July 19, 2011
The Oklahoma City Thunder are one of the more likable teams in the NBA, a group of young and exciting players who win with the kind of regularity we typically associate with veterans. However, the circumstances of their move to OKC have made the team difficult to embrace completely. The Seattle SuperSonics were one of the best-loved franchises in the league, and their sale to Clay Bennett and subsequent move irked a lot of people.
That sale happened five years ago Tuesday. At the SSSBDA Tumblr, Kevin Pelton, now of Basketball Prospectus and then an employee of Sonics.com, describes what it was like to be at the arena when the sale went through:
I found out about 10 a.m., an hour before the balance of my Sonics coworkers took the same gut punch at an all-staff meeting. By that point, I was already at KeyArena, preparing for the Storm's annual Kids Day game at noon. About a half-dozen people in the building knew what was about to happen, which we had to bear with stony silence. Anne Donovan, then the Storm's head coach, was one of them. The combination of the news and finding out about an injury to star Lauren Jackson left Donovan looking like she'd seen a ghost when she met the media. [...]
Word broke on the Internet a little before tipoff. That's when the emails started coming in. By halftime, the whispers had spread through the crowd, and the first of many "Noklahoma" signs appeared in the far end zone. It didn't help matters that the Storm couldn't get anything going without Jackson in a 13-point loss.
After the game, I made the short walk from the Key to The Furtado Center, the team practice facility where the press conference was scheduled. Thankfully, I wasn't assigned to write anything, so I just walked around in a daze, taking everything in and trying to figure out what just happened. After I went back to the office, my big assignment was trying to find a photo of Clay Bennett where he had even a hint of a smile on his face for the frontpage of supersonics.com.
It's a terrific and relatively short piece, so I encourage you to read the whole thing. Pelton touches on some tough emotions and tells a great story, including what he did after the game.
With any luck, this sale will eventually become an unfortunate blip in the story of professional basketball in Seattle rather than the end of the line. The city deserves another team, and hopefully they'll get one soon.