It seems as if every 2-3 years Sonics fans are featured in Sports Illustrated, and it is always a big deal. SI has a legacy in sports reporting that goes back to my childhood, before ESPN, Yahoo Sports, or any of the modern sporting news outlets even existed.
The last couple of times I've spoken with SI, the guy I've sat down with is Chris Ballard, and I have to say that I enjoy Chris a lot. We talked for a good hour, and I think that by the end of the conversation, he really got what our movement was about. He ended the meeting by saying "I'm rooting for you guys," and I think he was very sincere.
Chris went on to write a much appreciated article calling national attention to both the strength of our market and the pragmatism of our fans. He gave voice to the broad support of our cause among NBA media members who frequently express their opinion that our city has paid its dues, our fans have conducted themselves with great dignity, and that Seattle deserves to have the NBA return to our market.
As much as I appreciate the article, I regretted my own choice of words and wish that one of my own comments had not made it into print. The moment I said, "In some respects, I think we won," I regretted the statement. I took the time to go back and explain the meaning behind that statement to Chris and feel obligated to provide an explanation here as well.
We fought a very hard fight with very high stakes and our team walked out of town. Kevin Durant plays 41 nights a year in Oklahoma City and my friend Mike Tavares is a hero in Sactown for defeating our efforts. I know damn well we didn't "win" in anything but a moral sense, and moral victories don't count.
Losing does not change the fact that I would not trade my circumstances for those of Clay Bennett, Kevin Johnson or Mike Tavares. I have come to believe that the truly special part of professional sports has little to do what happens on the court. Nothing can change the fact that basketball is, in and of itself, just a game and the players who play that game are just entertainers. The magic of professional sports is the way they bring the community together, creating bonds, inspiring unity, and bringing joy. Somehow, despite really crappy circumstances a huge number of Sonics fans have found a way to do it without the game. We represent our city with just as much pride as the guys in OKC and Sacramento and when the day finally comes that our team arrives it will be infinitely sweeter because of all the miles we fans have walked together.
When guys like Chris Ballard come to town I go out of my way to let them know that we are not wallowing around in communal misery.
For starters, like the NBA, our city is doing just fine since the Sonics left to become the Thunder. Everything we told the NBA about Seattle has come to pass. We have a booming economy that is chock full of the type of Fortune 500 companies and globally visible brands that the league wants to affiliate with. Our rapidly growing population not only has a relatively high disposable income but is dominating the fastest growing market segments in technology and entertainment.
And then, there are the fans...
Don't think that the nation has not noticed the success of the Seahawks and the impact of the 12th Man, not just on games but also on the entire perception of what an energized and mobilized fan base can offer to a city. Along with the 12th Man, the Sonics movement has played a role in mobilizing the fans of our region and setting the expectation that fans can do more than just cheer.
I feel tremendous pride when discussing the way Sonics fans have carried themselves and do my best to put to words the unending pragmatism and undeniable impact of a fan movement that continues to competently participate in complex political and business dealings. We are just a bunch of regular people who lack training and experience but somehow stay in the game year after year, exceeding expectations and finding ways to impact our city. Somehow we always manage to have a really good time in the process.
So, I would like to point out for the record that I think "we won" is a pretty stupid statement that I wish I had never made. That does not change the fact that I would not trade a minute of the experience of this loss for a win in another city, surrounded by a different group of people. Whether the NBA comes back or not, I would rather be in Seattle than anyplace else.
This roller coaster takes its toll on us all emotionally. I have quit a dozen times and grumble incessantly about how much it sucks, but I consistently come back for the same reasons. We have a lot of fun together (more fun than Atlanta Hawks fans!), and like Richard Sherman, we are winning at life even if OKC won the battle for the franchise.
Life is too short for regrets, even if your basketball team skipped town.