When sports hyperventilation is so audible that it begins to drown out jet engines in this town, we need to have a talk.
Oklahoma City’s arrival in the NBA Finals is producing in Seattle some industrial-grade retching, as well as a counter-current of dismissal, the argument being that contempt for the Thunder’s success is a waste of emotion.
For those who insist that Sonics fans get over it: No. Exactly no.
In the ever-increasing compulsion to nanny-state everything, let’s agree to make non-negotiable people’s right to their passions. Of course that doesn’t include passions that endanger or impede someone else’s life or community welfare, but mourning the departure of a sports team and castigation of the people responsible is within the bounds of civic convulsion.
Why do people care about a silly sports team? For the same reasons people care about rock music or classical music or Chihuly melted glass or old cars. These things move people, and it’s a big country with room for a lot of movement.
Consider the opening this week of the LeMay’s America Car Museum next to the Tacoma Dome.
The 165,000 square-foot museum, the nation’s largest dedicated to our fascination with cars, seems to be very cool. Haven’t been yet, but years ago I toured millionaire Harold LeMay’s car collection when part of it was outdoors rusting in the rain. Even then, it was spectacular, and I’m not a car guy.
After a decade of argument and more than $60 million, the museum is open to people who get their freak on over the automobile. From a cultural-value standpoint, it’s neither better nor worse than the Experience Music Project, the Seattle Art Museum and Sculpture Park, McCaw Hall, Safeco Field, Emerald Downs, the Museum of Flight and Seattle Center. They’re all as unnecessary as they are wonderful. The region would be lesser without them, even if not everyone uses all, some never use any and many argue their merits.
Independent of the arguments of who was responsible and how it happened, losing the Sonics was a bad thing, because the franchise was a great, harmless source of connection, aggravation and celebration for the community that grew around the enterprise for 41 years. That aspect was such a small part of the calculation in letting the Sonics go so easily that our town’s principal sentiment ought more to be embarrassment that we let it happen than anger over the perpetrators, however dastardly their deviousness and/or gutlessness.
Which brings us to the other side of the field, that segment of our burg who, upon the TV sightings of Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon celebrating the Thunder’s success, want to throw objects, up to and including small children, at the screen serving up the devil’s handymen.
For the people who want anvils, giant rocks and pianos to fall upon the animated antics of the OKC hijackers, be aware that We are making plans to be Them.
The civic conceit is that we’ll somehow navigate the transfer of a franchise to Seattle with more honor and conscience than did Howard Schultz, the prairie privateers and related miscreants. Really?
Maybe Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer will be lucky enough to buy a dying franchise outright without litigation over a lease (howyadoin’, Sacramento?), but there will still be politicians, businesses, fans and staffers in the aggrieved town with a massive open wound and a bloody trail that ends in Seattle.
Deep down, every Sonics fan knows this, and rationalizes it away by saying casually that this is the nature of pro sports — eat or be eaten, which in fact has been the motto emblazoned above the door marked “Nature” ever since the first amoeba split in the primeval ocean.
Right now, however, the face of every lover of pro hoops in the region is being rubbed in some peculiarly nasty stuff: Thunder star Kevin Durant, as KJR radio’s Dave Mahler pointed out this week in a particularly decibel-driven rant, well may be the Ken Griffey Jr. of basketball, only without the pouting.
Durant led the Thunder to an impressive four wins in a row over the San Antonio Spurs, a team most everyone believed was tougher than leather chewing gum, in the Western Conference Finals. And the Thunder seem set to beat whatever flawed team, the Celtics or Heat, survives game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals Saturday in Miami. Given the talented youth on roster that ex-Sonics GM Sam Presti built, it could be the first of multiple NBA titles.
In a championship-starved sports market, the lost opportunity of the Griffey of hoops leading the Sonics to years-long dominance is galling times 10. And it will be abetted daily by media this month that connect the Sonics’ championship history and playoff drama with OKC, which last made a national cultural impression with the Joad family in “Grapes of Wrath.” And they left.
Navigating the emotions of the NBA Finals will be no small feat for basketball fans. They have every right to be unashamed in their disgust with Bennett, McClendon and their Seattle enablers. Yet whatever hoops passion they have left after contempt is devoted to the dream of walking in their same bloody footsteps.
Maybe the rest of June will be better spent contemplating the moment when Chone Figgins breaks out his Albert Pujols impression.