Friday, October 31

SSS HOF #10 & 11: Blackburn & Calabro

Bob Blackburn & Kevin Calabro

Safe under the covers from the winter cold, lights off save for the glowing red radiating from a small clock radio on the dresser, tuned to a static-filled station. Coming through the crackling noise is a voice from thousands of miles away, but seemingly sitting there next to him in the room.

The voice tells the boy the score is close, his team has a chance. His heroes –Williams, Sikma, Johnson – will come through yet again. Tonight, he’s at the Cow Palace to extol the exploits of Teagle and Floyd, and Wednesday he’ll be at The Forum, that magical place filled with superstars the boy loves to hate. Every night, he’s talking to him from these places with names so incredible – Spectrum, Garden, Reunion, Salt Palace – they seem to have sprung forth from a Twain novel.

Each night, the announcer is the conduit for the boy. In an era before the internet, before cable, the broadcaster was your PDA, his voice your instant message.

He is Bob Blackburn, and, to a 10-year-old boy growing up in Seattle, he is a high-pitched messenger communicating from the heights of Mount Olympus.

-----

Driving through a drenching rainstorm on I-5, somewhere north of Portland and south of Olympia, a no man’s land of farms and utter darkness, the college student leaves his dial tuned to a station blasting only static. Soon, though, a voice will begin to interrupt the static, gradually becoming clearer and clearer, if only he can get close enough to Seattle to gain reception.

It’s late November, but already the season has taken on a sense of urgency and the student needs to know if his team can take down their hated Oregon rivals. He could listen to the Portland station, but, honestly, he’d rather listen to static than all that Rip City garbage.

No, he waits for his guy, his representative at the Coliseum, to tell him a bit of good news. To tell him Payton and Kemp are running like the bulls at Pamplona, Drexler’s jump shot is off, Porter is tentative.

He waits for Kevin Calabro.

----

In the field of sport-related recognition, basketball play-by-play men rank somewhere above ‘resin bag filler’ and below ‘groupie wrangler.’

Baseball has Harwell, Scully, and Caray. Football has Summerall, Enberg, and Jackson. NBA announcing’s upper echelon, though, is more famous for other pursuits (e.g., Marv Albert) than for basketball duties. Sure, there are Johnny Mosts, Bill Kings, and Chick Hearns, but as far as national renown, they rank far down the list. The most well known basketball announcers are Billy Packer and Dick Vitale, not Marv Albert and Mike Breen.

In Seattle, though, this is not the case. Kevin Calabro and Bob Blackburn are as well loved as anyone in this city, with the possible exception of the Mariners’ Dave Niehaus.

Growing up in this area back in the 80s, I was lucky enough to fall asleep on hundreds of nights with Blackburn’s somewhat nasal words echoing in my head. Sure, Calabro became the emblem of the team in the ensuing decades, but it was Blackburn who laid the foundation. His call of Gus Williams “hurls the ball into the air” at the end of the Sonics’ only world championship remains the signature utterance in Seattle pro basketball history, and the way he always brought excitement to any game, regardless of the score or the opponent, made him a continual joy.

In the years since he left the booth, Blackburn has faded from view, a relic of days gone by. For fans who grew up before Shawn Kemp arrived on the scene, though, Blackburn will always remain part of the fabric of Sonic lore.

Likewise, Calabro became as integral to the Sonic experience as Payton, Kemp, Karl, or any of the great players he covered. While even casual fans can tick Calabroisms (“Get up on that magic carpet and ride!”) off their fingers with the ease of a teacher counting heads on a field trip, it was the smaller contributions from Calabro that I appreciated more.

The majority of announcers are homers, and, to a degree, that’s just fine. After all, their listeners are certainly pulling for the home team to win, so a little rooting is certainly acceptable. Calabro, to his credit, would let you know he was delighted to see the Sonics doing well, but when they failed to perform up to their capabilities, he always let us know.

Teamed with Marques Johnson (a match made in announcing heaven), Calabro felt free to make disdainful remarks about the way the Sonics were playing. Not in a “this team is terrible and here’s why” sort of way, but in a “c’mon guys, you can do better than this” sort of way. It was that honesty made his excitement over legitimate greatness all the sweeter, and enabled him to catch on with the networks, allowing us to still hear his voice this season, albeit a voice that perhaps will never say Sonics again.

---

With the Sonics a piece of history now, I’ve often been asked by non-Sonic fans what it is I miss the most about the NBA. Is it the games? The rivalries? The daily activities?

Of course, I miss all of that, but, perhaps, what I miss the most is hearing about the team through Kevin Calabro. It’s been two decades since I first heard him tell me about Dana Barros, Derrick McKey, and the rest of the late-80s early-90s Sonics, two decades of marvelous phrases and beautiful intonations. Half my life passed in the interim, and KC has been the messenger of (mostly) good news for the majority of it. This year, though, is different. This year, I won’t have Kevin Calabro in my life.

No matter how hard I search on my clock radio.

Trick or Treat

We’ve traveled down this road before, and honestly, it’s one of my favorite columns to write of the year – our annual Halloween Costume Primer. So, with only a dozen or so hours before it’s time to get your trick on, here, as a courtesy to our readers, are the Top 5 Costumes for Sonic fans this season:

1. The Littlest Hobo – It’s a classic that’s been updated for today’s modern kids! Comes complete with Aubrey McClendon mask, a spoooooky stock values chart, and a terrifying invoice from West Virginia for $400 million. Also available in Tom Ward.

2. The Manipulator – Do your kids have trouble getting as much candy as they want as they go from home to home? Well, put The Manipulator to work for them! Comes with David Stern mask and a pretend list of ‘other homes’ that are ‘more willing’ to ante up the kind of candy you’re looking for. Sanctimonious and condescending attitude extra.

3. The Weasel – Face it, sometimes failure happens. But if your child struggles with keeping promises, then we’ve got the costume for you! The Weasel is perfect for children who like to make ‘five-minute plans’ about how much candy they’re going to get, then sell their bags to another kid, then sue the kid to get it back, then abandon the lawsuit when it’s no longer expedient. Comes with bag of espresso beans.

4. Sad Sack – Flannel? Check. Morose attitude? Check. Bottle of Jack Daniels? Check. Pearl Jam on the stereo? Check. Then you’re set for the Sad Sack Sonic Fan costume! In addition to all that, this outfit comes complete with Sonic pennants, VHS of the Sonic-Suns playoff game that those damn refs stole from us because they just wanted Barkley and Jordan, and couldn’t they see that the Sonics were clearly the better team? Oh, no, they had to have their precious game for NBC ….

Ahem, sorry about that. Anyway, it’s the ultimate costume for the depressed basketball fan in your life. Does not come with Blazer paraphernalia.

