Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tales of a vulture (as featured on ESPN's TrueHoop)

I hover above the struggling bodies.

They crawl, one arm in front of the other, across the barren desert. There is nothing on the horizon, no structures, no trees, no sign of hope. Just empty miles of sand.

I watch them from above, hungry, waiting for my chance to swoop down and devour the carrion. I can smell the meat, I can picture the feast.

But they keep crawling, and I keep circling.

One seems to slip behind the pack. He looks exhausted, like there's no point in moving any longer. He's tired, he's going to lay down.

But a short man in a suit helps him up with a wry eye toward the sky.

I am a basketball vulture.

In 2008, when Clay Bennett and Co. ripped the collective heart out of the city of Seattle by stealing our NBA franchise, the Seattle SuperSonics, I watched every minute of it happen. I was witness to one of the most despicable acts in sports history. This was no fight in the stands, it was no post-game riot, it was the disembowelment of a city's soul. I heard the Save Our Sonics chants, I saw the rallies and the picket boards. I read Sherman Alexie, the great poet and author, as he begged and pleaded for the team to stay, for the city to help, for anyone to stop this dumbfounding madness that was happening in front of our eyes and outside of our control.

I wept the day the team left, listening to the radio in disbelief like I was listening to a phone call that a close relative had passed away.

I watch my team, MY TEAM, play in different colored uniforms, with different names, different fans, different faces. They don't look like the same players I knew, they look haunted by their forced hands. I scowl at the name as it flashes on TV or my computer screen. I cringe when I sift through box scores and see they've won. But I'm tired now, I've given up hope that my Seattle Sonics will ever come back to town.

And so I wait.

The NBA is in full swing now. LeBron is dancing. Oden is injured. Artest is drunk and falling down a flight of stairs.

But it's not my NBA anymore. I'm still drifting in thermals above the fray. I don't want to be here, I don't want to be looking for a meal, but I'm starved, deprived, hurt and vengeful. I want to sink my teeth into an unfortunate carcass as the last breath leaves the body. I'm talking about you, Sacramento. You too, New Orleans.

And yet, I see the bodies struggling, financial disasters so dramatic David Stern had to loan out millions upon millions to his own teams to keep them from falling dead in the sand, and I start to lose my appetite. I don't want that meat. It's tainted, it's cannibalistic. I don't want to become the very thing that I loathe. I don't want to succumb to the very thing that destroyed basketball in Seattle. If another team fails and we reap the benefits, I simply become the man in the desert and another fan, another city, becomes the vulture. The NBA shouldn't be so karmic.

But what am I supposed to do? Every loss, every injury, every mistake in the front office from one of the failing franchises feels like a glimmer of hope. I start to descend, slowly, in a wide, mile-long circle. I feel so light, I can smell the meat from here. But that man in the suit reappears, "Have some water," he says.

I'm torn. The fans of those other cities don't deserve what happened to us. I see little kids wearing Sonics jerseys on the street, knowing they'll never get to watch another Sonics game at the Key. I see little kids with vintage Payton and Kemp jerseys. They weren't there for the glory years, but through the jersey alone, they get to somehow be a part of it. They get to extend into the past, and the past gets to extend into the present.

But our present is gone. We just have the past. We have memories and images and players and names. We have shared joy and shared defeat. We all have that, as a city, collectively. There is a void here now, an emptiness in the winter that no one wants to talk about. The NBA is a four-letter word, as it should be, but we still miss pro basketball.

Every fan in this city still has that hope, the hope that one day the NBA will return to Seattle. And so we hover above the bodies, the water-starved souls, conflicted but desperate, hoping that a body will finally drop, succumb to the harsh environment. Will the man in the suit ever let it happen? I don't know. Do we even want it to happen? I don't think so. But we're out of options, league expansion will never happen under Stern's watch. League contraction won't either. We are simply stuck, stuck in the clouds looking down, waiting ... waiting.

I am a basketball vulture; perhaps I'm always meant to be one.


  1. Wow, that's some brutal stuff. All bets are off when something like this happens.

    Best of luck to you. I am constantly hoping that Seattle will land an expansion team soon. A new Sonics that won't deprive another city of their beloved team like Hijack City did to you. I will stand and applaud when our I-5 rivalry returns.

  2. I feel for you; what happened to SEA was a stain on the NBA and more particularly David Stern. After watching Sonicsgate, something changed about the NBA for me. It became tainted, like a metallic taste in your mouth during what is otherwise an enjoyable won't be the same again.

