When I was younger, my family couldn't often afford to buy us Sonics tickets. We would always watch the games on TV when we could (remember when Sonics games were on pay-per-view?) but couldn't make it to Seattle to watch the games live. My neighbor, however, had season tickets. He knew my dad, who grew up in Bend, OR, was a Trail Blazers fan so he would always give us his tickets when the I-5 Rivalry came to town. When I discuss my best live Sonics game, however, it's not one of those Blazers games.
The year was 1997. The Sonics were entering the playoffs the season after an NBA Finals appearance which saw them take the team with the greatest record of all time to 6 games. They finished the season with a record of 57-25, a Pacific Division title and the second seed in the Western Conference. They entered the playoffs against Jason Kidd, Kevin Johnson, Rex Chapman, and the Phoenix Suns.
Game 1 took place at the KeyArena in Seattle on April 25th. My neighbor had his usual seats, but a co-worker of his had given him his seat court side so he gave his tickets to us. I couldn't believe it. I was going to a real NBA Playoffs game. I don't recall now exactly what section the tickets were in, but I do remember that they were in the upper level and were a few rows behind Ed. If you have ever been to a Sonics game in KeyArena, you're familiar with Ed. He was the gentlemen who sat in the front row of the upper level, and would randomly stand up in the middle of the game and yell "HEY REF! ASELBAMA LOLLA TELE FELE HABBA DEROME!" and everyone in his section would yell back "YEAAAAHHHH!" No one was ever really sure what he said, but he was so passionate that it must have been important.
At halftime, with the Suns clinging to a 51-47 lead, our neighbor came up to the upper level to see how we were doing. Him and my dad chatted for a bit and drank beers as I watched the halftime show. He then tapped me on the shoulder and said "hey Taylor, would you want to sit court side for the second half?" I don't think he even finished his sentence before I had snatched the ticket out of his hand and was half walking, half running down the steps. I stopped in the entrance of the 100 level and looked out. I was on the same level as the court. My heart pounded in my chest and a smile I couldn't control spread across my young face. I slowly walked up to the usher and handed him my ticket. He pointed me a folding chair, four rows off the court, opposite the Sonics bench.
As I sat down, the players were all out on the court warming up for the second half. I looked across and saw George Karl talking to Nate McMillan. More importantly, I heard them. I was close enough to the court that I could actually hear them. As the second half began, my excitement only grew. I looked out and found my favorite player, Shawn Kemp. I could hear his booming voice as he talked game plan with Gary Payton. I remember being astounded at the fact that I was so close to the action that I could see the holes in the mesh of the Reign Man's jersey. I could see the sweat dripping from the players' foreheads. I heard every play call and every four letter word. I don't think I blinked or stopped smiling for the rest of the game.
Ultimately, the Sonics fell to the Suns by a final score of 106-101. Rex Chapman scored an unbelievable 42 points. For me, however, the unbelievable part was that feeling of sitting four rows away from the greatest basketball players on the planet. I was excited just to attend an NBA Playoffs game, but then I got to sit a few dozen feet from my idols, and the experience is one I will never forget.