5. Il Signore – No Halloween would be complete without a reference to Il Rainman. Now get the continental version of this holiday classic! Includes rump filler, bag of cappellini, a liter of limoncino, 40-pack of condoms, and a one-way ticket from Rome to Houston (no return). Buona festa!

Thursday, October 30

Final Fantasy

The league is just about full, with a few stragglers still to sign up. I'm going to close the enrollment as of the end of the day today (Thursday), with the draft set for Friday (assuming Yahoo! cooperates).

So, if you've received the password/League ID and have yet to sign in, do so today, please, or else you'll miss out. Or, if you're interested in playing, shoot me an email at supersonicsoul AT hotmail.com.

Oh, and nice work by the Bucks yesterday.

Wednesday, October 29

Wagers

Some NBA-related totals to ponder as the season gets underway. I’ve put my selections in italics.

Thunder Wins vs.
Barack Obama States Won

George Karl’s Tenure in Denver vs.
Allen Iverson’s

Blazers Wins vs.
Darius Miles Games Played

Thunder Wins vs.
Chesapeake Energy’s Stock Value

Years before NBA is in Seattle vs.
Total Coaches Fired

50+ Win Western Conference Teams vs.
50+ Win Eastern Conference Teams

John McCain States Won vs.
Greg Oden’s Games Played

Rasheed Wallace Technicals vs.
Minutes Remaining on Sarah Palin’s 15 Minutes

Spurs Playoff Wins vs.
Tim Duncan’s Rebounds Per Game

Tuesday, October 28

Fantasy III

Just a friendly reminder to sign up for the completely free SuperSonicSoul Fantasy League over a Yahoo sports. Shoot me an email at supersonicsoul AT hotmail.com and I'll forward you the pertinent details. There are a couple of spots left, so if you think you know a better way to fill out a roster than Sam Presti, jump on in. Draft day will either be Thursday or Friday.

In the News

Gary Washburn sheds some light on how the former Sonics are adjusting to life in Oklahoma City, whether it's tossing cermonial coins at a high school football game or getting denied entry to nightclubs because of their race, today in the PI.

Speaking only for myself, I've moved on from this team. Brian Robinsonat SonicsCentral made a point a while ago about how emotionally unattached most Sonic fans were to this roster, and I have to agree. If this had been the Payton/Kemp/Schrempf Sonics, or the X/Chambers/Ellis Sonics, the pain would be much, much higher.

Suffice it to say I miss the Sonics, but I don't miss this roster. For all the lousy things I can say about Clay Bennett, at least he took the team when we cared for them the least.

ESPN Gets Some Soul

The nice folks at ESPN asked our opinion about a few NBA-related topics, and we (I) were glad to help out. You can see the results here.

(I know what you're thinking - did they also ask kansascitykingsforever.com? What about charlottehornetpride.com or thesdclipperjoint.com?)

Fine, smart guy, you got me there. But, anyway, at least it lets the rest of the sporting world know that at least some people in Seattle still care about the Sonics.

Monday, October 27

SSS Christmas Wish List: Wheedle

There is sad, then there is Wheedle-slouched-against-closet-door sad.





Some lucky soul out there already won the bidding for this gem, and I can only hope that he figures out a way to pose in the uplifting manner befitting the former mascot of the Sonics. As it is, however, it's a pretty accurate portrayal of Sonic fan spirits these days.

Dino Rossi? You've got to be kidding me

Like many of you, I recently received an email from the supposedly non-partisan group "Save Our Sonics" (whom a lot of us invested time and money with last year) with a special message from alleged number-one Sonics fanboy Dino Rossi:
"I proudly stood along the parade route in 1979 when the Sonics won the championship. I never wanted the Sonics to leave Seattle. Early this year, I was asked to remain silent on the proposed Key Arena renovation offer by representatives of the group of private investors so Governor Gregoire could support it without suffering political repercussions. But when I read the headline of the Oklahoman newspaper near the end of the legislative session that read 'Washington governor gives up: Official says there is no saving Sonics,' I knew we had to act and I publicly supported the public-private partnership. Still, Gregoire remained silent." - Dino Rossi
Does Rossi (a guy who openly hates the city of Seattle) really think Sonics fans are that dumb? Does he really think the working class fans of the Supersonics are going to vote for a guy who wants to lower the minimum wage just because he (supposedly) watched the '79 championship parade? Guess who else was at that parade? The Wheedle! Should we elect him for State Treasurer?

Worse, does Rossi really think Gregoire failed Sonics fans by not caving in to Clay Bennett's extortion demands? Anyone with half a brain (sorry Ho-Shu) knew from day one that Bennett had no intention of keeping the Sonics in Seattle. There is no way in high heaven Bennett would have allowed local business people to invest in "his" team.

As devastated as I was by the Sonics leaving town, I'm proud that the Governor stood up to Bennett the Bandit and told him where he could stick his $500 million dollar tax shelter. I love the Sonics more than any grown man should, but in the end, I'd rather wait a few years for a locally owned team playing in a renovated Key Arena.

Look, I know sports and politics go together like ice cream and dirt, so I have tried to keep my political views far away from Supersonicsoul (for instance, I have not once promoted my big "VOTE OR CRY" political comedy shows, next week on Nov 1st and 3rd--Be there!). I really wish S.O.S. would have done the same.

Perspective

Allow me, if you will, to drift back to Saturday night in Philadelphia, to an evening when sports jumped out of the box in which it is usually contained, and became something much, much more.

Jamie Moyer, a man more than a decade older than almost everyone else on the field that night, holds a team full of 20-somethings in check for nearly seven innings, culminating a more than 20-year quest for playoff glory.

(And, if I might point out, ponder this for a moment: Jamie Moyer, born Nov. 18, 1962, has been the poster child (man?) for older athletes for the past month or so. In fact, for the past half-decade he's been held up as a geezer. Well, think about this - Jamie Moyer is a full year younger than Barack Obama. How you like them apples?)

Anyhow, there was a moment in the sixth inning when Moyer, clearly nearing the end of his tether, is denied a strike by the home plate umpire. He receives the ball from the catcher, pauses for a moment to gather himself, toes the rubber, and leans in for the sign.

At that moment, watching on television, any person who had ever played competitive sports knew exactly what was running through his mind. "Jamie," he seemed to be thinking to himself, "focus." For more than 20 years he had been reaching for this opportunity, and he was not about to let it slip away.

At that moment, you would have had to have been made of stone (or from Tampa) not to be cheering for the man.

Later, after the game was finished and Moyer received his accolades for a job well done, I was reminded of Nate McMillan's frustrating experience as a member of the Sonics during the 1996 NBA Finals.

Like Moyer, McMillan was an immensely respected veteran player and, like Moyer, he was near the end of his career. This chance against Chicago would likely be McMillan's only chance at drinking from the championship cup.

