Tuesday, June 30
One year spent waiting through, say, a traffic light or watching a year’s worth of early-90s Cavs highlights? That’s an eternity.
But watching one year of your life go by without your favorite basketball team? That can transpire rather quickly.
As a writer for a web site nominally devoted to a team which no longer exists, I suppose it is incumbent upon me to spill some pixel-filled pearls of wisdom about how it feels one year after Greg Nickels made a deal with the devil and allowed Clay Bennett to leave town for what turns out to be the tidy sum of $45 million.
It was, obviously, a painful day for all of us when the announcement was made. Speaking as someone who hasn’t lived in Seattle since the (first) Bush administration, though, I almost feel guilty about complaining – after all, how can I grouse about somebody leaving Seattle when I did it more than 15 years ago?
Regardless, this situation transcends individual situations, it transcends even city-wide feelings. Instead, I look at what happened to Seattle and the Sonics as a searchlight beaming directly onto the professional sports experience, and that’s precisely why it should trouble everyone, from the season-ticket holder in New Jersey to the casual fan in New Orleans.
In the aftermath of the relocation, I was a bit irked at the way the rest of the sports fans across the country viewed the way events transpired. For the most part, the prevailing sentiments fell into one of two camps:
A) “Hey, if you guys wanted your team so bad, you should have supported them better.”
B) “That really sucks for Seattle, we should do something about … hey, how ‘bout those Cavs, can you believe LeBron?”
Naturally, that bothered me. Where was the outrage? This wasn’t the Hornets leaving Charlotte, or the Grizzlies leaving Vancouver, this was the Sonics leaving Seattle. We mattered more. We had a history, dammit! Why wasn’t everyone as angry as we were?
For quite a few months, I lugged that emotion around with me, so much so that I began to wish that the league would just collapse so that everyone else would feel as crappy as I did. Then, slowly, I began to realize that the way other fans treated the Sonics’ departure was no different than the way I treated the Colts’ departure from Baltimore, or the Browns’ from Cleveland, or any of the myriad of other franchise shifts in the past twenty years.
That is to say, with a small bit of melancholy and a great big helping of indifference.
And you know what? I can’t expect any more than that.
One year later, and I still despise Stern, McClendon, Bennett, and the rest of the co-conspirators for the shoddy way they treated the fanbase here. When word came that the Blazers were mulling the possibility of playing a pre-season game in Seattle this fall, I almost threw up. Really, Portland, you think after one year that we’re ready to forget the past 40 years? That I can start cheering for a franchise that considers this guy a hero? I think not, my patchuli-scented friends.
But the truth is that I am not the target audience for the Blazers’ marketing scheme, any more than I am for the NBA. The target is the casual fan, the one who only dips his toe in the league’s pool when he feels like it, who can take or leave basketball with the ease of trying the new restaurant on the corner.
One year later, and I have finally come to the realization that the league cares as much about devoted fans as Hollywood cares about the hard-core fanatics who love their product. We are a loyal entity, a group who remain devoted no manner how shoddily we are treated.
Imagine if a local business treated you the way the NBA treated Seattle fans. After 40 years of devotion, after setting attendance records, after building two arenas, after caving in to every demand the league/team placed, they threatened to leave because of a lack of support. Can you imagine how you would feel about a local theater that tried to do that? A restaurant?
You can’t, of course, because the NBA – and pro sports in general – are a different animal, and they know it. Stern knows we are addicted to his product, and he knows no matter how poorly his teams behave towards their hosts, no matter how greedy his owners act or how egregious their demands, that there are always those who will forgive them, simply because they love the game.
One year later, and most of the anger has ebbed. And while I’ve grown to understand why the majority of population takes a not-my-problem attitude towards what happens in other cities, let me offer a few words of advice:
Wednesday, June 24
Estimated cost of maps, paintings, etc. purchased by Chesapeake Energy from founder Aubrey McClendon in December 2008: $12,100,000
By my math, it would appear that two years of employment for 50 people < pile of maps.
Shocking, I know.
If the trend continues for the tax - which was approved by OKC voters in March 2008 - by the time it is completed in March 2010, it will be about $15 million short, meaning the city will have to, as the AP put it: "start trimming projects or seek new modes of funding."
Translation: Don't expect any new picnic tables at Hefner Lake Park.
Of course, we all know the Sonix will do everything they can to make this work, as the team's ownership is firmly committed to Oklahoma City. Right? What's that, the team has an opt-out clause in their lease? C'mon, that can't be true, can it?
The team can opt out of the arena lease, the food and beverage agreement and the practice facility lease at the end of six years and at one or more other undetermined point in time during the initial 15-year lease if the average of team ticket revenue for the preceding two years fall below 85% of a benchmark of average ticket revenues in the first two full seasons following completion of arena renovations.
Oh, yeah, that clause.
Tuesday, June 23
Hmmm, this sounds familiar, eh?
It has been five years since the Vin Baker saga ended in Boston. Now the 37-year-old is trying to restart his basketball career in South America.
According to several reports, Baker has signed with the Marinos de Anzoátegui of the LPB (Liga Profesional de Baloncesto) in Venezuela. However it is unclear how much the 6-11 forward will play. The Marinos are already competing in their postseason and Baker is not listed on the roster on their official website.
China?! What would could poor Vin to cross the globe just to continue a failed baskeball career? Vanity? A love of the game?
This isn’t the first time Baker has attempted a comeback. His NBA career ended six games into the 2006-2007 season when he was released by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was arrested seven months later for drunk driving in June of 2007. Baker tried to resurrect his career in late 2008 with Liaoning Hunters in China. He was cut after just two days for poor conditioning.
Oh, yeah. That.
Marca.com reported Baker has “serious economic problems.” His former home in Durham, Connecticut was foreclosed last year.
(Read the whole article at Green Street. Thanks to Jessica for the tip!)
Friday, June 19
Steve Aschburner's latest piece in Sports Illustrated, which explores the sad state of affairs of the NBA in Seattle, especially when placed in relation to the joy surrounding the Sonics' championship run in 1979. It's a well written piece, but, understandably, overwhelmingly sad for a fan of Sonics' basketball.
Frank Deford's Sports Illustrated piece from 1967, which details the joy surrounding "the lone big-league franchise in the entire northwest quadrant of the nation, an area stretching north from San Francisco and west from Minneapolis-St. Paul."
Deford's story is full of gems; from Al Bianchi's too-tight pants, Tonics for Sonics, how the Cleveland Indians tried to come to Seattle, Henry Akin's chewing tobacco, and how Walt Hazzard "was the first Negro" to live in a Bellevue neighborhood.
Yes, 1967 was a long time ago.
Anyhow, if you're going to read one of those stories, I'd suggest Deford's, if only because it won't make you want to slit your wrists when you complete it.
Thursday, June 18
Wednesday, June 17
1. They think he uses too many teeth references in his articles. (Actually, Reilly’s use of teeth is an endearing trait that makes him unique among sportswriters. Sure, he could look for non-dental descriptives when he writes an 800-word column, but why fix what ain’t broken? And, besides, can you blame a guy who spent a large chunk of his life rooting for a guy who looked like this to not use teeth references?)
2. They think he’s an aloof guy who doesn’t mix well with others. (Actually, although Reilly commands a hefty salary to write his 800-word column, he’s just one of the guys there. Sure, his individual web page looks different than all the others, and, sure, his podcast with Bill Simmons had so many backhanded compliments Roger Federer would have struggled with it, but, c’mon, can’t we all just get along here?)
3. They think his columns are too short. (Actually, Reilly gets more information packed into his 800-word columns than most guys get into 2,500 pieces. Granted, most of that information is one-sentence puns that are as funny as a root canal, but so be it.)
4. They think he’s a threat to their god, Bill Simmons. (Actually, Simmons and Reilly are friends. Really. I’m not kidding. Just ask them. They talk about his 800-word column all the time.)
5. They think he can’t handle new technology. (Actually, Reilly knows all about Twitter and Facebook and all that stuff, he’s just not that into it. You see, he was raised in an era when writing an 800-word column was what made a columnist a columnist, not in today’s non-stop verbiage from every angle. Rick Reilly needs your new technology like a 80-year-old dentist needs one of those new-fangled whirligig toothbrushes.)
Tuesday, June 16
Like peacock farming.
Former Sonic Tom Chambers, perhaps the blackest white man ever to emerge from the Great State of Utah, co-owns a ranch in North Ogden (town motto: "Suck it, South Ogden!") with his brother, Rob. And while most days things are all hunky-dory down on the farm, what with the cow-milking, grazing, and whatnot, there is trouble a-brewin': Peacock trouble.
Rachel Trotter of the Standard-Examiner reports that cocks from the Chambers' ranch have been wandering up and down 2550 (apparently, a road of some sort), wreaking havoc with traffic and neighboring homes. One neighbor, Gordon Butcher, told Trotter,
"... the peacocks wander onto his deck and he often gets a 5 a.m. wake-up call from at least one of the birds. The peacocks often defecate on his property as well."
Well, that's not very neighborly of them. Of course, Butcher decided to sic the cops on the Chamberseses, but Johnny Law is hesitant to get involved due to some extremely complicated County vs City/North Ogden vs Weber County nonsense that is entirely too intricate and just muddies up what is otherwise a wonderful, Keiller-esque story.
As it stands, the peacocks are free to roam the land, but if I were Gordon Butcher, I think I'd try to figure out a way to make the birds play some defense, because if they're anything like their owner, they'll just try for about 5 seconds and then wander away.
Monday, June 15
For Magic fans, fear not that what just happened will forever leave a bitter taste in your mouth. Ignore those who call your favorites "a horribly flawed team," and remember that all teams are flawed to some degree, that no team is perfect, and while yours was certainly no 72-10 juggernaut, it was still superior to nearly 30 others.
Know that in ten years time, you'll cherish this spring like no other, that while you will never forget the disappointment of Courtney Lee's missed opportunity, you will also never forget the joy of seeing the Magic confound experts by knocking off the Celtics and Cavaliers. You will never forget the giddiness of seeing a multinational sporting good giant's advertising campaign thrown into the ditch because of your favorite team, and that your team's triumphs were cherished by people all across the country.
In this era of pre-planned magnificence, we have all grown accustomed to feeling powerless as sports fans. The NBA wants Charles vs. Michael? Done. The league wants the Heat to beat the Mavs? Done.
So when the Magic, with little or no national following, managed to sidetrack the coronation of King James, well, all of us, from the oldest NBA diehard to the bitterest Sonic fan smiled just a little.
More than 10 years ago, the Sonics fell to the mighty Bulls, but not before they gave Chicago one of its toughest battles in the Finals. A decade later, almost every Sonic fan I know looks back upon that series with delight, not remorse. Sure, a win would have been better, but just to be there, to be on basketball's brightest stage, to be important, relevant ... that was nearly as sweet.
So wallow in your pain for a few days, Magic fan. Take time to salve your wounds, but just know that, in the long run, you'll look back on the past two months and smile.
Friday, June 12
As you may be aware, four different shareholder groups have filed lawsuits against Chesapeake because of McClendon's pay package, and this week an Oklahoma judge decided to combine the cases into one, lending further power to the shareholders' complaint. That case will be held in July in Oklahoma.
In addition, a leading proxy firm has recommended that Chesapeake shareholders vote against the three directors up for reelection (these directors are, naturally, good friends of McClendon), and instead vote for some fresh blood on the board, which has been so willing to accommodate McClendon and his mistakes.
It's not expected that any sort of Capraesque activities will happen today, that McClendon will be overthrown, that the board will be turned upside down, or anything like that. It is expected, however, that Aubrey McClendon will spend an uncomfortable afternoon in front of testy and outright hostile people who are incredibly pissed at how he has profited at the same time as their life savings have plummeted in value.
UPDATE: Trading Markets reports that McClendon lives to fight another day, as shareholders failed to boot any directors off the board.
Of note, though, directors received a much lower percentage of votes than in years past, and a proposal to limit directors to one year (from their current three-year commitment) fell just short of reaching the 3/4 majority required to pass.
In other words, the natives are getting restless, but not so restless that they want to kick the king out just yet. Makes one wonder what would have happened had CHK's stock not gotten above the $20 mark this spring.
Also in the Trading Markets story, McClendon was quoted thusly in response to one shareholder's passionate criticism of his CEOship in the past 12 months:
"I'e worked 100 hours a week, at least, since 1989 to build this company. I've sacrificed a lot to do that...I'm sorry you find me egocentric and greedy."
