By Michael C. Jones
This NBA season is painful for Sonics fans. Every NBA season has been painful for Sonics fans since the team was yanked away from us in 2008, though some of us may have become numb and choose to pretend that NBA basketball no longer exists. This fan was like that for the entire 2008-2009 season, the first season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. This fan refused to watch a single second of NBA play that season, even turning away from highlights packages on the news.
I’m over that now and I even confess to actively watching the NBA again. The pain lingers, but even a basketball fan who has been scarred by the sports’ top league has to appreciate the artistry of the record-setting Golden State Warriors. Still, those Warriors are one of seven reasons it hurts for a Sonics fan to watch the NBA this season and in particular the current NBA playoffs.
7. Golden State Warriors
The defending champs are the most impressive team this season led by the league’s most impressive star, Steph Curry. His cast of supporting characters includes Klay Thompson, who matriculated at Washington State University. In a parallel universe where the Sonics never left, they could be developing a great West Coast rivalry with the Warriors. But the pace at which a new arena is being deliberated, the construction of which is a prerequisite for the NBA’s return to Seattle, suggests we might miss the entire careers of these young superstars without seeing them play against (or how about for?) the Sonics.
6. 1995-96 Chicago Bulls
All season long the big question in the NBA has been whether the Warriors could eclipse the 72 wins of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. We now know the answer was yes. And every mention of that Bulls team brought a twinge of pain to Sonics fans. Those Bulls’ 72 wins overshadowed a fantastic, 64-win season by the Sonics, whose campaign to the finals was the highlight of the greatest run in Sonics history. They made the playoffs every season from the arrival of Gary Payton in 1990 to the departure of George Karl in 1998. And they came closer than a lot of prognosticators thought they would to knocking off the mighty Bulls, pushing the Finals to six games. Constant reminders of that Bulls team brings back bittersweet feelings for Sonics fans.
5. Scottie Pippen
Scottie Pippen further revived those tough memories for Sonics fans when he told Paul Pabst of the Dan Patrick Show that those Bulls would sweep these Warriors, and that he would have held Steph Curry to under 20 points. Sonics fans can’t help but think how their team would fare in the same scenario. If those Sonics gave the Bulls enough trouble to last six games, and the Bulls would sweep, couldn’t those Sonics also beat the Warriors? How would 9-time NBA All-Defensive First Team player Gary Payton perform guarding Curry. After all, it was The Glove, not Pippen, who was the 1996 NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
4. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs also play the game the right way, and are one of the few teams that could give the Warriors trouble in their quest for back-to-back titles. Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated calls the Spurs “the only legitimate hope” to topple the Warriors. But Sonics fans see red when faced with the silver and black of San Antonio. It was these Spurs, including current players Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and coach Greg Popovich, who knocked out the Sonics in their last two playoff appearances. Spurs are designed to inflict discomfort on horses, and their basketball namesakes, on Sonics fans.
The first weekend of the 2016 NBA playoffs was beset with blowouts. The average margin of victory was 20.5 points, including wins of 38, 32, 26 and 20. Take out the two single-digit finals and the average margin balloons to 26 points. Ben Golliver pointed out for Sports Illustrated, “By any measure, the 2016 playoffs are off to the most lopsided start since the postseason format switched to a best-of-7 series for the first round in 200.” Blowouts aren’t much fun to watch, unless your team is the one doing the blowing out. In the absence of the Sonics, blowouts are bad. (Consider that over that same weekend in the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, the average margin of victory was 1.5 goals. You really should be watching more Stanley Cup playoff action over the National Blowout Association.)
2. Jamal Crawford/Zach LaVine/Isaiah Thomas
What do Jamal Crawfod, Zach LaVine and Isaiah Thomas have in common? They are star players on their respective NBA teams who attended high school in Western Washington. Crawford is a three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award winner who was born in Seattle and went to Rainier Beach High School. LaVine is a two-time NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion who attended Bothell High School. Isaiah Thomas is a 2016 NBA All-Star who was born in Tacoma, attended Curtis High School and starred at the University of Washington. Oh, and another thing these three have in common: they can’t play NBA basketball in Seattle, not even as members of the visiting team. Crawford has been outspoken in his desire to see the Sonics resurrected. He wrote a great piece for Sports Illustrated’s The Cauldron that concluded, “Seattle fans were — and many remain — furious that their beloved Sonics were taken away from them, but time heals most wounds, and all will be forgiven if and when a ‘new’ NBA franchise comes to town.” Crawford confesses to actively rooting against the Oklahoma City Thunder before he became friends with former Sonic Kevin Durant. Now Crawford roots for his buddy to succeed unless Crawford’s Clippers are playing the Thunder. Speaking of which…
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
Don’t get me started.