By Scott Gilmour
First off, we would like to officially welcome you to our hell. You see, our city is a charter member of that small fraternity of places that know what it’s like to lose their team. Actually, let us rephrase that: have their team ripped away from them under the watchful eye of a short, New York-living commissioner with a law degree. More than that, we felt that we should pull you aside for a man-to-man, city-to-city talk. The kind of talk that almost certainly has to take place in an old bar over a tall pint of beer.
When any long-term relationship breaks down, there inevitably is a winner and a loser. One party wants to try and make things work, while the other is desperately seeking greener pastures. The situation becomes exponentially worse when the leaving party immediately jumps blissfully into another relationship. Having lived through this disaster, we feel that we should share our experiences with Sonics fans.
Imagine that your girlfriend breaks up with you and immediately starts dating a new guy. In Scenario 1, this guy is 23, a part-time male model, part-time lead singer in a rock band and a part-time doctor. He speaks 5 languages and is a self-made billionaire. While you will still be upset, you can at least understand why your girlfriend chose the way she did; frankly, she’s probably better off. However, imagine a second scenario, Scenario 2, where she leaves you for a 33 year old guy that lives in his mother’s basement, working part-time stocking shelves overnight at Wal-Mart and part-time selling crack at a loss in a bad part of town. Wouldn’t this make you feel exponentially worse – that she chose that guy over you? We all can deal with negative news far better when we at least understand why it happened; when there is a rational explanation.
Why do we bring this up? Because Sonics fans, your team went from one of the nicest cities in North America, the 14th largest television market in the United States and moved to freakin’ Oklahoma City, the 48th largest television market in the U.S. This is kind of like trading your Bentley Flying Spur in for a Hyundai Azera – the Hyundai isn’t a bad car but it’s a pile of crap next to the Bentley. Essentially, you just lost your girlfriend to the city equivalent of a Wal-Mart shelf-stocker.
Now, you may be wondering how we are qualified to talk about this type of thing. Well, that question is easy to answer: we are a Canadian city that really only had one major sports franchise, the mighty Winnipeg Jets. For all of you non-hockey fans (and, judging by the U.S. television ratings, that would be most of you), the once-proud Jets packed up shop and moved to that well-known hockey metropolis of Phoenix in 1996. Nothing quite says hockey like the desert, cacti and 90 degree winters… (as you can see, the pain does not lesson much, even after 12 years). Now, in terms of a direct television market or city-size comparison, this would appear to be the opposite of the Sonics moving to Oklahoma. However, given the number of hockey fans in the Greater Phoenix Area (at last count there was 7) and the number of fans in Winnipeg (that would be basically everybody), we think you can see where we’re coming from.
Watching what took place this summer: the rallies held by Sonics fans, the last-minute attempts to avoid the inevitable, we could see parallels with what took place in Winnipeg during the summer of 1996. Obviously, this was all for naught in both cases. Nonetheless, the fans of the Sonics, like the fans of the Jets, can hold their heads up high, secure in the knowledge that they did everything they could to try and make things work. Unfortunately, when the other party is hell bent on leaving, there really isn’t anything that can be done.
Furthermore, we can understand how much losing your team hurts. Many Winnipeggers were lucky enough to attend 6 or 7 games a year (this was before Canadian NHL tickets cost more than the GDP of a small island nation) and can vividly remember the white home jerseys worn by Winnipeg’s Finest streaming out of the tunnel for the opening skate to the sounds of that musical classic “Jump” by Van Halen pumping out of the archaic sound system at the venerable Winnipeg Arena. In other words, Winnipeg was in a long-term committed relationship with our hometown team.
Unfortunately, this is not the lowest place you can go in this type of situation. We can tell you that the only thing worse than having your hockey team leave to go play in the desert is for them to come back and play exhibition games in your city (wearing your old jerseys for warm-up, no less). Of course, the “Great” Gary Bettman has seen fit to graciously allow Winnipeg fans to experience the exciting spectacle of Phoenix’s third and fourth lines playing exhibition hockey against another random NHL team’s third and fourth lines for the last few years. Seattle, all we can say is, do not let this farce take place on your watch; no matter how nice you may think it would be to have a one-night fling with the Oklahoma City Middle-of-Nowheres (or whatever crap name they’re going to be called) and their star forward Kevin Durant, do not give in to temptation. It will only prolong the sadness. You need a clean break where you never look back (at least not until you get a new NBA team and Oklahoma City comes to town, at which point anything short of full vigilante justice against anybody wearing an Oklahoma jersey in your arena will be a disgrace to you, your family and your city).
Also, be prepared in the next few years for the inevitable roller coaster of rumours to get started, with Seattle being connected with every two-bit NBA franchise that even hints they might leave their current location – this is the sports equivalent of running into your ex-girlfriend at the bar; it rarely goes anywhere and refreshes old wounds.
In conclusion Seattle fans, our advice to you is this: forget about the NBA – it is dead to you now. Take stock of what they did; cheating on you with a two-bit, mid-western cow town, when you, one of the nicest cities in the country were more than willing to make things work. The Commissioner of the NBA not only did nothing to help but actively worked against you. Take this as a message and boycott the NBA. You will never again have the kind of relationship you had with the Sonics with any other basketball team. Sports are 95% about having a rooting interest. Going to a game, even a good game, where you don’t care about either team is about as much fun as hanging out in a bar full of ugly girls. Sure it may be professional basketball, but it isn’t anything you really care about watching. Our interest in hockey took a sharp nosedive after the Jets left. Only in the last few years have we even paid cursory attention again to the NHL and we were massive hockey fans during the Jets era. You can’t just jump into cheering for another team; you don’t have the history, the relationship built over time and it will always feel artificial. So Seattle, go to your Seahawks and Mariners games and never look back. If it works out that someday you get a team (and, frankly, Cleveland got a new NFL franchise and they’re kind of like the armpit of the U.S.), so be it. But take our advice and forget the Sonics – you’re better off without them. Either that or do what we do and drink until the image of that short, New York-living, law-degree wielding Commissioner that did this to you fades from memory – we’ll let you know when it starts to work.