Suck it, Clay!
For those of you who are unaware, I grew up a diehard Seattle Sonics fan. At age eight, I used to spend cold, rainy Northwest winter nights huddled up around the radio with my dad, listening to the masterful Kevin Calabro relay the exploits of Ricky Pierce, Eddie Johnson, and other Seattle legends whose names mean nothing to most Thunder fans. We used to drive for fifteen minutes, ride the ferry for another thirty-five, and then walk fifteen blocks to the Coliseum (later Key Arena) to watch our beloved Sonics. Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Not in Our House” was the only rap music my dad let me listen to.
When I got older and my dad moved away, the Sonics became the primary bond between me and my best high school friend. On random weekday afternoons, we’d head straight from school to the ferry terminal to catch the ferry to Seattle. We’d get to the game two hours early so we could mercilessly heckle some poor white scrub on the opposing team during the pre-game shootaround (“Hey Ostertag, are those C-cups?”). The team was always mediocre, at best, but our passion was fueled by memories of mid-90′s glory and the everlasting badassness of Gary Payton.
Through college and the first couple years thereafter, my core group of friends stayed close by attending Sonics games. When things got really bad – and by that I mean 33-year-old Wally Szczerbiak was our second best player – it was more about the pre-game pizza and beers than the game itself; but we showed up nonetheless, because the Sonics were an indelible part of our identity as Seattle natives.
You know how the story ends. And if you don’t, I implore you to watch Sonicsgate, an exceptional documentary that explains how the Sonics were ripped from Seattle despite forty-one years of rabid support from the community. Until the bitter end, I was certain that common sense would prevail and the NBA would find a way to keep one of its flagship franchises in the thirteenth-largest media market in the country. But common sense took a backseat to Clay Bennett’s hero complex, David Stern’s ego, and Howard Schultz’s naivete. The Sonics officially announced a settlement with the city of Seattle in July, 2008, paving the way for the team to move to Oklahoma City. I honestly felt as if a close family member had died.
Coincidentally, I moved to Los Angeles that same summer. As much as I hated David Stern for his complicity in the Sonics debacle, I couldn’t stay away from the NBA. Like a battered woman, I came crawling back to the league that had abused me. I needed to find a new team to root for. Cheering for the Thunder was out of the question; you can’t go on pretending everything is fine with your wife after some redneck Oklahoman cuckolds you. It made sense to pick a local team, so I’d be able to go to games occasionally and watch all the local TV broadcasts. Given that I would rather gnaw off my own arm than root for the Lakers, the Clippers were the natural pick.
I liked that the Clippers were at roughly the same place in their basketball life cycle as the Sonics. Each team had one good year in the mid-aughts (04-05 for the Sonics, 05-06 for the Clips), but had squandered its momentum thanks to mismanagement. It would have felt cheap to jump from the dismal Sonics to a contender; there would be no shortcuts.
I never expected to become fully invested in the Clippers. I thought I’d probably watch about half their games on TV, attend two or three games a year, and consider it gravy if they ever got good. But thanks to my compulsive nature, I got sucked in right away. To my amazement, I felt real pain when they lost and elation when they won – even in that first god-awful Z-Bo-led 2008-09 season.
Over the past three years, my devotion to the Clippers has been, dare I say, equivalent to the peak of my Sonics fandom. However, I’ve never completely healed from the Sonics’ tragic departure. More than anything, I still harbor an intense grudge against the powers-that-be who so callously tore the Sonics from the Emerald City. I still rock my “FUCB” (Eff You Clay Bennett) tee-shirt on a regular basis. And I must admit that I feel a twinge of pain every time I see Kevin Durant on Sportscenter and think what might have been. How great would it be to be able to watch Durant, Westbrook, and Harden at Key Arena with my old crew every time I flew back to Seattle for Christmas?
So how did it feel to watch my new team completely dismantle the successor to my old one? It felt sort of like this: