Six months ago, the SuperSonics became an artifact of history, seemingly as relevant to modern Seattle life as a Seattle Pilots pocket schedule.
In the ensuing half-year, discussion about NBA basketball in Seattle has focused upon renovations to KeyArena, motivating area politicians, and the neverending debate as to whether Danny Vranes’ skin was, in fact, so pale that it could be used in lieu of lighthouses on the Washington coastline.
Important machinations aside, little has been spent discussing just which team would inhabit the new arena supporters are intent on building. Commissioner David Stern has left no vocal chord untrembled in his confident assertions that expansion will not happen, leaving Seattle in the unenviable position of waiting for another city to suffer through what it just went through.
Like the family of a potential kidney recipient waiting for a donor, Seattlites are playing a ghoulish waiting game. We study the attendance figures in Memphis, read the tea leaves in New Orleans, and parse the words of Robert Johnson in Charlotte, attempting to decipher if one of those franchises will soon be partaking in David Stern’s perpetual game of musical franchises.
Left out of the conversation – as always – are the fans in those cities. Just as Seattle fans were belittled by the national media as unsupportive, Memphis and Charlotte fans hear the bells beginning to toll for them. Their lack of support for franchises in so much disarray it seems as if they are run by a consortium of schizophrenics has given the green light to speculation about relocation.
How do the fans of those teams feel about these rumors, though? Have they adopted the Nussbaum Style of Ignorance, wherein they ignore the talk and try to focus on the games? Do they believe that any of this is actually going to take place, that their team(s) will leave town, forcing them to engage in the pitiable self-flagellation seen so much from sites like, well, ours?
I decided to talk to those fans to get a feel for what they’re going through. After all, who better than a crusty, bitter old Sonic fan to gauge the feelings of other bitter NBA fans?
The New Orleans Hornets, more than any team perhaps, embody the vagabond nature of today’s NBA franchises. In the span of a decade the team has resided in no less than three cities, and its owner, George Shinn, shamelessly flirts with other cities like a trophy wife with the club tennis pro.
So it is no surprise to hear Seattle fans aim their sights at the Hornets as a tenant of the prospective new KeyArena. Sure, the Hornets are popular at the moment, but how does that stack up with the Saints, or high school football, or beignets?
“Everybody loves the Hornets,” says Niall Doherty, of Hornets 247. “They have a bunch of likable players, they do lots of good work in the community, Chris Paul can do no wrong, we've got the cheapest ticket prices in the NBA, and there's been plenty of winning since the team came back from [Oklahoma City].”
Doherty’s faith is well placed. With an attendance mark of near capacity, a team living in the penthouse of the Western Conference standings, and a superstar in Paul, the thought that the team is not long for the Crescent City – so prevalent less than 12 months ago – has disappeared more quickly than Mike Brown from George Bush’s rolodex.
Add in the fact that Shinn would have to pay minority owner Gary Chouest close to $100 million if the team moved, and the possibilities of seeing Chris Paul in a Sonics’ jersey grow slimmer still.
“I think the Hornets are New Orleans' team to lose,” Doherty explained. “If anyone in Seattle wants the Hornets, I say do what you gotta do. I can understand the desperation to get another team. I'm sure there were hoop heads in New Orleans licking their chops when the Hornets started wearing out their welcome in Charlotte. But the fate of the franchise is in our hands, not yours.”
NEXT: Charlotte, Memphis, and David Stern’s Brave New World