There is a void in the Seattle sports scene that wasn’t there when last week began. There is a sense of loss among the tens of thousands who have shaken his hand and shared his passion.
Thursday, Kristopher Brannon — known to the Puget Sound region as “Sonics Guy” — died at the age of 47. His heart failed him, and as a result, Seattle’s heart sank.
Though he resided in Tacoma, Brannon was the most recognizable sports fan in the Emerald City. With his 6-foot-5 frame, signature Afro and SuperSonics garb, he was impossible to miss when he walked the streets or attended a rally.
His goal was simple: Bring the Sonics back to Seattle, an aspiration he dedicated himself to since the team left in 2008. He never saw his mission come to fruition, but he left an indelible mark amid his pursuit.
“It’s amazing to see everybody in the whole region grieving over him,” said Brannon’s sister, Zaraya Skea. “It’s amazing to know that so many people loved him, and that so many people considered him their best friend.”
In 2017, a woman named Leigh Burmesch released a documentary featuring Brannon called “Superfan.” The short encapsulated Brannon’s persistence in resurrecting hope of a Sonics return among Seattleites.
He was a regular outside of Seahawks and Huskies games, where he’d sport signs such as “I’m for Sonics Expansion” or “Forever Supersonics #1.” But he would also attend farmers markets or Pacific Lutheran football games or city-hall meetings — pretty much anywhere he could get a crowd to “get the Sonics message out.”
Brannon admitted that people probably thought he was nuts. Even members of his family, he said, questioned his newfound persona. But in time, he became as iconic as many of the major sports figures in this town.
“I’ve interviewed Michael Jordan, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron and John Elway,” John McGrath, the former sports columnist for The News Tribune of Tacoma, said in the documentary. “But when I told my son I knew the Sonics Guy, he was like ‘Oh, really? Can I have his autograph?'”
This spoke to Brannon’s ubiquity but also his affability. A stand-up comedian who also booked for the Tacoma and Seattle Underground comedy clubs, Kris was known for encouraging young comics and generously handing out stage time. Finding a scowl on his face was like finding snow in Miami. He was known as much for his gregariousness as he was his Sonics fandom.
This is what helped inspire Richard Thornton to start a petition on change.org to get Brannon inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Thornton used to hang with Brannon regularly at the Crown Bar in Tacoma, and said he thinks Brannon being enshrined in Springfield, Mass., would be the ultimate tribute to the ultimate fan.
“He was a really genuine and kind person outside of being a loyal fan to the Sonics, and it would be the perfect idea to have him inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame as the first super fan inductee,” Thornton said. “I just felt it would be the icing on the cake if the NBA were to do that, because he not only means something to me, he means something to a whole lot of others as well as family, friends, co-workers, etc. It may be a longshot, but that great human being needs the recognition he truly deserves.”
There has been no shortage of recognition in Seattle. An outpouring of tributes pervaded Twitter upon news of his death.
“A sad day for all of us with the passing of @sonicsguy, one of the kindest, most dedicated, big-hearted Sonics fan ever,” tweeted the Sonics Arena account.
“Didn’t know Sonics Guy well but always appreciated his passion and commitment! He’ll forever be with the team in love and spirit!” added former Sonics coach George Karl.
There were countless messages expressing similar sentiments. Thirteen years of tireless advocacy will prompt that kind of response.
Sadly, Brannon never got to see the Sonics return. Hopefully that day isn’t far off.
In the meantime, the region mourns and celebrates the team’s biggest fan. Like the Sonics, he is gone but not forgotten.