The game is the thing.
I am not a fan of any particular team. I love the competition, the drama and the beauty of the sport. It really doesn't matter who is playing -- the Lakers against the Celtics or the Pacers against the Clippers. The game is the thing.
As clichéd as it might sound, I really don't even care who wins the NBA title, who is the MVP, who leads the league in scoring, who gets Coach of the Year or any of that.
What I do care about, however, is when a city loses a team, and that hits home particularly hard for me with the seemingly imminent departure of the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City.
The game, in this case, is not the thing.
The Sonics have had their days in the sun, winning the 1979 NBA title and making it to the Finals on two other occasions. They've had their bleak periods as well, seasons in which they couldn't find the playoffs with binoculars. But they are the team I grew up with, and though I don't live in Seattle any longer, the idea of the Sonics departing and leaving the city without an NBA team just doesn't seem right.
I understand the politics of it all. Seattle, in the last 10 years, has financed a new retractable-roof stadium for the Mariners and a new football stadium for the Seahawks, and the idea of financing yet another stadium for yet another pro team to keep it from moving just doesn't seem that important to legislators or voters.
I can understand that, especially now, in a time when infrastructure is in disrepair, education is underfunded and the job and housing markets are declining. It can seem frivolous in such times to be talking about earmarking perhaps as much as half a billion dollars to build a third state-of-the-art professional sports facility in a city. I don't blame the city for balking, I don't blame the NBA for squawking and I don't blame owner Clay Bennett for walking. I don't blame anyone. I am saddened, nevertheless.
I can remember as a child growing up in Seattle not having a pro team of my own for which to root. I became a 49ers and Giants fan simply because they were in San Francisco, the closest major league city to Seattle. Television made them our home teams and we were forced to adopt them.
Then, in 1967, the Sonics came to town as an NBA expansion team and everything changed. No more borrowed clothes for us. We had a pretty new suit to wear. I went to as many games as I could afford. I loved the game so much that I built my school, family and social schedules around the Sonics' schedule.
I rooted for Walt Hazzard, Tom Meschery and Rod Thorn, and laughed at coach Al Bianchi losing his cool and going ballistic at practically every game. I marveled at center Bob Rule, a player I had never heard of before he became a Sonic. They picked him in the second round in their first college draft. He went on to become the team's big star its first three seasons, averaging 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds.
People today talk about how great a feat it is for a player to get 20 points and 20 rebounds in the same game. Well, I saw Wilt Chamberlain, playing for the Philadelphia 76ers at the time, get 53 points and 38 rebounds in a game that first season.
The Sonics were the first team I really felt was mine. I was sad when they lost, happy when they won and always thrilled just to be there rooting for them.
I graduated from college, moved away, became a sportswriter and mentally walked away from my home team, never to look back.
I look back with fond memories and a broken heart. The Sonics brought Seattle its first and only professional championship. Through the years, stars like Slick Watts, Spencer Haywood, Lenny Wilkens, Dennis Johnson, Tom Chambers, Gus Williams, Jack Sikma, Gary Payton, Fred Brown, Shawn Kemp, Xavier McDaniel and many, many more helped convert the minor league town in which I grew up into a major league city.
We can hold out faint hope that something will miraculously happen and they will stay, but at this stage, that might be too painful. I would much rather just say thanks and goodbye, keep my memories intact and let it go at that.