingtonian’s gas. Oh, and there is that no-sales-tax thing, too.
“I feel that dark cloud over my enthusiasm,” said Gary Conklin, an elementary physical-education teacher in Kirkland. “I feel that this is kind of the end, it’s definitely going to happen that they are going to leave. My allegiances in the short term, if they’re not here, would probably go to the Boston Celtics because of Ray Allen and the dynamic of Kevin Garnett. But there’s no way I would ever root for the Portland Trail Blazers. It could never happen.
“And I don’t see myself rooting for the Sonics in another city. It would hurt too much to see them ever go to the playoffs and NBA Finals and know that could have been us.”
Roy, the Seattle native, understands. Oregonians are supposed to travel to Seattle to watch professional sports teams like the Seahawks, Mariners and Storm. Not the other way around.
“We’ve always had major leagues,” Roy said of his hometown. “It’s hard for people in Seattle to cheer for Portland. I’ve heard them joke around and call them the Seattle Trail Blazers. I was like, ‘Whatever.’ Seattle, we have pride, and when it comes to Oregon, it’s like, ‘Boo, Oregon.’ In this case they want to cheer for us, but they won’t call us Portland.”
Conklin, a native, often drifts back to his youth when the city was seemingly bathed in green and gold. A Gary Payton jersey was the perfect gift. Shawn Kemp dunks were mimicked on lowered schoolyard hoops. And attending a game made you the hippest kid on the block.
The Sonics — the 1979 championship team or George Karl’s defensive menaces — were idols that built a current basketball hotbed in the state. Aaron Brooks, Nate Robinson, Jamal Crawford and Luke Ridnour now shine in the NBA after attending camps led by Sonics legends like Slick Watts and McMillan.
In fact, open to page 82 of the Blazers’ 2007-08 media guide and there’s Roy strolling off the court with his arm around a young baller, in a scene that could have been Roy as a kid at McMillan’s camp.
Roy has worked with Webster and other players to alter Portland’s perception of the team once referred to as the Jail Blazers. That, and the drafting of Greg Oden, has created some excitement in Portland, even though Oden will miss the season after having knee surgery.
You’d think it wouldn’t be such a jagged pill to cheer for these good guys, Seattle favorites playing just 2 ½ hours away.
“It’s in my bones, [Portland] is the armpit under Seattle,” said Brian Robinson, a Seattle native who, with Steven Pyeatt, founded Save Our Sonics and Storm. “Detlef Schrempf was on the Portland Trail Blazers and I booed and hissed every time, and I love Detlef, he was a Husky and a Sonic. I will never support the Portland Trail Blazers.”
Robinson said if the Sonics left, rather than cheer for the Blazers, he’d be more interested in whether Seattle was going to get another franchise.
“We would start fighting for a new team. [Former Sonics owner] Howard Schultz started this argument too early. He started it four years ago and people are worn out of the monotony of it. The dialogue of people the day after they move, seven days before [governor] Christine Gregoire is due for re-election, will be very different than year four of the same old, same old. The immediate reaction is going to be anger and demand for a new team directed at the league and city officials.”
Robinson said city and NBA officials have reached a consensus that Seattle Center is the right location for the teams, fitting primary owner Clay Bennett’s wishes for a “world-class” facility. The $500 million price tag for a new arena and a plan for how it will be built remains a question, however. And Bennett isn’t cooperating, continuing to insist that KeyArena is not a viable option. Meanwhile, suits are filed against the Sonics as he tries to get out of the remainder of the KeyArena lease.
Roy, Webster and McMillan say they hope a solution is eventually found in Seattle. The trio combine for about 100 tickets when they return to play the Sonics. They enjoy the support and warm reception from fans in Seattle, but none can imagine the city without a team.
“It is a basketball city, and the NBA needs to stay up there,” said McMillan, who played his entire career in Seattle and remained with the Sonics as a coach, eventually leading the team to the Western Conference semifinals in 2004-05. “I won’t believe it until I see it. Somehow, they’re going to work out something up there, they should, and I just can’t visualize Seattle without the Sonics. I know what those fans will do for a basketball team.”
Webster’s family and friends peppered him with questions about whether the Blazers would just relocate to Seattle if the Sonics left. He laughed at the thought and said he had his mind blown by the serious possibility of his childhood team relocating.
Webster is especially close to the sticky business side, being a close friend of Schultz’s son, Jordan, and a nephew of one of the former board members who voted against Schultz’s decision to sell to Bennett’s ownership group. As Webster and Jordan Schultz walked the streets of downtown Seattle this past summer, Webster said people shouted, “Hey, there’s Coffee Boy! You sold our team!”
Said Webster: “I grew up watching the Sonics, and seeing them leave really doesn’t make any kind of sense, but after a couple of years in the league, you know it’s all business. I don’t know what it is, but these things happen. The same thing happened with Charlotte when they were the Hornets.
“It’s crazy. They’re the Sonics. Them and the Seahawks; that was all Seattle had. I don’t know why they’re doing this … but I wish they would stay.”
Yes, it would be sad to lose all of that winter-warming rivalry.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org