Yeah, those sacrifices were quite herculean, all right ...
Tuesday, June 9
Monday, June 8
What killed Orlando was a complete and total inability to finish inside the arc; the Magic made 15 two-pointers all game (fewer than Bryant, with 16, had all by himself) and shot 27.8 percent on those attempts, which is appallingly poor.I had noticed this trend myself, and it made me really nervous that this could turn into a four-game coronation for Kobe Bryant. Thankfully, the Magic improved their numbers dramatically in this regard in Game 2, and while the sample size is quite small, it is encouraging for the rest of the series.
For example, take one Rashard Lewis. In Game 1, Lewis only made two shots all night, both of them from behind the 3-point line. In Game 2, as you no doubt are already aware, Lewis made six shots – in the second quarter alone. In total, he finished with 12 FGM and 34 points (including, sadly, the only jump shot the Magic sank out of six attempts in overtime). On the night, he was 2-2 on mid-range jump shots.
Just for curiosity’s sake, let’s take a look at the shot charts (courtesy of NBA.com) of Lewis matched up against Los Angeles during the past five seasons:
First, 2009, when he finished 0-2 on mid-range shots:
2007, (during Lewis’ Seattle days), 2/8:
As you can see, with the exception of the 2006 season, Lewis has been a non-factor on those mid-range jumpers. That’s not to say he hasn’t been an effective offensive weapon, but just that his offense has come from far out or very close in.
Contrast that with last night, when Lewis made as many mid-range shots (two) as he had in four of the last five seasons. Rashard receives a lot of criticism for his lack of aggression on both ends of the court, and it is often deserved.
Last night, though, he seemed to change his style a bit and silenced those criticisms. Will this change carry over when the series relocates to the Sunshine State? With Rashard Lewis, expecting a continued aggressive performance is a fools’ errand, so I won’t go that far. If I’m a Magic fan, though, it at least gives me some encouragement as the franchise continues a quest for its first NBA Finals victory in seven tries.
Friday, June 5
"Marietta firefighters are battling a blaze at 103 Miller Ave.
"Property owner Dale Ellis said he was removing paint from a section of roof between the house and the attached garage with a heat gun. The fire apparently started after he went down to get a hose to spray the area he'd been working on and he stopped to check phone messages, he said."
Ellis, the best 3-point shooter in Sonic history, is from Marietta, so it's quite likely that the Ellis referenced in the article is Lumar Mundane himself.
In and of itself, the story is not really all that newsworthy. Guy works on house, house catches on fire, fire department puts out fire. Nobody gets hurt (hopefully), and life goes on.
Except that by finding that story, and checking to see if this was the same Dale Ellis we all know so well, I came across this story, written by Tom Farrey of The Seattle Times back in 1990. It's a very long one, but exceptionally written, wonderfully informative, and a thrill to read. I'll throw one excerpt at you, to give you an idea of what young Dale's upbringing was like:
[The Ellis' pride in doing things right] had a cost, Vivien [Ellis] believes, and that was his father's life.
On Sept. 22, 1969, John Henry Ellis Jr. was shot to death at age 42, the victim, Vivien says, of intra-family animosity.
John knew the man, a distant in-law, and for years they rode to work at the Lockheed plant together. But Vivien said the man did not like the Ellises, and on that day in an all-black Marietta restaurant tempers boiled over. The man shot John in the back. John turned and fired, hitting him. The gunfight ended with one last blast, a bullet through the heart of John Ellis.
"They argued, he shot him, he died,'' Lucille said.
The older children grieved the loss openly. One night Lucille sent Stephanie to bed, only to find her in the morning in another room curled up in the love seat where her father sat every Sunday night, sharing ice cream and Walt Disney with his kids.
... If Dale felt the same, he did not let on. Dale and Darryl had to stay home when the family went to the hospital. Too young, they were told. So Dale dealt with the matter on his own, a 9-year-old pillar of strength. Vivien can't recall him ever crying, and the twins rarely talked about it after that.
Pretty stirring stuff, and the rest of the article is along those lines.
