Forty-one years of Slick Watts rocking headbands long before Allen Iverson brought them back to the NBA. Forty-one years of Shawn Kemp driving the lane and banging it on defenders with the force of a pile driver. Forty-one years of The Glove. Yeah, Gary Payton’s defense was so tight that he earned the nickname “The Glove.” He was pretty good on offense, too.
For forty-one years fans in Seattle had the Seattle SuperSonics. The green, gold and white uniforms of the coolest team in the nation’s Pacific Northwest brought Washingtonians out to the arena in what used to be a three-sport town. Now it only has two.
At the end of the 2007-08 season after 41 years, three Finals appearances and one NBA Championship, the Sonics packed up and took their show on the road. They also took their lottery pick, Kevin Durant with them. The team moved to Oklahoma City, a town that couldn’t be more different than where they came from and renamed the franchise the Thunder. They had to. On the way out, Seattle’s mayor and city council sued the new owners and were able to keep the rights to the name and all of the franchise’s records in the event another NBA team relocates there.
OKC had no professional sports franchises, but they did have a loyal fan-base. We saw that when they served as home to the New Orleans Hornets, whose arena was too damaged to play in immediately following Hurricane Katrina. But still, nothing burns Seattle basketball fans more than seeing the Thunder play for a chance to win an NBA title. It stings only slightly more than watching Kevin “Durantula,” who played his rookie season in Seattle, capture the last three scoring titles.
Now Seattle only has two teams simply because the fans and city government couldn’t quite come together on what to do about building a new arena for the beloved SuperSonics. Here’s how it went down.
In July of 1994, as the Mariners baseball team was warming up for a game, ceiling tiles began to fall from the Kingdome. At that point, the Mariners and the NFL’s Seahawks, who shared the stadium, sought new places to play. Ultimately, they got deals from the city to build Qwest and Safeco Fields and ended up making the Sonics’ KeyArena look like a stepchild. The arena had been built in 1994 but quickly became an albatross, as it was the NBA’s smallest Arena and was losing money.
By 2006, Sonics team owner (and Starbucks founder) Howard Schultz, claimed the team had lost $65 million in five years and wanted to build a new arena. Or course he wanted the city to pay for it; after all, Seattle funded the new baseball and football stadiums. However, the Seattle residents repeatedly voted against using any taxpayer money to build a new $300 million arena. And why not? When KeyArena was built, the city got a cut of the luxury box sales and thus spent no money on building the arena. This time that wasn’t going to fly.
Schultz threatened to sell the team but city government wouldn’t budge so NBA commissioner David Stern recruited two Oklahoma City–based billionaires, Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon, to buy the team. So, after purchasing the team in 2001 for $200 million, Schultz and the other owners were able to unload it for $350 million in 2006. That’s a nice chunk of change for sitting courtside at games and high-fiving the players for five years.
Initially, Bennett and McClendon said that they wanted to keep the team in Seattle, but that was a little hard to believe since David Stern had already promised Oklahoma City that they would be the next to receive an NBA franchise after they so graciously hosted the Hornets.
David Stern is very liberal. The NBA has the best record of all sports for hiring minorities and women in high-ranking positions. Bennett and McClendon are very much the opposite and have used their money to fund anti-gay referendums. However, all three are members of the "One Percent" and believe that the little guy should be funding their projects. I think they call that corporate welfare.
So, as we all root against LeBron James because of his arrogance when leaving Cleveland and his “Not one. Not two… Not seven,” proclamation, we should remember that at least Cleveland still has a team. Maybe we should be in the Heat’s corner because an Oklahoma win would make this Sonics/Thunder transition the template for any sports franchise owner who decides he wants a new arena and wants YOU to pay for it.
Without saying one bad word about the Thunder’s players or the Oklahoma City fans, an OKC championship would justify stomping on the little man they way these super-rich, fat-cats have managed to do when moving the Sonics to the Midwest.
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EBONY.com Contributing Writer