Whispers and apparitions still linger in KeyArena.
A metal rollup door shields two furrowed black banners, remnants of the Sonics’ 40th year anniversary celebration. The word Seattle is crimped on one, Sonics folded on another. They hang in the underbelly of the city’s adrift basketball arena.
Pasted and fading behind equipment doors are stickers of Ray Allen. They are accompanied by peeling memories of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp.
Kobe Bryant is not coming out early any more, working on his mid-post game because that was the plan against the Sonics spindly rookie, Kevin Durant.
No more of Lakers coach Phil Jackson proving prescient: Were going to see a big change in Kevin the next 10 years,” he said in 2008. “What were seeing now is a 6-10, lanky kid thats learning how to play the game.
No more disbelief stunning Durant and fellow rookie Jeff Green after being told seemingly ancient teammate Kurt Thomas once led college basketball in scoring and rebounding.
The next Sonics’ legacy chunk never developed.
Even Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, in the arena Tuesday night for Washington’s game against Seattle U., is a reminder of what was. Romar would show up to Sonics games, always late, often taking a seat a few rows back of the visitors bench in his black leather coat.
The Sonics were wrangled out of town in the summer of 2008 by disingenuous Clay Bennett. So long ago that Washington senior Justin Holiday said he never saw them in person. They’re a reference to him. A never-was to younger kids.
It took a confluence of cowardice for the team to leave. All the villains have been noted.
The Sonics departure leaves a basketball-rich city without a cathedral, no hardwood deities.
Just stories of all the Seattle-area players in the NBA. The players who were and the players who will be.
The lack of foresight by city politicians allowed the next generation of Sonics to leave. The new owners were the grumbling public face. Meanwhile, MENSA-smart general manager Sam Presti was dismantling and rebuilding.
It started with Durant. The Portland Trail Blazers are forever to thank. Not knowing what would happen with the top two picks in the 2007 draft, an enormous green Sonics jersey with Oden on the back waited in the teams offices. It was never needed. It lives as the ultimate throwback now. What other jersey represents an era that never came?
In Durant, Presti was delivered a lanky cornerstone. The thing most clear about Presti was he had a plan, and he never told what it was. First-time interviewers were forewarned Presti would ask questions as answers to questions. It was a disarming technique that left Presti protected.
His strip of the franchise coincided with the effort to move. Presti always claimed the dismantling would have had to occur whether the team played on the moon or in a new arena. It was one of the smarter strategies ever undertaken by a general manager. No waffling. A full re-start.
It resulted in a team that feels fresh. With only Nick Collison remaining for the ride, Oklahoma City fans dont have to look back to feel the Thunder is their team, as constituted. The same way Seattle would have embraced the rebirth.
Left behind in Seattle is hope and anger. The topic of the Sonics is still a divisive one, even well after their departure.
The shrill voices of the not-a-penny-of-public-funds screamers shout along with despairing basketball fans.
Its a bizarre public discourse. No one on either side can say how much they actually pay in stadium taxes each year. Each just have extremes. It’s those in the middle who could have been swayed with a clear discussion at the time of departure. Its the same group that will need to be swayed with real numbers if a team is ever to return.
Certainly this is a great basketball area and great basketball town. Its a tier-one city. It deserves to have a pro team here, Lenny Wilkens, coach of the Sonics’ one and only championship in 1979, said Tuesday. But I also understand during these times, its very difficult. You cant expect the city to fork out money to pay for a building. Weve got pressing needs. Education, highways, bridges, things like that.
However, I do feel that there are people in the community that could make it happen.
Local NBA fans wonder if the Steve Ballmer Prophecy will be fulfilled, another millionaire to rescue a sports legacy ingrained in Seattle, but it feels as if viaduct dust long will have been washed away before a new arena gets placed. Any chance at momentum left with Durant. The fervor would have turned behind the young scoring champion and his teammates. The moment passed.
I think an NBA team will be back in Seattle before its all said and done, Romar said. So I cant say that its over. In terms of the Sonics, I dont think well ever have a Sonics team.
In the void are snow-flaked nights such as Tuesday. The best local basketball to be offered is a non-conference college game between the haves and the wants.
Seattle U., as well as the Storm, has adopted the bellowing encouragement, Seattle, make some noise! and folded it into game presentations.
Trouble is, the sound fades.