Sadly, as all Sonic fans know, Nate's shot at glory was sidetracked by injury, and while he was able to get an ovation from the KeyArena faithful when he checked in during game three, you had to know his inability to play full out in the NBA Finals must have killed him, especially when his team lost a close fight with the Bulls in six games.

In any event, watching Moyer Saturday night reminded me again why we love sports. As much as we cheer for Moyer and as much as we cheered for McMillan, we were also cheering for ourselves, for the possibility of achieving greatness. With the Sonics leaving Seattle this year, I've grown more and more disillusioned with the NBA and pro sports in general. The continual begging for more public funds, the extortion of fans and cities, the betrayal of built-up loyalties, it's all there.

But on Saturday night, I remembered why I love following sports so much. Sometimes, beyond all the garbage, there's a beautiful moment. Thanks, Jamie, for reminding me.

Friday, October 24

Fantasy II

Looks like your trusty narrator has fouled up the log-in process for the league. Here's how it should work:

Send me an email at supersonicsoul AT hotmail.com expressing interest in joining the league. I'll email you back the Password, at which time you can click on this link, where you'll type in the league name and password. (I think I've got it right now). [UPDATE: Alas, I did not. The league ID # is 124389, which will accompany the emailed password].

[I think].

Luckily, I anticipated that I would screw this up, so we've got all of next week to get things rolling. The first game for the league doesn't start until the week of Nov. 2, so you've got the weekend and a couple of days next week to log yourselves in and adjust your pre-draft rankings.

That is all.

Fantasytasic

As my fellow Soul brothers will attest, I’m a grumpy old man, even if I haven’t reached 40 years of age.

As evidence, how many thirtysomethings do you know who: drive a Buick, don’t have a credit card, don’t like technology, have no idea how Facebook or MySpace works, don’t have a cell phone, and boil their own maple syrup.

Okay, I made the last one up (why should I boil it myself when it flows through the streets of Canada anyways?), but the rest of that sad, bizarre, grouchy list is entirely accurate.

Why do I mention this? As a segue to explain why I’m not much of a fantasy sports fanatic. Heck, I’m not even an aficionado, or a devotee.

I just never really cottoned to the idea that I have to root for someone playing against my team. If Allen Iverson’s on my fantasy team, and the Nuggets are playing the Sonics (ouch! yep, still hurts), I never could find it within myself to hope AI would score 40 points. As a result, fantasy sports and I didn’t get too close.

However, I had an epiphany this morning – suddenly, I am an NBA free agent. If I want to root for Iverson, I can, with no guilt or remorse necessary. Suddenly, I’m ready to jump on fantasy sports with all the excitement of a man discovering cable television. (And, yes, smart guy, I do have cable. I get all 18 all-hockey channels and both of the Tim Hortons channels).

With that fantasy revelation fresh in my mind, I decided we should kick start our 2008-09 SuperSonicSoul Fantasy League. As in years past, it’s open to SONIC fans from all over the world, as well as any other readers of this site who will refrain from making mocking comments about our team-less plight.

Among the special features contestants will enjoy:

-PRIZES! I’m ponying up some of my hard-earned Canadian money to provide the first-place winner with a suitable Sonic memento of days gone by.
-NOTORIETY! See your name in lights as we will weekly/monthly update notable achievements in the league on the website (updates subject to laziness).
-FREE! As with everything else associated with SuperSonicSoul, the league is free.

If you’re interested in joining, click on this link to be forwarded to the league’s home page. Yes, fellow recluses, you’ll have to get a Yahoo account to play along. Sorry, but them’s the breaks. If, for some reason, the link is not working or you have trouble getting your team registered, email me at supersonicsoul AT hotmail.com. Of note, to make sure our lazy readers have enough time to get their acts together, the kickoff to the League of Soul is Week 2 of the NBA season (i.e., games of November 2nd).

Oh, one final thing. In tribute to Sonic history, it'd be great if everyone could pick their favorite Sonic as their team name. I've already taken Nate, but Jim Farmer is still available.

Multiple Choice

Yesterday, Commissioner David Stern commented during a conference call with reporters that the NBA has made "positive contact" with a prospective ownership group led by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, and that it is possible the league will return to Seattle soon. Based on that information, please answer the following multiple choice question:


Which thought runs through Mr. Stern's mind as he contemplates the reversal of fortune in Seattle, one in which a city hell-bent on opposing stadium funding has become one hell-bent upon spending $150 million on improving 10-year-old KeyArena?

A) "Egggggscellent."
B) Rubs hands together and makes evil cackling sounds.
C) "I love it when a plan comes together."
D) "Soon, it will all be mine. All of it!"

NBA Talks to Ballmer

It is becoming more and more apparent that the KeyArena remodel is not something that will go away anytime soon, regardless of the passion (or lack of) for such a project in Olympia.

Today's PI has an in-depth story detailing how the city is planning on using the Convention Center portion of the hotel-motel tax to fund the $75 million that the state government was either unwilling or unable to provide.

That's far from earth-shattering news, as the idea has been floated through all the local papers recently. What was newsworthy, though, were the comments David Stern made in a conference call.

In his first words regarding Seattle basketball since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City, Stern opined that "[the NBA has] had some positive contact" with the Steve Ballmer ownership group about the league returning to Seattle some time in the future.

How that scenario would play out, and whether it would be via expansion or swiping another city's team remains to be seen.

Wednesday, October 22

Player's Poll

You may have missed it, but nba.com has its annual poll of league GM’s up at the moment, chock full of interesting observations from the men who thought that giving max contracts to 24-year-old underachievers was a good idea.

Not found anywhere on the web but right here, though, is the NBA Players’ Association poll, with insights into what really makes the NBA the greatest league on earth for fans.

WHICH ARENA HAS THE BEST GROUPIES?
Miami – 37%
Los Angeles – 30%
Dallas – 15%
Phoenix - 10%
LeBron’s House – 8%

WHICH GENERAL MANAGER IS THE EASIEST TO TRICK?
Otis Smith – 33%
Danny Ferry – 20%
Kevin McHale – 20%
John Paxson – 15%
Isaiah Thomas – 12% (low total due to the fact he’s no longer a GM)

WHICH PLAYER WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO BE A TEAMMATE OF?
LeBron James – 99%
Brian Scalabrine – 1%
When informed he could not vote for himself, Scalabrine changed his vote to LBJ.

WHICH COACH IS MOST LIKELY TO GET A CARLESIMO THIS YEAR?
George Karl – 50%
PJ – 22%
Larry Brown – 15%
Jim O’Brien – 13%

HAMTILTONIAN FEDERALISM OR JEFFERSONIAN DEMOCRACY?
Jefferson - 60%
Hamilton - 30%
World B Freedom - 10%

WHICH PLAYER IS THE MOST OVERRATED?
Kobe Bryant – 100%

WHICH COACH WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO PLAY FOR?
Phil Jackson – 45%
Doc Rivers – 30%
Don Nelson – 15%
Mo Cheeks – 10%

WOULD YOU AGREE THAT THE DECLINING VALUE OF THE DOLLAR DUE TO INFLATIONARY PRESSURES CAUSED BY THE RECENT $700 BILLION BAILOUT MAY IN FACT WREAK GREATER HAVOC ON MIDDLE-CLASS WEALTH THAN ABSTAINING FROM THE BAILOUT WOULD HAVE?
Absolutely – 30%
Perhaps – 25%
Definitely not, as not pursuing the bailout would have rendered the credit markets impotent, and therefore would have driven the American economy to a complete and utter standstill – 45%

HOTTEST PLAYER WIFE
Eva Longoria – 55%
Vanessa Bryant – 25%
Yeliz Okur – 20%

PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO BE PRESIDENT
Shane Battier – 35%
Ray Allen – 30%
Ira Newble – 20%
Elton Brand – 15%

CHEAPEST TEAM OWNER
Donald Sterling – 98%
Micheal Gearon Jr. – 2%

(Tip to TrueHoop for the link).

Tuesday, October 21

Silver Lining

If there is a small silver lining to watching the Sonics pack up the moving vans and leave town in a cloud of dust, it's that Kevin Pelton now has more time to devote to writing about the NBA.

Case in point: Pelton's inaugural attempt at recreating baseball's PECOTA predictions in a basketball context. Naturally, he calls it SCHOENE, in honor of one Russ Schoene (and if you don't know who Russ Schoene is, why exactly are you reading this website?). He'll be investigating all the teams and divisions in the coming weeks, relying on his statistical predictions as well as his own common sense.

Sadly, there will not be any Seattle Sonic predictions this season. Happily, there will be plenty of others. Among them:

-Kevin Durant will average 23 ppg on 43% shooting
-Al Jefferson is penciled in for a 20/10 season
-TJ Ford will get 18 points and 9 dimes a night
-Shaq's ppg will be less than half what he got at age 30

Check it out.

Saturday, October 18

X in UFC

A humorous piece is up at World Hoops Blog about which current or former NBA players would be most likely to succeed at UFC. Of interest to Sonic fans is, naturally, seeing one Xavier McDaniel on the list (and, for the chance to, once again, catch a climpse of X going to town on Wes Matthews. No that does not get old AT ALL).

Leading one to wonder, naturally, which other players in Sonic history would answer the bell? I'd nominate Michael Cage (muscles; slippery, soul-glo-coated skin), Spencer Haywood (you don't think he'd be tough enough?), and, of course, Alton Lister, Shawn Kemp-embarassment notwitshtanding.

Any other nominations?

Friday, October 17

SSS Christmas List: Det

Casting likenesses out of plastic is an unenviable task. Even the best bobbleheads require the viewer to strain a bit to make out the face, but the recipient is usually good-humored enough to understand that the creator was facing a tough job.

But then there are other creations that, well, stink. Take, for example, this "likeness" of Detlef Schrempf, currently available on eBay.

Really? That was the best they could do? To begin with, I doubt Det's hair ever looked like that, even as a five-year-old in Germany. Second, it's the wrong color. Third, how hard is it to make a pasty white complexion when you're using plastic? And, finally, what's the deal with those eyebrows? Were they working on a Turkish line of dolls the day before they got to Det's, and just figured they'd save a few bucks and not adjust the eyebrows?

Which is why, friends, SuperSonicSoul is passing on the Detlef bobblehead and, instead, opting for this much classier piece. Take a look at the third row down, first painting on the left.



Because nothing says, "I have waaaaay too much money and don't know how to spend it" than dropping $2,200 on a painting of Detlef Schrempf sampling some Pinot.

Thursday, October 16

SSS HOF #9: George Karl, Part II

Coach Karl

Have you ever watched a five-year-old paint a picture?

In the beginning, the work appears, while often manic and confusing, promising. There are strokes of brilliance, a beautiful mixture of soft and hard brushes, and, at one point, it appears as if the entire project will become a smashing success.

Sadly, inevitably, the process cannibalizes itself. The five-year-old begins dumping all the paint onto the page, gets frustrated, throws things around the room, complains he wasn’t given the proper tools, and eventually walks away from the work before it is completed.

Likewise with George Karl’s various tenures as an NBA head coach.

I won’t speak to the other destinations in Karl’s version of The Odyssey, but even the heartiest defender of his time in Seattle would begrudgingly admit that it was a marriage marked more by conflict than agreement, a relationship headed for break-up almost as soon as it began.

That isn’t to say that Karl wasn’t beloved by Sonic fans – in fact, you could argue that he is more loved than any coach in team history, his off-the-cuff manner and everyman persona a hit with fans from Blaine to Walla Walla.

And yet, and yet … there was always something frustrating about the Karl Sonics. The Sonics’ first-round loss to Denver came the 2nd year of the Clinton presidency, yet it feels as raw and painful today as it did more than a decade ago.

There were numerous complaints about Karl’s team while he was in Seattle: that they lacked a competent half-court offense and that they could only operate successfully in the open floor were chief among them. (I can vividly recall hoping that Hersey Hawkins would prove to be the elusive spot-up jump shooter the Sonics needed at the 2-guard, only to see him be as mediocre as all the other players who passed through that spot. Was it Karl? Was it the dominating affect of GP in the backcourt? Hard to say.)

Still, those playoff frustrations paled in comparison to the wounds we would suffer as Sonic fans a decade later. Sure, it’s painful to get spurned by the girl you adore on the dance floor, but it’s even worse not to go at all.

Heck, in the decade after Karl left, Sonic fans didn’t even know there was a dance.

But back to the man himself. More than any other adjective stapled to his life in Seattle, George Karl was fun.

Frustrated because your team doesn’t have passion? Not when George is in town.

Want your guys to push the ball faster up the court? Gotcha.

Wish your coach would speak his mind and not talk in double-negatives and clich├ęs? Not exactly a problem with Karl.

And that’s why, with the Karl Era firmly in the rearview mirror, we can look upon it as a success from all angles. Yes, he should have nurtured his relationship with Bob Whitsitt and, more importantly, Barry Ackerly. Sure, he could have taken a page from the Chuck Knox Book of Life and played the cards he was dealt a little more happily. Naturally, a championship would have been the perfect topping to the mixed-up concoction he gave us for a half-dozen wonderful years.

But to have done that would have violated his bizarre methodology. George Karl, like that five-year-old, wasn’t one to paint by numbers. He wanted big, broad strokes and flamboyant colors, by damn, and nobody was going to tell him otherwise.

Speaking as a Sonic fan, I’m certainly glad he felt that way.

