Friday, October 16

Sonicsgate: A Slam Dunk

There are, perhaps, as many ways to judge a work of art as there are a basketball player.

The evaluator of a player, luckily, has cold, hard numbers to help him, while a man standing before a work of art, whether Monet or Miley Cyrus, is forced to look inward and answer the question, “How does this make me feel?”

Ultimately, a great work of art stimulates thought in the mind of the viewer, creates discussion, and – if it is truly great – a wide range of opinions.

And so, while I won’t elevate it to the level of Dog Day Afternoon or Lawrence of Arabia, you have to say Sonicsgate is a worthwhile piece of art.

Okay, there are at least four or five movies in there, and, granted, two hours is waaaay too long for this story, but, that’s all immaterial, really.

What is important is that this film got made, and kudos to the three gentlemen who created it. Those who might argue that the Sonic history half of the movie should have been pared down are not grasping how important that part of the story is to Sonic fans. That is our history up there on screen, and if this film doesn’t tell our story, what will?

Sure, the film is a downer, but so is the subject matter. What did you expect, a lighthearted rom-com?

I was not eagerly anticipating the release of Sonicsgate. Obviously, I’ve digested more than my fill of this story already, and the idea of sitting through two hours of something that would leave me with a horrible mixture of anger, depression, and misery was … well it was less than appealing.

But about halfway through the movie – around the time it focused upon the botched negotiations between Steve Ballmer, the City, the State, the Sonics, and the NBA – I had an epiphany of sorts, and it really surprised me.

The NBA will come back to Seattle.

At first, it was a rush of excitement, one of those rare clear-headed moments that happen about once a year, when all the complications fall away and you’re left with a crystallized insight of the future.

It seems obvious when you think about for more than a moment, really. Assuming (I know, I know) Ballmer’s plan comes to fruition and the economy eventually reaches a point at which the $75 million required from the State becomes viable, Seattle will be left with a fantastic arena and no tenant.

And how long do you think it would take the NBA to react? Six months? Six minutes?

I understand other cities – St. Louis, Kansas City, Las Vegas, etc. – are ready to host the NBA, but none of those cities combine Seattle’s deep basketball history with the league’s guilt over abandoning it, tossed in with the fact that Seattle is a large metropolis with equally large corporations ready to spend money on luxury suites and advertising.

But almost as soon as that rush of excitement arrived, it departed, because I was left with the realization that the only way the dream of the NBA in Seattle can take shape is for us to swipe another city’s team.

And let’s face it, that is the engorged river we’ll have to cross at some point in the next few years. After all of our whining and complaining about the unfairness of Oklahoma City stealing “our team” (and, yeah, your narrator’s as guilty as anyone), we are poised to repeat that same dance on another city’s grave.

Last spring, while driving down to Portland to watch the Blazers, I had an almost identical conversation with a fellow SupersonicSoul author, and I reasoned that if we got an expansion team it would be different since it would mean we wouldn’t have the blood of relocation on our hands.

Raf’s counter-argument, as I look back upon it now, was right. Simply by building another arena and joining the NBA – whether with an expansion team or one heisted from another city – we become co-conspirators in the never-ending game of arena creep taking place across the country.

Sure, we’d be able to argue that we hadn’t stolen someone else’s team, but by creating yet another ridiculously overpriced altar to basketball, we would have given the people in Minneapolis or New Jersey or Oakland, more reason to worry that within months, they were going to hear the inevitable refrain from their team’s owner about “unbalanced revenue streams” and “lack of competitive edge.”

And I honestly don’t know how to counter that argument. As someone who likes to think of himself as a quasi-Libertarian who hates to see wasted spending, despises the way professional sports leagues play cities and fans off one another, and recoils at the thought of how many mouths could have been fed with the dollars spent on demolished stadiums, I’m torn.

There is the part of me that loves sports, and the NBA. Watching the NLCS last night, there was a moment in the 8th inning when Manny Ramirez strode to the plate with the game on the line. Ramirez v. Madson might not be Ali v. Frazier, but it was fantastically exciting to watch, and it reminded me of how it felt when the Sonics were in the championship mix for most of the 1990s.

The thrill you get as a fan in those moments is almost incomparable, and it is those moments we’re craving when we consider dipping our toe back into the NBA’s pool.

Do those moments, though, justify the expense? Will our joy in watching the Sonics compete for the ’19-’20 championship override the guilt in knowing we did to another city what we criticized Oklahoma City for doing to us, in knowing that we, as a people, spent more than a billion dollars on three stadiums – Safeco, Qwest, KeyArena – in the same time as we ran up tremendous deficits, causing all sorts of devastating cutbacks to crucial services?

It’s a tough, tough question to answer. The makers of Sonicsgate may not have intended to ask those questions, but their film certainly contributed to at least one person thinking about them.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ironically, Sonicsgate might be the fuel that the next city needs to fend off Seattle from stealing their team...

Sonicsgate is one of the first building blocks of an organized citizen-fan counter attack against the scorched earth policy of greedy sports empires and apathetic local polititians. Sonicsgate is easily accessible to general public, and therefore will serve as a quick teacher of the pitfalls of trust in the process.

Fans in the next city will use Sonicsgate as a tool to fight back, and while they might fail in keeping their team at home, they will continue to document the breach of faith between ordinary citizens and the keepers of the public trust.

