The Oklahoma City Thunder have a shot to win the NBA championship. For many Seattle basketball fans, it’s more than they can handle.
A rally to bring back the Sonics, which gathered at Occidental Park on Thursday evening as the Thunder opened the championship series against the Miami Heat, probably reached a good 6,000 supporters, more than twice what organizers had expected. Most were dressed in classic Sonics green and gold, some sporting the jersey of their favorite player, and nearly everywhere you looked small yellow placards were held high about heads with a clear message: “Bring ‘Em Back!”
It’s been four years since an NBA game has been played in Seattle, and the rally to see another game or listen to Kevin Calabro scream “Good golly, Miss Molly!” once more is palpable in Pioneer Square. Nearly everywhere I walked various chants rang out: “Let the boys play!” “Bring ‘em back!” People rushed to enter a raffle to win an autographed ball by Shawn Kemp. If you walked past center stage, you’d see gawking fans trying to steel a glimpse of Gary Payton or get a signature from Donald “Slick” Watts.
“I got your shirt on, Slick!” a fan shouts while trying to get an autograph. Watts walks directly over to sign a t-shirt that simply says “be slick.”
“Where’s Kemp? I don’t see Kemp,” another person says standing right behind me. I crane forward to look over the crowd but don’t see The Rain Man. Who I do see is Chris Hansen, leaning against a table wearing a green Sonics warm-up jacket. Hansen is about to take the stage and talk to a crowd of more than 6,000 people. And if you know anything about the San Francisco hedge fund manager and die-hard Sonics fan, you realize that being in the limelight is not his main aim, nor is this just another money-making opportunity for him, as far as anyone knows. “If it was about making money, I would have preferred to have just stayed under my rock and have no one on this earth know about me,” Hansen is quoted saying in The Stranger.
Hansen may carry an unassuming air about him, but he’s definitely the most popular guy in the room at the moment. When he takes the stage, the crowd chants his name over and over. And when he begins to talk, he does it so timidly that Calabro has to hold his mic to Hansen’s lips just for the hedge-fund manager to be heard.
Although faint, his words speak volumes to the crowd.
“Think about the day when you hear the news that we got a deal,” Hansen said. “Think about the first game.” For Hansen, he can already see the arena resting south of Safeco Field.
There’s no question that the effort to bring back the NBA to Seattle has the checkbook to do it. When news broke Wednesday that Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer and Nordstrom brothers Peter and Erik had joined the investment group, supporters and politicians likely rested a little easier at the sight of some local faces.
Hansen’s passel of investors and his memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Seattle and King County still have their critics to square off with, however, mainly the Port of Seattle and maritime industries that cite traffic congestion in SoDo as their main objection.
But in Occidental Park on Thursday, there wasn’t any time for the negative side of the deal as the rally was to keep people excited about the MOU. Speakers included Hansen; ex-Sonics Kemp, Gary Payton, Slick Watts, and Detlef Schrempf; former University of Washington Husky Nate Robinson; and musician-writer Duff McKagan, plus a written message from Mayor Mike McGinn. All asked supporters to tell the city and county councils that Seattle wants a team.
Although no other rallies are planned, the energy will carry on for a long time. Payton responded to sneers when Oklahoma is mentioned: “You should be mad.” Payton says as he stands atop the stage, “I said the same thing when they asked me if I wanted to retire my jersey in Oklahoma.” Actually, we don’t know what the words in response to the jersery were exactly, but knowing The Glove’s reputation on the court, it’s easy to think of something that wouldn't normally appear in print.
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