Wednesday, October 15

SSS Book Club

Perhaps you've seen or heard that Ricky Pierce has thrown his weight behind a new book project. It's a children's book entitled "Bouncing Billy," and, according to Amazon, "combining active play in an early childhood environment has never been so much fun."

Well, sure, if you limit yourself to books penned by shooting guards with a proclivity for ball-hogging, I'm sure Ricky Pierce's book is right up there with Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom and all the rest.

But Pierce is not alone among ex-Sonic writers, as the following covers unearthed from Amazon attest. From nutritional advice for pregnant women to a how-to book on trash talking, you can't go wrong when you turn to former Sonics for advice.







The More Things Change ...

Fantastic photo at Ball Don't Lie of Kevin Durant and PJ .... well, you just have to see it for yourself:

J.E. Skeets is soliciting captions for the picture, with the winner to run tomorrow, so get your creative juices flowing. There are a million possibilities, but my contribution would have to be:
-----
Carlesimo: Charlie Brown Adult Voice
Durant: Okay, so if I opt out after 2011, that makes 1,050 more days of his crap. Wait, is there a leap year next year?

SSS Christmas Wish List, #2


If you look closely enough at the photograph, you can see a 12-year-old Gary Payton aiming a basketball at Westphal's head.

Tuesday, October 14

Stadia

Shown below is a listing of all publicly traded companies with NBA Arena naming rights, and their corresponding stock valuations as of September 14th, 2008 and October 14, 2008.

GP Wants the Sonics Back

A couple of stories this morning about Gary Payton's comments regarding the return of the Sonics to Seattle.

The most noteworthy quote comes courtesy of the Associated Press:

"I think before 2011 a team will be here," Payton said.

The SSS HOFer mentioned he had been in contact with former Sonics and Seattle City Council contender James Donaldson about co-ownership of a potential team, as well as other former NBA players. Sadly, Bart Kofoed could not be reached for comment in time for the story.

Donaldson, however, took a less rosy view of Payton's timeline. "Probably within the next 5-10 years realistically," Donaldson told the Times' Percy Allen. "Three years might be overly optimistic unless everything really lines up and plays out just perfectly."

Possibilities

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: `It might have been!`

—John Greenleaf Whittaker

It’s amazing how often timing drastically alters events which, in hindsight, seemed inevitable.

Take, for example, World War I. The causes of the war may be (and has been) argued at length, but were it not for the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by the Black Hand, it is entirely possible that the events which transpired a century ago, claiming the lives of millions, may never have occurred.

Likewise, the movement of the Sonics to Oklahoma City. A couple of 20/20 hindsight observations:

- What if this economic crisis had occurred two years ago, when Howard Schultz was looking to sell the team? Do you think Aubrey McClendon would be as interested in buying a money-losing proposition when he was fresh off selling shares for which he paid $50 for the rock-bottom price of $15 or $16? I think not.

And, more importantly, as Brian Robinson points out at SonicsCentral:

- What if Greg Nickels had decided to stick his promise of not caving in to the Sonics, regardless of what they offered? Going into this summer, with natural gas prices and his stock value soaring, Aubrey McClendon was flush with cash, as were Clay Bennett and Tom Ward.

But now, after the debacle of the past three months? How likely would those Triplets of Terror be willing to stick out two years of absolutely disastrous revenues in Seattle for the promise of returning to Oklahoma City in 2010?

Granted, these recent events have not taken place in a vacuum. The hardships which affect Aubrey McClendon would also affect the city’s ability to come up with the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to build an improved KeyArena. And I can’t be certain, nor can anyone else, as to how the past three months would change PBC’s motivations. But only a fool would think it would not, at the very least, give a bit of leverage to the City of Seattle.

Friday, October 10

The Hits Keep on Comin'

Am I the only one thinking that perhaps karma exists after all?

You've read plenty on this site in the past few weeks about our friend Aubrey McClendon and the financial 3-card monty he's been playing with Chesapeake Energy. Now, it's really starting to hit the fan. From the AP:


Chesapeake Energy CEO forced to sell company stock

Aubrey K. McClendon, chief executive of Chesapeake Energy Corp., has sold the bulk of his stock in the company over the past three days in order to meet margin loan calls, the company said Friday.

The company did not disclose the size of the stock sale, pending the filing of documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"I am very disappointed to have been required to sell substantially all of my shares of Chesapeake," McClendon said in a news release. "These involuntary and unexpected sales were precipitated by the extraordinary circumstances of the worldwide financial crisis."

Extraordinary is just about hitting the nail on the ol' head, I would venture. Remember how I wrote earlier that McClendon's decrease in net worth was on paper only, that the dip (or plummet) in share price did not necessarily mean he was losing money?

Yeah, well, that went out the window over the past 3 days. McClendon bought millions of shares this summer at $55 a pop, and just got finished selling them for about $17 each.

I don't speak fluent Oklahoman, but does the phrase "hurtin' for certain" apply here?

[Thanks to Alan for the tip.]

Follow Up

Before I dive into this story, let me make this point perfectly clear: I am not digging into Chesapeake Energy's misfortunes because I want the Oklahoma City Thunder to fail. As far as I (and I think Raf and Paul would agree with me) am concerned, the Thunder belongs to the people of OKC now, at least as much as any pro team belongs to any city.

I'm not interested in ragging on Oklahoma, or talking about how much more sophisticated Seattle is, or any of that nonsense. I'm putting these stories up solely because McClendon, Bennett, Tom Ward, and David Stern disgust me, and if I can poke some small holes in their swollen egos, then so much the better.

On with the story. Today's WSJ has a, well "scathing" would be putting it too strongly, so how about negative story about Chesapeake Energy, including this stirring quote from writer Ben Casselman:

"But [the land Chesapeake owns] is only valuable if companies have the money to drill it -- and a growing number of analysts are skeptical that Chesapeake and some of its peers will be able to find enough money to drill all the land before the leases expire."

Perhaps the Journal's story had a little bit to do with CHK's stock falling by more than 5 points by mid-day on Friday, a one-day drop of nearly 30%, putting it at $12.35 from a high of $70.

Thursday, October 9

Peaking in on Chespeake

Perhaps I should let this go at some point, but take a gander at Chesapeake Energy's stock performance since July of this year:




In case you can't make out the figures, the stock value has gone from a high of $70.24 in early July to a low of $17.71 at closing today. That's a loss of $52/share, which, if you have 34,000,000 shares like some people do, in the last three months your net worth has declined by the sum total of $1,768,000,000.

Yes, nearly 2 billion dollars. Or, put another way, in the time it took the Sonics to relocate to Oklahoma City and play their first game, Aubrey McClendon lost the equivalent of the GDP of Zimbabwe.

Art Harris: Follow Up

Three days ago we ran a short piece about former Sonic Art Harris, a one-time All-Rookie Team member who passed away last October at the age of 60.

