For some, seeing Kevin Durant slice through the Lakers en route to the rim must have sparked memories of high-flying fellas with nicknames like “The Glide,” “The Human Highlight Film” or, for those in Seattle, “The Rain Man.”
For me, watching Durant levitate, and seeing his Oklahoma City Thunder demolish the defending National Basketball Association champions, sparked memories of meeting an ordinary guy with an extraordinary love for his team.
Poor, Brian Robinson.
Here’s a guy who tried like heck to save the Sonics. For Seattle. He gave. Time and money. Heart and soul. The SuperSonics took and took until, well, they finally just took off.
“They’re sick,” is the talent evaluation offered by Robinson, a 37-year-old real estate investor.
The Thunder are, indeed, sick, which for those not familiar with the vernacular means good. Not only are they sick, but they’re young, too. Both are accurate descriptions for Durant, who, at 21, this season became the youngest player to capture the NBA’s scoring title.
Oh, how they would melt for this kid’s toothy game and grin in Seattle. There would be building-sized billboards. Just like LeBron James has in Cleveland.
The Thunder are fun to watch. Durant and his teammates won 50 games during the regular season and are giving the Lakers fits in their first-round playoff series, which was tied 2-2 heading into last night’s game in Los Angeles.
Not only has Durant blossomed into one of the game’s better players, but Scott Brooks was named Coach of the Year and General Manager Sam Presti finished second in executive of the year balloting.
The Thunder are winning. The fans are smiling and the Ford Center is jumping. Seattle, by contrast, is silent, at least when it comes to basketball.
If Oklahoma City is all about what will be, Seattle is consumed with what could have been.
“This city would be going crazy right now,” Robinson said over the telephone after Game 4, which the Thunder won convincingly, 110-89. Crazy might be an understatement. Bonkers is more like it.
Robinson is sick, too. Sick to his stomach. Still.
Robinson co-founded the grassroots group Save Our Sonics, which -- much to the chagrin of any sports fan who equates the local team with civic pride -- failed at its mission.
There are a host of villains in this story, including Starbucks Corp. Chairman Howard Schultz, who thought he could charm his way into a new taxpayer-funded arena, and Clay Bennett, the buyer who didn’t even bother to put a Seattle address on his Sonics business card.
“It’s so painful for us to see our players succeed somewhere else,” says Adam Brown, a producer of the film, “Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team,” which is being screened in New York this week and is also available free online.
The movie doesn’t just rehash. It foreshadows.
“It’s a warning to fans that it can happen to you,” Brown said.
Franchise relocation isn’t anything new. Just ask anyone with silver hair in Brooklyn about Walter O’Malley.
As I’ve written before, NBA Commissioner David Stern used to consider franchise relocation as a sign of failure. Now it’s just business. Just plain sad is what it is.
Tickets, TV and sponsorship apparently aren’t enough for owners to make a buck these days. Or so they say. Survival requires palaces that cater to the caviar set. Oh, and they want you to pay for it. Seattle said no, first to the coffee guy, whose stores Robinson boycotts, and then to Bennett, who, his comments notwithstanding, never intended to stick around the Emerald City.
I met Robinson outside of the Manhattan hotel where NBA owners were meeting to discuss, among other things, Bennett’s request for relocation. This wasn’t some Don Quixote hell bent on changing hearts and minds of bottom-line businessmen. He knew inevitability when he saw it.
He was there anyway. Someone, Robinson said, had to speak for Seattle, for those who spent decades jamming Key Arena and cheering for Slick Watts and Jack Sikma and Tom Chambers and Gary Payton.
“My goal was to humanize it,” he said of the Sonics, who left town before last season. “Customers get forgotten a lot.”
Basketball fans had better pay attention in places like Indiana, Sacramento, California, and New Orleans, where owner George Shinn’s done deal with a local investor isn’t so done, after all. Shinn said potential buyers of his team, which used to call Charlotte, North Carolina, home, must commit to keeping the team in New Orleans.
That’s what he says now. We’ll see.
Word is that Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer wants an NBA team in Seattle. Robinson hopes he succeeds. It is, after all, a basketball town. He’ll cheer for the Seattle whatever-they’re-called, but it won’t be the same. His team is gone.
Durant belongs to the folks of Oklahoma City, where the NBA’s youngest team is making noise. Never before has such a sick dunk left so many so sickened.
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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