In the next two weeks as you sit back and watch the NBA Finals, I ask that you do one thing – remember the lost soul that is Seattle Supersonics basketball. It’s hard to believe that just four short seasons ago, a straggly Kevin Durant marched up and down the KeyArena hardwood en route to his eventual NBA Rookie of the Year award. But then? After years of unsuccessful efforts to persuade the Washington state government to provide funding for an updated arena and/or a new venue, the Sonics were sold to Clay Bennett who quickly packed the moving vans and Art Modell’d the franchise to Oklahoma City.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Thunder basketball, in so many capacities. They’re a fantastic squad with one of the most loveable star players in decades. Everything about the team and fan base screams blue collar. You can’t help but root for the product on the floor, but off it? Well, if your heart holds any passion, you can’t help but feel for the fans of Seattle. And unfortunately for Sacramento King fans, the situation is slowly starting to creep a bit too close to home as the resemblance in the situations is alarming.
When you look at the Kings roster, many pundits say they share an alikeness to a young OKC Thunder. They have a former Rookie of the Year who set the world on fire, despite his recent struggles. They’ve added another extremely talented player in DeMarcus Cousins, the Russell Westbrook to Evans’ Durant (or vice versa, depending on your views). No, I’m not comparing their ceilings or even current talents, so no need to rip my head off for comparing Evans to Westbook or Durant, but the foundations of the franchises are similar. The Kings added a gunner in Jimmer Fredette with hopes and wishes of the BYU product spreading the floor for the two King pillars, ala a James Harden role. With an additional high draft pick, the Kings who’re a few years behind the Thunder in their rebuilding efforts, will be able to add another elite piece and hopefully find themselves in a similar situation as the Thunder down the road. Maybe they’ll never reach the peaks that the Thunder have already marched beyond, but the composition of both rosters along with the arena struggles in Seattle breed a significant amount of affinity.
However, as much as the Kings’ franchise strives to be the Thunder product on the floor, the last thing they want to do is become the Seattle Supersonics off it. The city of Sacramento and the fans have done everything possible to keep the franchise in California’s State Capitol. That’s not to say the effort from the fans of Seattle wasn’t up to par, it certainly was, but Sacramento has went above and beyond in their efforts. The community has rallied together and supported a sub-par product, a product where players were left off of road trips to save on hotel costs, a product where team employees weren’t allowed to eat pre-game meals until media had cleared out of the room, a product where ticket prices were elevated despite being a league bottom dweller, this all during an economic crunch in which the California Central Valley was one of the hardest hit in the country. The loyalty is unwavering. But that only can go so far.
In the most ironic of twists, the fate of King fans sits in the hands of the man who tore the bleeding heart out of Seattle. Appointed by NBA Commissioner David Stern nearly a year and a half ago, Clay Bennett, Chair Of NBA Relocation Committee and owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder is all but the last hurdle the Maloofs would need to jump in an eventual relocation situation. The man who ruined the memories of so many in the Greater Northwest, who destroyed the memory of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, the 1979 NBA Championship among so many others, is one of the last saviors to the Kings franchise.
Bennett has already shown his approval of the Kings in Sacramento during reports to David Stern, those of which helped the NBA, the city of Sacramento and the Maloof family come to an “agreement” (I quoted it for you, George Maloof) in a new arena that was eventually backed out on by the Maloof ownership. And now, as the city, franchise and fans sit in status quo, it’s Bennett who again holds the keys to the franchise’s staying power in Sacramento. The city has shown every ounce of support they can as have the fans. Financially, the Kings can compete in their current market. Bennett has every reason to keep the Kings where they’re at, but will he?
As David Stern has so eloquently said multiple times, unlike the NFL and MLB, he is an employee of the leagues owners. He can show his displeasure, as he’s done in this current situation, but overrule he may not. What he can do is act on what is the best interest of the league, which is where Bennett, who feels the Kings can be financially competitive in Sacramento remains vital to the Kings staying put.
Fans don’t root for owners, so cheering for the Thunder during these next two weeks shouldn’t be frowned upon as they and their current fans deserve it, but for King fans, this series holds a bit of unexpected emotion, despite not having a team involved. The franchise is potentially (in due time) one move away from eventually becoming the Oklahoma City Thunder or one move away from becoming the Seattle Supersonics. And at the base of it all, they’re left hoping the man who killed Seattle basketball will let Sacramento basketball, live on.
I guess it’s like sleeping with the enemy.
Hope we used protection.