At the end of the story, I asked for any possible insights into Harris' life our readers might offer. Sadly, no information has been forthcoming, so I'll ask again:

Is there anyone out there who might have information about Art Harris' life? He left the NBA in 1972, 36 years ago, playing 21 games for the Suns before seeing his professional career come to an end. Between 1972 and 2007, when he died, I can't find a lick of information about the man. Here's some framework, if it helps:

-Born and raised in Los Angeles
-Attended Jordan High School in LA
-Attended Stanford University
-Drafted by Seattle in the NBA and the Oakland Oaks in the ABA in 1968
-Played in Seattle for 1 1/2 years after leaving Stanford
-Played in Phoenix from 1970 to some point in the 1972 season

And then?

SSS HOF #9: George Karl

Coach Karl

He came to Seattle under cover of darkness, an exile returned from Elba, his final chance at making it as a professional basketball coach awaiting him on the rain-soaked runways of SeaTac Airport.

Before the jet touched down from its long journey westward from Spain, his career ledger totaled 119 wins and 176 losses, a testimony to mediocrity. He seemed destined for a Gene Shue-like career at best, or, at worst, to be the Billy Martin of the NBA, but without the championships. Suffice it to say, Sonic fans were forgiven for not throwing a parade.

By the time he left town less than a decade later, however, George Karl had rejuvenated both a city and his career.

AGGRESSIVE

He made his Sonic debut on January 23, 1992, against Portland at the Coliseum. Fittingly, Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, the two icons of Karl’s reign in Seattle, contributed mightily. Fittingly, the Sonics lost, not because they were bad, but because that’s what the Sonics did under Karl – they lost when it mattered most.

But back to those beginnings. The year he inherited the team from KC Jones, the Sonics finished the season with 775 steals.

It would prove to be the lowest total of Karl’s tenure.

If nothing else, George Karl was aggressive. He was aggressive in the way he coached, he was aggressive in the way he dealt with others, he was aggressive in the way he lived.

There’s a humorous tale of Karl striding through the lobby at All-Star Weekend as the head coach of the Western Conference. He was at the top of his game, risen from the wilds of the CBA and Europe to the penthouse of basketball. There he strode, though, wearing horrific zubaz pants, thumbing his nose at his Armani-clad coaching brothers. He was a misfit, and he loved it.

That was Karl, though. He had no interest in doing things the way others did. You can’t play three guards in the same lineup? Why not, when you’ve got Gill, Payton, and McMillan? Who says you can’t put a 6’9” forward on your opponent’s point guard, even if that point guard is a waterbug?

Karl’s contrarian ways had placed him in trouble during his previous stops in Golden State and Cleveland, where he was unable to win often enough to forestall his firing. In Seattle, however, he had a plethora of talent and, combined with his skills as a defensive teacher (as well as his assistants Tim Grgurich and Bob Kloppenburg) he finally was given the opportunity to see what he could do.

SUCCESS AT LAST


Don’t misunderstand, Karl was not a loser before he came to Seattle. He had won frequently in the CBA, and he took both the Cavs and the Warriors to the playoffs, no mean feat considering the woeful nature of those franchises.

No, Karl’s problems stemmed from his inability to make nice with his employers. In Seattle, though, with an equally contrarian Bob Whitsitt manning the GM seat, Karl had a kindred spirit running the show. Whitsitt and Karl were in harmony, for a time at least, and they molded a winner.

In his first full season as head coach, Whitsitt took the Sonics to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost a Game 7 heartbreaker to the Phoenix Suns in one of the most bitterly remembered games in Seattle sports history.

But reflect on the accomplishment for a moment, not the frustration. In the span of 15 months Karl had taken the Seattle Sonics from an afterthought to the most exciting team in the Western Conference, if not the league. Sure, the Suns “won” the conference title, but true NBA followers knew the best team in the West was from Seattle, not Phoenix.

It was an amazing turn of events. Accompanied by a national surge of interest in Seattle music, it was an exciting time to be a sports fan in the Northwest. After years of mediocrity and anonymity, Seattle was poised to plant its flag.

TOMORROW

Rise and Fall.

Wednesday, October 8

SupersonicSoul Xmas Gift #1

Christmas decorations are already making an apperance at the malls in Canada (and, I assume, in the States as well), so why not get a head start on Sonic gifts for ourselves?

I hope to make this a regular feature on the site, but to kick things off, let's have a look at this fine option from zazzle.com: A "Nobody Scores on Derrick McKey" t-shirt.

Sadly, I couldn't save a copy of the photo, so you'll have to click on it yourself to experience the shirt in all its glory. But for that hard-to-shop-for friend still bemoaning his departed Sonics, how can you go wrong with a tribute to one of the most enigmatic players in team history?

Granted, it's not as cool as the "Everybody Scores on Tom Chambers" shirt, but it still makes a nice gift.

Blazer Love

Pete Treperinas at bleacherreport.com posits a increasingly common inclination for fans of the former Seattle Sonics: To become a Portland TrailBlazer fan.

He gives the standard reasons: Nate McMillan, Paul Allen, Brandon Roy, Martell Webster, proximity of city, excitement level of roster, and so forth. And while he touches on the pain and betrayal he feels in becoming a fan of the team he used to hate, I have to say he's not as anguished about his decision as I would be.

Personally, if I were to root for any team this season it would be Golden State. Even with The Baron down in LA, I'm still partial to the madcap antics of the Warriors, from their exhuberant fans to their frenetic style of play. Yes, the Warriors would definitely be my team in a Sonic-less universe. To root for the Blazers, personally, would be like cheering for the Oakland A's if the Mariners left town, and I hate the A's (okay, I like Billy Beane, but I hate the franchise).

And besides, what happens if the Sonics eventually return to Seattle? Will those who cheered for the Blazers in the interim feel a little bit guilty for abadoning their city? Won't you feel like a hypocrite booing the Blazers when the year previous you were wearing their jersey?

It begs the obvious question: Why do I have to pick another team for which to cheer? Is abstention only available to priests now? By cheering for any NBA team, am I not giving tacit approval to the disgraceful shenanigans of David Stern, Clay Bennett, and the other 27 owners who voted for relocation?

At this point, while I am somewhat inclined to cheer for Golden State, I am more inclined not to root at all. And, I believe, that's the position of a large portion of Sonic fans.

Which leads me to ask this: Which team will you support this year, if any? Have you gone cold turkey on the NBA?

Monday, October 6

Where Are They Now? Art Harris

Usually, these Where Are They Now? pieces fall together pretty easily, especially for guys that have retired within the past decade or so. For those that quit balling two or three decades in the past, though, it gets a little trickier.

Take Art Harris.

If you’re like me, the name Art Harris draws a blank. Bob Love? Check. Spencer Haywood? Duh. Tommy Kron? Foggy, but I know the name.

But Art Harris? No dice.

