On this date (October 19) in Seattle Supersonics history, the team hosted a preseason game with the Denver Nuggets at the SunDome in Yakima, Washington in 2002. While it might not seem like a big deal to people in Seattle, it was a fun time on the east side of the mountains. I know because I was in attendance.
I don't remember many details about the game, which the Sonics won 79-73. According to coverage from the Yakima Herald-Republic, though, the following tidbits happened;
- Rashard Lewis sprained his ankle.
- Coach Nate McMillan wasn't too thrilled with Kenny Anderson and Gary Payton in the lineup at the same time.
- The Sonics nearly blew a 20 point lead in the fourth quarter.
- Jerome James didn't suit up because of a foot ailment.
What I do remember is Payton, from the snarl on his face as he intimidated Denver's young back court up and down the floor to the way a street clothed Juwan Howard slobbered all over him when the two shook hands. That put a big smile on my face.
Gary was a very big deal back then and no one can take that away from us. As it turned out, this was the last preseason in which he would wear a Sonics jersey.
In researching this game, I came across an archived article by Dave Thomas, of the Yakima Herald-Republic. It had an ominous passage involving comments by Sonics G.M. Wally Walker.
While Denver has opted to blow things up and basically start over, Seattle has taken a different approach. Team president and CEO Wally Walker believes his team is poised to become an upper echelon NBA team once again.
"We've been rebuilding while trying to stay competitive," Walker said. "That's ambitious, but we didn't want to tear it down and our fans are used to winning."
Walker also said in the article that the young big men in the lineup needed to progress for his strategy to work. They didn't, and it didn't.
How different might things be if the front office had chosen to blow the roster up and start over, instead of getting mired in mediocrity by trying to have it both ways? Could the team have gotten its next super star in the draft before it was too late? Could the team have found success in time to put more pressure on state, county, and city leadership to help get the arena upgraded?
We'll never know.