These are strange times for fans of the NBA, former fans of the Seattle SuperSonics, and fans of the former Seattle SuperSonics -- the Finals-leading Oklahoma City Thunder. Because the Thunder technically have the "rights" to the SuperSonics' history, you get annoying references to Oklahoma City being in the Finals for the first time since 1996, which they most certainly were not, and Seattle most certainly was. You get potshots, needlessly, from OKC fans. And you get frustrated Seattle fans, four years after a move that saw them say goodbye to a lottery team that blossomed into a Finals favorite in less than half a decade, wondering how to handle it.
Detlef Schrempf went to high school and college in Washington, played for the Seattle SuperSonics for that team's mid-1990s heyday, and still lives in Seattle. Detlef was born in Germany, and would like it if Seattle fans would get over their loneliness through sheer Bavarian willpower. In an interview with Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports, Detlef kindly says as much:
"I don't think they stole our team. It's a business. The NBA is making money. It's not a charitable organization. Somebody saw an opportunity to buy a team and bring something to their city. I don't see them (stealing) our team. We gave it away. Our leadership gave it away. Our politicians gave it away. We screwed up (by not agreeing to build a facility to replace outmoded Key Arena)."
That is the unfortunate truth. Seattle was completely screwed over by former SuperSonics owner Howard Schultz, who did a miserable job of running the team before further cementing the SuperSonics' eventual move by selling the team to two Oklahoma City businessmen (hello?) in the months following the sold-out crowds that greeted a just-visiting New Orleans Hornets team that was forced to play most of its home games in OKC following Hurricane Katrina.
And, yes, the shady (in this basketball realm, at least) OKC businessmen were caught in emails discussing the eventual move while still playing the "we're doing everything we can to keep this team in Seattle," even though we can safely assume this group (from Oklahoma City, mind you, sold to them by current Seattle resident and coffee price gouger Howard Schultz) never had any interest in keeping the team in an arena that would not make them money, with a new arena full of potential fans waiting for them in Oklahoma City.
Seattle still voted against a new arena, though. And the city didn't have the leadership enough to encourage a better local buyer both in 2001 (with Schultz) and 2006 (with the OKC group). To say nothing of developing a more agreeable arena plan.
Schrempf, like a goodly chunk of the American viewing public, will be rooting for the Thunder in these Finals, but not just for their uneasy history with the city he calls home. From Tomasson's piece:
"I like the way they play as a team and the passion they have," Schrempf said. "I know a couple (of players) on the team and a couple of guys who are still sitting behind the bench (the equipment manager and strength coach being holdovers from Seattle) working hard. So I'll definitely pull for them.
"It's not the same team," Schrempf said. "There's nothing left from the Sonics, really. There's no tradition. It's a totally new organization, a different city."
This is fair.
Tomasson went on to quote several other famous SuperSonics, including 1979 NBA champion and current Minnesota Timberwolves assistant coach Jack Sikma (who is still pretty ticked, on record, at the Thunder; which is rare for someone who still works with NBA teams), Gary Payton (who, as you'd guess, doesn't really give a [stick-shift]), and Lenny Wilkens (who, because he's Lenny Wilkens, provided a calm and rational look at both sides and just kidding I fell asleep before I read his full quote). It's a great piece, and a great read.
Schrempf, perhaps mindful that his comments (though spot on) might rub some Seattleites the wrong way, took to Twitter on Wednesday to remind fans that the area still does have potential local prospects in terms of new owners and a place to stick an NBA-ready arena. And, because the NBA and the Thunder aren't completely evil, the agreements are in place for any new Seattle team to take back the colors, team name, banners, historical records, and 1979 NBA championship trophy (it wasn't called the Lawrence O'Brien trophy, back then, because he was the one handing it out) should Seattle find a way to bring the NBA back.
Until then, we agree with Detlef. The time for rancor is over, unless you see Schultz at the barstool next to yours, and it's time to move on.
Detlef wouldn't steer you wrong.
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