This is what Sonics passion looks like. Remember? Not that Seattle needed to send a message, mind you. It established its impeccable hoop credentials long, long ago.
Are you watching, NBA? This is what Sonics passion looks like.
Not that Seattle needed to send a message, mind you. It established its impeccable hoop credentials long, long ago. Whatever machinations and dark magic led to the Sonics leaving town a decade ago were the work of politicians and carpetbaggers and coffee magnates and league officials. The fans were always blameless, blindly loyal to the end.
And beyond. This love affair, unrequited or not, is indefinite.
So don’t call this a referendum, or a test. What transpired at KeyArena on Friday — 48 minutes of frenzy and deep-seated nostalgia, the release of pent-up NBA frustration during a supremely meaningless exhibition game between the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings — was more like a reminder.
Or a wake-up call.
“There’s an awakening, so to speak, but people here have been fans for a long time,’’ said Lenny Wilkens. “They just haven’t had a place to channel it.”
The place, site of so many Sonics triumphs (and plenty of heartbreak), will be torn down soon to make room for a new building that may or may not entice the NBA to come back to Seattle. In an ESPN report Friday, Brian Windhorst presented a pessimistic outlook. Expansion isn’t slated until 2025 at the earliest, and the city might need a second new arena to entice a team, according to Windhorst.
But that’s a fret for another day. This was a night for dreams and memories, distributed equally. The crowd was teeming with local celebrities, from Macklemore to Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson, and just about every member of basketball royalty to ever call Seattle home.
Wilkens. Bill Russell. Gary Payton. Fred Brown. Jack Sikma. Detlef Schrempf. Sue Bird. Breanna Stewart. Slick Watts. Spencer Haywood. Brandon Roy. Jamal Crawford. And many more. When they were introduced periodically throughout the game, the reception was rapturous.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr came to his pregame news conference wearing a Sonics T-shirt. He spoke of his love of “the Sonics brand,” and the “organic energy” he always felt when he played here.
“I’m hoping the Sonics return some day,’’ Kerr said. “So I guess this is my way of supporting that cause.”
Kevin Durant, the ex-Sonic, was the star attraction of the night, of course. He wore specially made green and gold shoes, and when he was introduced pregame to thunderous applause, he came out sporting a vintage Shawn Kemp jersey.
Addressing the crowd briefly before tipoff, Durant gave a shout out to the Seattle Storm for its WNBA title and thanked the fans for the love they’ve shown him.
“The NBA is back in Seattle for tonight, but hopefully it’s back forever soon,’’ he told them.
Earlier, Durant had said, “I think every NBA player at this point knows Seattle needs a basketball team.”
The game itself was secondary, though the atmosphere and crowd intensity were playoff-like. The final score — 122-94 Warriors — will be forgotten by sunup. But the experience will linger, ultimately bittersweet because it’s a one-off, but exhilarating in real time. The Warriors were adopted as the home team because of Durant.
“I think that’s what tonight’s about, honestly,” Kerr said. “Kevin represents the last season of the Sonics, and hopefully the return someday, however that happens.”
Two of the loudest roars of the night greeted Durant’s first dunk, and a long-range three-pointer by Klay Thompson, the pride of Washington State. Reflecting on the outpouring of support, and the jammed crowd bedecked in every fashion of Sonics regalia, Durant mused, “I think they want to just keep the name alive and make sure no one forgets about Sonics basketball.”
In that task, they succeeded wholly. Whether it will resonate in league offices — and even if it does, if it pushes the needle toward a Sonics return even a millimeter farther down the road — well, that’s the great unknown.
Wilkens, who led the Sonics to their only championship and has been a vocal champion of their return, tried to articulate why so many people paid a lot of money to see an exhibition game.
“It brings back memories of what basketball was here,’’ he said. “Certainly winning a championship here leaves a legacy, and it’s a legacy I don’t feel we should have ever lost. To get a reminder, to see the talent in the league — this is what it would have grown to.”
There’s wistfulness and melancholy in that statement, but the mood throughout the night was ebullient. Matt Pitman, back in his familiar seat as Sonics’ PA announcer, introduced the Warriors in the high-decibel, frenetic tone he once reserved for Payton, Kemp and Schrempf.
“Seattle, are you ready?’’ he began.
I think we learned the answer. Or should I say, relearned.
Are you watching, NBA?