Well, let’s fill in a few of the blanks.

- Born Arthur Carlos Harris, Jr. in Los Angeles on January 13, 1947
- Graduated from Jordan High School, the same high school in Watts which produced Florence Griffith Joyner and Charles Mingus
- One of Stanford’s most prolific scorers, named All Pac 8 as a sophomore
- Averaged 20.7 ppg for the Cardinal in 1967-68, including a couple of 30+ point outings
- Named a member of Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame
- 17.2 ppg career average is 7th best in school history
- Drafted by Sonics in second round of 1968 draft
- Averaged 12 ppg his rookie season
- Led NBA in disqualifications
- Named to All-Rookie First Team, the only Sonic guard ever to receive that honor
- Played only 5 games for Sonics in 1969-70 before being traded on Oct. 25 to Phoenix for Dick Snyder
- Remained in Phoenix for the next three seasons, then out of the league

And, finally

- October 2007, Art Harris RIP

I came across Harris’ passing on the NBA’s Retired Player Association website a year ago, and meant to pursue a story about him for the past twelve months. Occasionally, I would dig a little bit into his past, but I never got very far. Always, I thought, there’d be time to find out more.

Now a year has passed since Art Harris died, and I still don’t know anything more about him.

Here he was, a kid from Watts, who got a scholarship to Stanford, one of the greatest academic institutions in the entire country, goes on to make the NBA’s All-Rookie team, gets traded to Phoenix, then fades from memory.

What happened to Art Harris? What did his post-NBA life entail before he died at age 60? The NBRPA doesn’t even know the exact date of death, only a vague “mid-October” with no mention, either, of the location. The Stanford University site equally draws a blank, not even reporting his death until three months later, while the Seattle Times and PI were completely silent about the event.




Look at that team photo from 1968-69. Harris is the second from the far right, right next to Lenny Wilkens. Oddly, while all the other players were staring right at the camera, Harris stares to his right, his face in profile. Was he laughing at a joke from Bob Rule? It's as if, 40 years later, he's trying to make himself even more of an enigma.

Hey, I get it, he was an obscure player on an expansion team going nowhere. But couldn’t you say the same thing about Jeff Green? Sure, it’s possible Green will go on to greatness in the NBA, but the odds are more likely that within 5-8 years he’ll be long-gone from this league. Will his death 40, 50, 60 years from now pass as quietly as Harris?

A beautiful aspect to the internet is the way it facilitates communication. Perhaps someone reading this site will unearth a kernel of information, which will blossom into a full-blown story. Hopefully, someone out there can educate me as to what happened to Art Harris. Feel free to email us (see the top of the page), or fire off a comment below.

Cheer Up ...

Sadsack Sonic fans. Yes, I know the NBA season is prepped to kick off soon, and I know the weather in Seattle could not have been more miserable today, but it could be worse.

You could have lost $82,000,000 in the stock market today.

Friday, October 3

Danger, Politics Ahead

I'm loathe to write this for fear of incurring the wrath of GOP supporters, but it occurred to me last night while watching the debates that Sarah Palin reminded of someone, but I just couldn't put my finger on it until now.

Bill Walton. Like Walton, she talks alot, is very folksy, and occasionally makes an intelligent point, but those points are so diluted by all the other garbage coming of Walton/Palin's mouth(s) that they are never heard.

Aubrey McClendon: Part III

During the course of the past week, I’ve looked closely – perhaps too closely – behind the curtain which surrounds Aubrey McClendon and his company, Chesapeake Energy.

Let me blunt – I don’t like McClendon. I don’t think anyone reading this site would struggle to understand that, any more than they would struggle to understand my reasons. He’s a cold, manipulative man who believes the government has every right to interject itself into marriage, that privacy laws are as disposable as toilet paper, and that the environment is as easily replenished as his vast wealth.

Most importantly, he has no qualms with stealing a franchise that resided in Seattle for 40 years, just because his hometown needed something to do in the winter other than watch Sooner football DVDs.

But that’s a side issue for today – this is a free nation, and the Sonics don’t belong to Seattle any more than the raindrops which fall from the sky.

Today, I want to explore the sickening relationship between McClendon’s immense wealth and his complete lack of interest in using that wealth to help whichever city his team calls home.

Let us look, first, and some of the expenses McClendon has incurred in the past two years:

1. $400 million, to state of West Virginia in damages from lawsuit
2. $1.3 billion, decrease in value of his shares of Chesapeake Energy
3. $40 million, to purchase a plot of land in Michigan, upon which he will spend hundreds of millions to build a new housing development

And now let us look at, second, how much money he has spent assisting the cities which house the Sonics/Thunder in building new stadiums:

1. $0

It is a disgraceful commentary on McClendon and Clay Bennett that they can withstand the costs listed above without so much as a blink of an eye, yet when they are asked to contribute to the very buildings in which their teams will play, they run in the other direction faster than Jerome James chasing a box of doughnuts.

Further, it is a damning tribute to David Stern that he spit upon a group of investors in Seattle which was willing to contribute hundreds of millions towards building an arena here, all the while heaping praise upon Bennett and McClendon, who have yet to spend one penny of their fortunes on building new stadiums.

Tim Keown wrote recently at espn.com about how the economic malaise facing the U.S. may spell the end of publicly financed stadiums. While his words are, in my view, wishful thinking, I pray that he is correct.

The time has come for this country to quit subsidizing billionaires on the backs of taxpayers. If stadiums were such a great investment – as owner after owner tells city after city – then why are there so few owners willing to build stadiums? They certainly have no trouble coming up with the hundreds of millions to purchase the team, so why can’t they come up with at least part of the money needed to house them?

The answer is simple – because they play us for fools.

As Keown wrote, if no other benefit arises out of this meltdown in the U.S. economy, perhaps it will be worth it if people such as McClendon are finally forced to part with some of their cash, and the government gets out of the business of stadiums.

Thursday, October 2

SSS HOF #8: Lenny Wilkens

Player. Coach.

For one generation, he was a 3-time all star, a whirling dervish of a guard who slipped easily from facilitator to dominator.

For another, he was the curly-haired wizard with a Brooklyn accent who improbably guided a group of men to the only championship in Seattle sports history.

For yet another, he was a link from the past, tied tenuously to a corrupt ownership hell bent upon destroying the history he himself played such a vital role in creating.

He was Lenny Wilkens and, in many ways, he embodies the word “Sonic” more than any man.

Think of it thus – the Sonics have had four distinct phases in their existence: Expansion, championship, return to glory, and departure. Lenny Wilkens played a key role in three of those phases: first as the team’s inaugural star, second as the team’s coach in its halcyon days of the late 1970s, and third as the president during Clay Bennett’s destructive reign.

