Even after 7 years, the wounds of the Sonics' departure still sting. But if you're a sports fan and you still aren't following NBA basketball, you're missing out.
“Payton has it at the top of the key… he dishes it out to Barry on the wing… Barry finds Baker in the lane, and he flushes it down! Good Golly, Miss Molly!”
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The static baritone of Kevin Calabro’s voice boomed through the earphones of my Panasonic AM/FM cassette player as I sat on my bed in dark silence. It was just another day in January 2000 for a middling Sonics team that had fallen well short of earlier, more successful seasons.
But I didn’t care. It was basketball, and I was hooked.
That’s how most winter nights ended for me in the late 1990s. After being sent to bed, I’d shut the lights off and snag the radio perched next to my bunk bed just in time to catch the end of the fourth quarter. It didn’t matter whether they won or lost.
As the years went on, bedtimes went away and the team continued to slide, but my love for the green and gold never wavered. I watched as Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis took over the starring roles left behind by Gary Payton and Sam Perkins. I watched as Jerome James fastened a garbage bag to his back after ‘bagging’ a 4-1 series win over the Kings in the 2007 playoffs. Even in the final years, when the team relied heavily on foul machine Chris Wilcox and undersized guard Earl Watson, I watched.
I don’t have to describe how it felt to have those nights and that team stripped away. Every Seattle sports fan knows that pain intimately.
The next couple winters were bleak – really bleak. Those winter nights spent listening to Calabro’s calls became nothing but a gaping sports void. But while I loved the Sonics — and, boy, was I bitter about them leaving — I couldn’t turn my back on basketball forever.
Slowly but surely, I began tuning in. The process picked up momentum and quickly progressed. Sure, I tuned in to the 2008 Finals — a remaking of a classic rivalry between the Celtics and Lakers — but I wasn’t fully engaged until 2010, when LeBron James set fire to the sports world with his decision to “take his talents to South Beach.”
I was back.
The NBA’s star power and growing story lines were too juicy to ignore. It also didn’t hurt that the Miami Heat squelched Oklahoma City’s shot at a title, sweeping the Sonics-turned-Thunder and their obnoxious fans aside in the 2011 Finals.
For those not keeping track, the NBA is still thriving. Sure, it’s not easy to set aside shattered memories and tarnished nostalgia to objectively appreciate that fact, but turning a blind eye to one of the three most popular professional sports in America isn’t accomplishing anything. Watching reruns of “The Big Bang Theory” on a blustery February night, counting down the days until baseball season is no way for a sports fan to live. If that sounds like you, I have two words of advice: try it.
Still not convinced? Here are two more: Steph Curry.
These days, Curry and the Warriors are appointment television. The quick-hitting, sharp-shooting Warriors have a real chance at becoming the greatest hoops team ever to step foot on the hardwood. Couple that with the greatest shooting tandem in NBA history (Curry and former Washington State star Klay Thompson), and a team that can move the ball 94 feet on one bounce and four touches, and you’ve got a pretty compelling reason to watch. There aren’t enough superlatives in the world to describe how much fun that team is.
The Warriors aren’t the only reason to watch – they’re just the best reason. The NBA might not have the SuperSonics anymore, but it still has superstars. LeBron is back in Cleveland looking to put a storybook final chapter on a legendary career. The Spurs are as loaded as ever, with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge providing a facelift to a team with aging stars like Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. What better time to get acquainted with those stars than this weekend’s NBA All-Star events?
If you want a local hook, Isaiah Thomas — the former Curtis High School and Washington Huskies star — will be making his very first All-Star appearance this weekend and will share the court with Thompson. Oh, and don’t forget Zach LaVine, the former Bothell High star who will try to extend his reign as NBA Dunk Contest champ.
While the NBA isn’t nearly what it used to be for me and every other Seattle sports fan, it’s still fun, and that’s the point. Someday the Sonics will return to Seattle and so will those classic Calabro calls. Until then, put your grudges aside, enjoy some basketball and hope the Thunder never win a title.
Sean Quinton lives in Seattle, graduated from Washington State and is a sports producer at The Seattle Times.
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