I was never a “sports” kind of guy
Soccer seemed like a lot of running with very little scoring. Baseball struck me as laconic, boring and pointless. Football reminded me a war… oversized men with more muscle than brains, slamming into each other at high speed over a leather torpedo. Acts of mindless violence without grace or merit.
Basketball was the one sport I could *kind of* get into. The speed not only of the game, but of the calculations the players had to make on the fly in order to be not just “ok”, but good… much less brilliant. That, to my mind, summoned the Apollonian ideal. The perfect symmetry of body and mind, working together in honed perfection. Like a experimental aircraft test pilot… an equal mix of nerve, intellect, and dexterity.
Not that I was any good at it.
I played almost every day through Jr. High and High School with my best friend Mike. Mike towered above me, reaching almost 7’ buy the time we graduated, and he could nail the shots. It was an unspoken reality before the fact that he would be on Varsity and I wouldn’t get picked for a team of 5th graders if they were all blind.
As noted, I was REALLY not good at hoops.
But I enjoyed it. I loved playing. The court was a common ground where the “jocks” would hang with the “metal heads” and the “nerds” and the “stoners”. Any and all… didn’t matter what clique or group you hung out in or were relegated to. The boundaries (mostly) fell away when someone would ask, “Hoops?”
In college, enjoyment of the game transmuted into a fiery, burning, passionate love. Because of one team. OUR team. The Seattle Supersonics. This was the early 90s… “when grunge walked the earth” and whether you were a flannel-sporting-dropped-D Bass player, a newsprint-stained journalist, or member of the JV Bench at WSU… we loved hoops, and we LIVED the Sonics. The Glove, the Reign Man… these were our icons and our heroes.
When the school year ended in 1993, and the Sonics were in the Western Conference playoffs, five of us chipped in to get a one month extension on the apartment that had cable, camping out on the living room floor so we could watch every game the Sonics were in. Together… the same way we had cheered them on during the regular season. During the home games, when Gary Payton would pluck away the ball or knock down an opponent’s shot, all of us would stand, howling in glee at the 20” Cathode Ray tube – “NOT IN OUR HOUSE!” When Sam Perkins or Hersey Hawkins, would spin past Barkley or Olijuwan to float a 3 point shot with balletic grace, we’d squeal… 5 men in their mid-20s… we’d squeal like little girls that just got a pony for their birthday. It was glorious, and wonderful, and magic.
For the rest of the decade, in cities thousands of miles apart, in an era before Skype and iChat, we’d watch “together” via speakerphone. Detlef, and Hersey, and Sam, and Nate, and Gary, and Shawn… George Karl either grinning or pulling on his tie and throwing his jacket in fury. Watching the Bulls in the 95-96 finals, at their apex with Jordan and Rodman and Pippen being given a run for their money against “Our Team”… it was perfection.
It’s easy to think of Seattle as “grunge” or “starbucks”, but Hoops are just as much a part of it’s DNA as anything that makes the town live and breathe. Pearl Jam’s first name (before threat of lawsuit) was Mookie Blaylock. They’d settle instead for naming their first album “10” after the number of his jersey. Band of Horses have a song named after Detlef Schrempf. Andy Wood of Mother Love Bone penned “Captain Hi-Top” as a swaggering anthem for a generation emerging in to its own. Even now, Macklemore tips his thrift shop hat to the metal rim about to be shattered.
Seattle has ALWAYS been about the hoops.
The fans know that. They know the power it has to unite a community, to bring them across the divides of race, or culture, or trends, or fashion. Those of us who grew up with the Sonics (who were formed the year I was born) feel the pain of their leaving at an unexplainably primal level. Chris Hansen, Steve Ballmer and other good people know this. Gary Payton KNOWS this. Shawn Kemp KNOWS this. That’s why they’ve put in the sweat, and the time and the money… why they’ve put up with the naysayers and the roadblockers, and the pessimists who chime on and on with “Give it up”. They do it for the same reason that I… a guy who could give two shits 90% of the time about professional sports… am writing this.
Because there NEEDS to be an NBA team in Seattle again.
The Sonics need to rise, or return, or be reborn. David Stern, save face however you need to… justify it any way that allows you to sleep at night… but know this.
For myself, for my generation. For my children and their generation. For the generations beyond that. Seattle needs its team.