Long-forgotten by today’s fans, Wilkens was a three-time all-star, and was named the game’s MVP in 1971. He recorded the first ten triple-doubles in team history (only Gary Payton had more), was the first Sonic to lead the league in a major statistical category (assists, 1969-70), and held the team record for assists in a single game for more than a decade.

It was a remarkable run as a player (and coach) in Seattle, a run that would only – could only – be surpassed by the heights he reached as the team’s coach.

Everyone knows the story of the championship-era Sonics: of Brown, Johnson(s), Williams, Sikma, Shelton, Silas, and the rest. Wilkens is often a footnote to the tale, standing to the side, arms crossed while the players did the work.

What has been forgotten is how mediocre the Sonics had been before Wilkens took charge in 1977. As a player-coach in the early 1970s, Wilkens had guided the Sonics to a 47-win season in 1971-72 … and got traded. Those 47 wins would not be surpassed by the team until he guided the team again seven years later.

After letting Bill Russell go as coach after yet another 40-odd win season in 1976-77, the Sonics put Bob Hopkins in charge. 17 losses and only 5 wins later, Hopkins was gone, and with the team mired in the Pacific Division basement, Wilkens brought them back, coaching the team to a 42-18 record from then on.

Read those numbers again:

Hopkins: 5-17
Wilkens: 42-18

That’s with the same team, people. Hopkins would have had to go 37-1 to reach the record Wilkens attained with the same group of players.

And it was not merely regular season success, as that group of men reached the pinnacle of playoff heights by losing to the Bullets in the NBA Finals, a loss they would redeem the next season with Seattle’s only championship. The team’s first star became the team’s first coaching legend.

When I think of Lenny Wilkens, though, it is with more sadness than delight. I think of the man forced to subjugate himself to Clay Bennett’s rule, who had to parrot lines he must have believed to be lies just to keep his job. Wilkens ended his NBA life with a less than stellar reputation – he became known as much for self-preservation as for coaching ability – and that saddens me.

At the time of the unfortunate end to his life as a Sonic, Wilkens was chastised in the press for speaking out of turn and making statements that were less than true. Looking back on those times, though, he becomes less of a scapegoat, and more of a man desperately clinging to the reputation he had built over a lifetime of work in basketball.

I hope history will treat Lenny Wilkens more kindly than he was treated in his final days with this franchise, that his immense successes will outweigh his failures, and that his name will be erased from the sullied ending to a once-proud franchise’s life.

For all he gave this city, he deserves it.

Wednesday, October 1

Aubrey McClendon: Behind the Music, Part II

Tuesday’s improved signs of the health of America’s financial sector were certainly felt in the spacious living room of one Aubrey McClendon.

After seeing his investment in Chesapeake Energy drop more than one hundred million dollars on Monday, the co-owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder recouped his losses on Tuesday as CHK shares went up more than three points, earning McClendon an estimated $110 million within 24 hours.

But, as Lyndon Johnson famously drawled to a colleague more than 40 years ago, chicken salad can turn into chicken shit awful fast.

And it’s that propensity for precariousness that has some investors more than a little concerned about the overall health of Chesapeake.

Within the past month, McClendon’s company has:

- Reported a second-quarter loss of $1.65 billion, down from a profit of $492 million the previous year
- Announced a cut in natural gas production, including cutting rig counts
- Seen a drop in natural gas prices of close to 40%
- Announced that the shale deposits Chesapeake so zealously drilled in Barnett are “ramping down”

For many, it’s no cause for concern, and Chesapeake’s stock is still considered a strong buy for many investors. But for others, it is a little alarming. As a commenter at theoildrum.com noted: “If [Chesapeake] is pulling the plug on [its drilling operations] they better have something in the wings to replace their rapidly declining reserve base. Otherwise they've just announced to the world that their stock is worthless except for its breakup value.”

Many suspect that McClendon’s reasoning for curtailing production comes in the wake of the widespread credit crunch facing North America, but Business Week magazine weighed in with another possibility: that the trading methods practiced by large producers such as Chesapeake undermined the profits those companies made from drilling natural gas.

Essentially, because Chesapeake, and other companies like them, trades oil based on future prices, the constant hedging can often be disastrous, even when gas prices are soaring. As industry analyst Stephen Schork told the magazine after natural gas prices changed this summer, “A lot of people got creamed.”

Further, the magazine noted, there is the anxiety that Chesapeake wasn’t merely trading futures – hedging, if you will – for protection, but for profit. That’s great so long as prices fall in the future, but if that’s not the case, Chesapeake will be forced to pump out more gas to make up the difference, something that isn’t always as possible as it would like.

As the now bankrupt leaders of SemGroup can say with certainty, shorting energy prices isn’t always the wisest move for a company to take.

Simultaneously, a severe drop in natural gas prices can obviously be painful as well. And while natural gas was an attractive alternative fuel when oil was trading at $150 a barrel, it doesn’t look like such a great option when oil drops to less than $100.

With oil falling and natural gas increasing, the natural gas energy would seemingly be in desperate straights. What would be needed to strengthen the price of natural gas then, and, consequently, Chesapeake Energy? Well, how about a plan to get the government to subsidize the wholesale conversion of U.S. automobiles away from petroleum to natural gas? Heard anything about that idea? I thought you may have.

Nonsense ideas about “liberating” America from Middle Eastern oil aside, Chesapeake still faces tough situations stateside. It appears Chesapeake is hoping that its sizable (though dwindling) cash reserves will enable it to withstand any short-term reductions in revenue, unlike the smaller drillers out there who will be unable to hold out for long. Inevitably, the plan goes, the smaller concerns will prostrate themselves at McClendon’s altar, and Chesapeake will buy them up.

All of these financial shenanigans keep Aubrey McClendon a busy man – but not too busy.

When he’s not manipulating the Fort Worth city government into allowing him to put more oil wells within the city limits, hoodwinking the Sierra Club into thinking that his Clean Skies Foundation is anything but a front for drilling for more natural gas, or attempting to pass an “alternative fuels” initiative in California that would cost taxpayers upwards of 10 billion dollars – money that would flow directly to McClendon and Pickens, McClendon is making grandiose promises about future drilling sites, promises intended to buck up his stock’s plummeting value.

“Recent large discoveries using new technologies in natural gas shale basins such as the Barnett, Haynesville, Fayetteville, Woodford and Marcellus have provided new evidence that our country has ample natural gas supplies to power America’s economy for more than a century,” McClendon wrote earlier this year, neglecting to mention that he himself stated that the Barnett reserve has already reached its “high-water” mark.

It’s certainly possible that Chesapeake and McClendon will weather the storm surrounding energy prices and the credit markets, and that the company will snap up enough independent producers of natural gas to maintain an equilibrium. But it is also possible that McClendon’s wheeling and dealing may come back to bite him.

It’s that possibility we’ll look at Friday when we explore why all of this energy mumbo-jumbo matters to readers of a Sonics blog.