This will eventually become a national issue. Bullies like David Stern will have their asses handed to them by a bigger authority. And it will be because these bullies have committed the cardinal sin of understimating their opponents, the fans.

I am so glad Sonicsgate was made, not so much for Sonics fans, but for the fans in the next city. Kudos to the creators.

Sonicsgate said...

thanks for the great review! we definitely intended to raise those questions and more. this issue runs deeper than just a team relocating, it's about the philosophical notion of fans and "their teams."

And we know it's long, but you should have seen the 4-hour rough cut! Lot of stuff to cover in there... we couldn't even get to the Muckleshoots!

Rock on!

Shawn said...

Agreed, awesome documentary. The Sherman Alexie parts were so well done (coincidentally, I met Sherman about a year ago and he is a gem). As for your claim about the Supes coming back, I'm not so sure. Take me for example -- I followed the Supes about as close as anybody for the first 27 years of my life. I'm still angered (and will be indefinitely) about the move. Now I'd probably vote for a tax to get an arena built, but I can't really see the moderate Sonics fans doing that themselves. I just don't see what dominoes that would need to fall in order to get the arena built.

Sheed said...

I loved the documentary. As a Blazers fan and blogger, this video made me realize that no one is safe. If Portland ever goes into another lull, there will undoubtedly be talk of moving to Seattle. I feel bad for all Sonics fans who had to lose their team.

Royce said...

I just want to say it was an excellent film and here's to basketball returning to Seattle.

RP said...

I won't mind if we stole a team with a weak fan base like Memphis.Ballmer is sadly the best plan, with him putting his own money up for the arena renovation. I wonder if when the economy picks up, if the arena is going to compete with a Husky Stadium remodel.

Anonymous said...

Royce, you're very conciliatory now that you already have what you want, aren't you? That wasn't the case not too long ago, so I find your comment disingenuous, smarmy, hollow and pretty f'n annoying. It amazes me that you can find the film "excellent" while defending the very people and actions that this film exposed once again as deplorable. Please explain that to me.

Anonymous said...

Please let's not steal..we've been through it..we understand the pain..let's just go with a brand new CBA or NBDL team and when the economy recovers and the league looks to expand then lets get a expansion franchise..

Steff said...

Soniscgate is a very well done and very well executed documentary which left me both sad and angered (say, the Stern/Bennett press conference and Bennetts "We made it." plus the stupid look he sported whilst saying it). I am not from Seattle, not even from the States (I am from Germany) but I have been a fan of the Sonics since the days of Detlef Schrempf and somehow over that time I grew attached to the city of Seattle, even though I've never been there personally. Somehow I could feel Seattle when watching the Sonics. And that is why seeing the Sonics leave with all the lies behind it, saddened me so very much.

Thanks to the makers of Sonicsgate for producing a documentary like this.

Anonymous said...

Just to nitpick about an earlier comment, the CBA is effectively dead as of mid-2009. D-League is for cities like those that ended up with our NBA franchise.

Thunderiffic said...
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Thunderrific's a Bitch said...
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nuss said...

Just for clarification as to why I deleted the last two posts - I'm not interested (and I don't believe Raf and/or Paul are, either) in hearing "Reason X Why Seattle Is Pathetic" or "Reason Y Why Oklahoma City Is a Bunch of Thieves" anymore. I'll grant Seattle fans a little leeway in that they were the aggrieved party, but, honestly, Oklahoma City is not the problem here, it's the NBA. If OKC hadn't stolen the Sonics, somebody else would have. That doesn't justify the actions of Bennett, et al due to their deception in the process, but I due not believe there is any justification for the fans in either city to continue sniping at one another.

As best I see it ...
Seattle Fans: In the very near future, we will be walking in the same footsteps as OKC. Think about it.
OKC Fans: There's a reason why your daddy told you not to gloat when you won. It makes you look like a chump who never won anything before. Knock it off.

kdoublec said...

I also applaud Sonicsgate. I've been talking this over with Chunk many times and while I will never say never, I think I'm through with the NBA-at least in it's current form and it's current management.

For now, I take the most amazing years of watching the sonics, put it in my back pocket for reminiscing and get outside and enjoy all the things i neglected while i was busy lamenting about the loss of this team. I don't want to buy into the twisted weiner package that is Stern's world and his warped sense of what his product is. Romar and the Huskies are doing just fine for me.

The sport of basketball is still awesome, but the NBA isn't even a fraction as compelling to me as when we had a home team and great players to go along with it. The NBA heads, Starbucks and Bennett can continue writing love emails to each other and toot each others' horns cause I want nothing of it.

Enough of my senseless rant but for the record, Collision and Jim Moore get props from me.

pookeyguru said...

I wanted to say I enjoyed Sonicsgate, well as much as you can enjoy pain I suppose, and the issue's and the various complexities that the Sonics moving to OKC has brought about.

All I do know, even as a Kings fan, that it's a shame, and that there are only loser's as a result.

Anonymous said...

"CBA is effectively dead as of mid-2009. D-League is for cities like those that ended up with our NBA franchise."

I am not sure where you got that info on CBA, have they announced that the league is folding?

Well, at this point Your comment about the D-League is pretty irrelevant, is it not? I mean, we have no team and "those" guys do so...I for one wouldn't mind going down to the Key to see hungry young guys trying to make a living playing pro hoops, versus sitting at home watching NBA on the tube for how ever long its going to take before its going to take to get a team here.

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