June 9, 2012 in Sports

Blanchette: NBA envy can swing both ways

By The Spokesman-Review
 
SR photo

Sports columnist John Blanchette.
(Full-size photo)

Finished watching the three-part series “Hatfields & McCoys” the other night – a monumental television event in that the History Channel found time to put some history on its channel and not just “Cajun Pawn Stars.”

Some irony in that. If the two families were still feuding today, they’d be doing it on some dreadful cable reality series. Would have saved on bullets and blood, if not brain cells.

In any case, the killing in the show was unsparing – to the point that it was easy to lose track of what was behind it all, which no doubt the original principals did. You could only imagine if they’d been feuding over something tangible and not just riding the momentum of hate.

Like, oh, one clan taking away the other’s basketball team.

Another epic event, the NBA playoffs, moves into the finals this week and TV will get its warm fuzzies on over the fresh-faced entry from Oklahoma City doing battle against the Miami LeBrons.

Up here, not so much.

The Thunder, of course, used to do business in Seattle as the SuperSonics until a very public hijacking. By now, you’d think this would be water under the floating bridge, but stumbling across a headline from the newspaper down the road suggested otherwise.

“Sonics advance to Finals, oh wait,” it blared. “Oklahoma City steals team, and steals game from San Antonio.”

With a rapier that subtle, the victim doesn’t even know he’s being cut.

And that wasn’t even from an outlet in Seattle, where the stewing over the kidnapping of the basketball team and its swift ascent to absentee greatness is approaching an art form.

Grudge rock.

That’s all there is, really. There is no real feud. These are the Hatfields with no McCoys. Seattle has a bellyful of bile, and Oklahoma City has an NBA team and the attitude of the old-money widget heir being jeered by the grunts on the loading dock. Nothing enrages quite as effectively as a shrug.

And to have your pocket picked by an outpost like Oklahoma City, no less. All the Microsoft millionaires in town and still they couldn’t hang on to the franchise.

Yeesh. They would have rather lost the team to Spokane.

Getting over it is not an option for the grudgesters, any more than it was for Brooklyn when the Dodgers were spirited away to the other coast or Baltimore when the Colts took their midnight ride. Lecturing otherwise is both pointless and wrongheaded.

Nor is it all about civic envy – Seattle’s Sonics flu is more complex than that, including as it does four decades of emotional investment in a franchise, a lineage of heroes from Gus and Downtown Freddie to the Glove to – yes – even Kevin Durant, having stayed true through the ugly years, the impotence of city fathers, the two-faced schnookiness of former owner Howard Schultz and, above all, the arrogance of the biggest accessory to the crime, NBA commissioner David Stern.

But it’s Thunder owner Clay Bennett’s mug showing up on their flat screens that make the old Sonics troops want to go rogue.

It is curious to see the wound reopened and the hatred crystallized by the success of the team, a process that saw the baby steps taken in Seattle. Not that the Northwest should have any particular attachment to the Russell Westbrooks and James Hardens, and not that you’d want to see the guy who ran off with your fiancée buy the winning Powerball ticket on his way out of town.

But when they had the Sonics, their fans didn’t get this worked up over any of the team’s opponents.

That’s certainly easier – and more emotionally satisfying – than trying to whip up a passion for the recent steps toward getting the city back in the basketball business. Having been burned by the Sterns and Schultzes and Bennetts, it’s hard to go all-in with Chris Hansen, who’s trying to make a new arena happen in Sodo. Having seen politicians and lawyers stumble over themselves in the “fight” to keep the team, it’s impossible to have faith that they’ll negotiate all the roadblocks that inevitably get thrown up.

And it has to be especially unnerving to know that the only way Seattle will return to the NBA lodge is through the civic failure/ownership mendacity in another city.

Maybe Seattle will do it better and maybe it won’t. But if and when another team comes to town, there will be another city with a group of NBA devotees working up a good froth for Seattle.

The momentum of hate. It swings both ways.


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