    I'm lucky enough to root for a team in a big city. But the cynic inside me says that if Stern can so callously allow such obviously contrived events to happen to the good people of SEA then it can happen anywhere.

    And, unfortunately, if you're really, truly devoted to your team, you'll never stop being a vulture. Just the way it is.



  4. How absurd. The initiative was rightly shot down by a city dealing with financial meltdowns in schools, infrastructure, health care, etc. All after voting in public taxes in prior years to help build Safeco and Qwest. Blaming the city for standing up to the league, setting a painfully-beautiful precedent that billionaire owners can't keep robbing the citizens of a city for their own buildings is just pathetic. The Sonics leaving was about spineless state legislature combined with spineless ownership (both OKC and Seattle) combined with a spineless league commissioner. How dare you blame the people of Seattle who are trying to get better healthcare, public transportation, education for their kids, etc. This was about GREED and that alone. It was time someone stood up to the billionaire owners, unwilling to fund their own buildings but expecting fans to do it for them with a knife pressed up to their collective throat. They expect fans to build their own stadiums under threats from the league and ownership groups and then jack up ticket prices and concessions in the arenas the fans had to pay for. No, the people of Seattle should be lauded for what they did, it's just sad we have to also have the consequences of political and sport-political thievery. I applaud Seattle. And I applaud the designer of your keyboard.

  5. That article is fascinating. SEIU bankrolled a bill that drove the Sonics out of Seattle?

    I love the guy who thinks that voting down the Sonics is somehow equivalent to getting better healthcare and education.

    with voters like that the NBA is never coming back.

  6. absurd is right, 'tehk' fails to put the I-91 vote in context of the whole relocation debacle. there are too many factors that led to the team leaving to pin it on one entity.
    1) Schultz demanded money from Olympia in '05 and '06 without puting in the proper groundwork.
    2) The Schultz ownership group fought with the city dating back to 2005. The two sides could not even agree on arena renovation details to bring to Olympia.
    3) WA state legislators were against any Key Arena funding dating back to 2005 (soured by Schultz and the City), which blinded them when the $150m Ballmer deal was on the table in 2007, which unjustly never even came to a vote.

    A lot of factors "killed the chances" of the team remaining in Seattle. And i think most people who are aware of what happened would spread blame to multiple parties, not just Clay Bennett.

  7. First, the initiative was not shot down by the city as you state, it was passed by an overwhelming majority.

    Second, if you love the city for setting that 'painfully-beautiful precedent' then why are you blogging about the painfully beautiful loss of the Sonics? You act like you can have one without the other, or that we can keep a major sports subsidary without having to give up something in return.

    You say, "It was time someone stood up to the billionaire owners, unwilling to fund their own buildings but expecting fans to do it for them with a knife pressed up to their collective throat." Well, guess what? Standing up to billionaire owners means NOT HAVING AN NBA TEAM, STUPID.

    If you're going to praise King County voters for being basketball martyrs then please STFU about Bennett "stealing" your NBA club ok? Because we did it. We didn't allow the blueprint for stadium rebuilding that every other franchise of every other professional sports teams uses. To think that Key Arena, the worst arena in the NBA was OK because we spent 10M on it 10 years ago is just idiotic.

    You want a sports team? You pay for it. These are the truths. You don't wanna pay for it? Then STFU about losing your damn sports teams. Man, I HATE sports fan in this city! You guys are all a bunch of crybabies who lose interest as soon as your teams start losing.

    The voters thought that the city would sue to prevent the Sonics from breaking the Key lease, but they never thought the city would just take a buyout, and that's really what it comes down to. Had we just bucked up and voted down I-91 the city could have introduced a new tax to subsidize a new arena and we'd still be watching KD put up 30.

    With all the other failed city projects that we have paid for (monorail anyone?) I don't see the harm in paying for a storied franchise that is part of the cultural heritage of Seattle. But oh no.. you progressive lefties want to send a message to the sports owners of America.. the only message you sent is that Seattle doesn't want any new sports teams here for a long, long time.

  8. The Seattle Sounders MLS team just had its inaugural season, setting league attendance records and making the playoffs in its first season.

    No, you're right, Seattle "doesn't want any new sports teams here for a long, long time."

  9. The Sounders play in the Seahawks brand-new stadium, dude, don't be a douche and try to loophole out one single statement. The bottom line is that you want to both play martyr and victim - so typical Seattlite.

  10. Wow you really take watching the sport seriously! All points taken we all hope the NBA goes back to Seattle too, we are getting tired of waiting.