Sonics Diehards

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The Point Forward was an NCAA All-American and perennial NBA All-Star, currently serving as an Analyst for a major sports network. He’s what’s known as a Basketballhead, having covered and PLAYED on all major levels of hoops in his career. Enjoy!

While perusing the Oklahoma City Thunder Media Guide, I found particularly interesting the information contained between pages 116-123. That is where you will find listed those great Thunder players who have distinguished themselves on the basketball court.

All time leaders in just about every category you can think of.

For example, a quick sampling of the Thunder’s all time point producers for a career finds the likes of Gary Payton, Fred Brown, Jack Sikma, Spencer Haywood, and Shawn Kemp, among others. This is replicated for most of the major areas that we deem vital to the contributions towards a successful franchise.

Of course, when an organization decides to relocate for greener pastures to another domicile, it brings with it the history from its previous destination, or destinations, depending on the frequency of the uprooting…..

If you look through a Clipper Media Guide, you see the names of Bob McAdoo, Adrian Dantley, and Bob Kaufman, all former Buffalo Braves. The Sacramento Kings’ Guide would list Oscar Robertson, Wayne Embry, and Nate Archibald from the days when the team was deposited in Cincinnatti and Kansas City/Omaha respectively.

Clipper fans and King fans are, more than likely, tickled pink to have such storied players to associate themselves with. The Thunder fans though, are probably suffering from a bit of an identity crisis in this area.

That is understandable considering the venom that continues to spew forth from the OG’s (original guys) from the Northwest.

Gary Payton, the erstwhile Glove, emphatically proclaiming that he will never allow the retirement of his hallowed jersey to happen in Oklahoma City. Nothing personal against the good people of the panhandle. But as GP himself stated recently as only GP can, ”I didn’t play in Oklahoma. I don’t think that Oklahoma should get the benefits of seeing me raise my number.”

And while it is a point that can be argued, those of us who did have the pleasure of watching him play were privy to some the highest quality of basketball ever seen. Those were electrifying days in the mid- 90’s with Sonics providing the juice.

I got there to work the TV broadcast in 1994. The team played their games in the ponderous Tacoma Dome while Key Arena in downtown Seattle got its face lifted.

It was a very interesting set of characters on the team that year. You had the great one-two combo of Payton and a high flying Shawn Kemp, dubbed the Reign Man.

Nate McMillan was Payton’s partner in crime defensively. The super sensitive Kendal Gill and rock steady Detleff Schrempf played key roles. Sweet shooting Sam “Big Smooth” Perkins, and gangster tough Vincent Askew were the main bench contributors. The starting center Ervin Johnson got a late start in college basketball, discovered while bagging groceries in a local New Orleans market.

George Karl was responsible for game plans and creating an upbeat playground type atmosphere in practice where players could stay connected to the reason they played in the first place.

Calling the action was the inimitable play by play voice of Kevin Calabro, hands down the absolute best in the business.

With all these elements converging to create maximum entertainment value for the Sonic faithful, is it any wonder they would feel as they do?

Here’s what one high placed observer had to say about the whole sordid, jilted Sonic fans ordeal:

The attitude in town I think is one now of resignation. Now people can’t believe that even a rich Microsoft guy would buy a team for $400 mil. spend another $35 mil to relocate it, spend another several million dollars to buy out a lease and then spend another 300 to 500 million on a building.

With a successful team in town you may have been able to cooperate financially with this city. But if you are talking about doing to another city what has been done here the cost is extreme. I’m guessing $750 million to a billion. In this economy I don’t see that happening soon.

What is interesting is that even with so many players from the 206 in the league there still is very little interest on local talk shows for NBA basketball. And it will get worse the better KD and the Thunder become. People just get angry at David Stern, Howard Schultz, Wally Walker, the mayor, governor, legislators, the city council….a lot of blame to go around.

It’s really demeaning if you are a sports fan to realize that a team you grew up with, a team that won a championship, that was in town for 41 years has been taken away without a vote. You may have thought they were yours but you were wrong. Fans feel scorned, abandoned, left out. So that’s another obstacle that any potential owner will have to clear. I don’t think that happens for several more years.

He’s right about the city getting another team. It may never happen. But I’m reminded of Humphrey Bogart’s line to Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, “we’ll always have Paris.” Memories cannot adequately quench the desire to have the real thing, up close and current.

But there was this feeling of being in on something special. Shawn Kemp outplaying Karl Malone in the ’96 playoffs, placing himself on the precipice of being the top Power Forward in the game. The finals against MJ and the Bulls, with the Sonics coming to life in games three and four and forcing a return to the Windy City.

The coast to coast private plane rides after long road trips east where card games, Crown Royal and near fisticuffs were as predictable as shrimp and crab being menu items.

Seated courtside at the sparkling new Key Arena one would find everyone from Eddie Vetter to Steve Balmer. For the young hip, nouveau riche crowd, being at Sonic games was the happening thing to do. There was an undeniable energy to the city.

You could feel it from the conjointly trendy and bohemian streets of Belltown, to the lush hillsides of Bellevue. Those days are but distant remembrances. Like leaving a favorite out of town relatives home during summer vacation, the rear window images getting more indistinguishable the farther away you get.

Sometimes all we are left with are the recollections that become seared in our consciousness. They become embellished at times, bearing little resemblance to reality. But that’s okay, because the core emotion was the overall feeling of joy of what was experienced.

And that is something that won’t be spirited away.

So while there is little solace in knowing that the championship banners have been placed in boxes and sit in some dusty museum basement, Sonic fans take heart.

The memories of Gus, Jack, DJ, JJ, Blackburn, and Lenny will live on. They must, because that is all that is left.

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One Comment

  1. darenunlimited says:

    Thank you, Marques Johnson. That is the most accurate and moving essay I have read yet about the plight of our beloved Supersonics. As a die hard Sonics fan since ’77 who went to tons of games during the mid-90s hey-days, you completely captured my feelings about the team I loved–and still love. I always enjoyed you as a commentator; the rapport that you had with Calabro was a lot of fun to watch and listen to. Thanks, again, for your eloquent words.

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