You know, following the Sonics as closely as we do here, you begin to think you know the players enough to speak intelligently about them. Dale Ellis? Oh, yeah, he's from the south, got ignored in Dallas, came to Seattle, got his revenge, had some drinking and driving problems, got into a nasty spat with his wife, bounced around the league a bit, came back to Seattle, then retired.
Case closed, right?
Except it's not. Not by a longshot. Every one of these players, past and present, has traveled a remarkably convulted road to get to the NBA, and as fans, we only see them briefly as they zoom by us on that road.
20 years ago, Ellis' family never thought he'd come back to Marietta, that he was done with that town for good. Now, 20 years later, he's fixing the roof on his home in Marietta when a fire breaks out.
There's a story in there somewhere, but only Dale Ellis knows it.
Holy cow the Magic looked bad last night - and was it me or did it seem like Rafer Alston missed 17 3-pointers in the third quarter?
Anyway, the only positive I took away from last night's bludgeoning was the chance to see DJ Mbenga come off the bench in the dying minutes of the game - his second appearance in an NBA Finals (the first coming in the Dallas/Miami series from a couple of years ago) ((Fun fact: DJ Mbenga's teams have appeared in three of the last four NBA Finals, and if the Lakers somehow lose to the Magic, his teams will be 0-for-3)).
As I was saying, coming on the heels of Dikembe Mutombo's injury-provoked retirement in the first round of the playoffs, it was great to see Mbenga get a chance to represent the Congo on such a big stage. And while it's not exactly a passing of the torch - Mbenga is a fringe player, while Mutombo was an all-star - the fact the two men are good friends (see Andrew Kamenetzky's great interview in the LA Times about this subject) counts for something.
Mbenga's amazing life story has been chronicled elsewhere, but it's worth reading if you haven't already. I won't go so far to say that I'm rooting for the Lakers, but I have to admit that a small part of me is glad to see Mbenga get a chance to be the first Congolese man to win an NBA championship.
Now, Rafer, about those 3's ...
Thursday, June 4
A) Rashard Lewis averages 25 points and scores the winning 3-pointer in Game 6.
B) While gesturing at a teammate for failing to get him the ball in the fourth quarter, Kobe Bryant accidentally elbows himself in the face, causing him to miss the final two games of the series.
C) Aubrey McClendon is caught in a Mike Tice-like scandal when it is revealed that he sold his franchise's six tickets to the Finals for $687 and a Garth Brooks CD box set.
D) David Stern drops the O'Brien Trophy on his foot, causing a severe (though non-life-threatening) injury that forces him to abdicate his position as commissioner.
E) In Los Angeles, Stan Van Gundy bumps into Ron Jeremy while protesting a technical, resulting in a tear in the time/space continuum.
F) Pat Riley, realizing that, while his fingerprints are all over this series for both franchises he remains utterly irrelevent, crashes the ABC/ESPN set in a desperate attempt to rejuvenate his fading legacy and accidentally sets his hair on fire, moderately burning the other on-set analysts, although Magic was laughing the whole time, because, you know, ether takes a long time to burn off.
Wednesday, June 3
Perhaps it was when he scored 50 points against the Clippers in the early stages of the 2003-04 season. In typical Lewis fashion, his exploit took place 10 time zones away in Japan, rather than in Seattle or, you know, North America.
Maybe it was the entire 2001-02 season, when Lewis began to emerge as a legitimate 20-point threat, cracking the hallowed mark more than 20 times at the tender age of 22.
Or (and, I confess, this is where my sentiments lie, so get ready for a long-winded explanation), it was the spring of 2000.
After a lackluster year in which he failed to score more often than he scored 20, Lewis didn’t enter the playoffs with high expectations from Sonic fans. Heck, with Seattle battling Sacramento for playoff positioning (the 7th seed would get Utah, the 8th seed would get the superior Lakers), Lewis failed to reach double-digits in the box score in more than a quarter of the final month’s games. As someone who only started eight games all season, not much was thought of the young man.
Despite Lewis’ somewhat stumble to the finish line, the Sonics held off the Kings and emerged to face the Jazz in the first round. Although he had been a starter the final five games of the regular season, Lewis was, not surprisingly, nervous in his first NBA playoff game. Still only barely 20 years of age, his first taste of the post-season was a bitter one, as he committed five fouls in only 16 minutes and finished with four points in a 104-93 Jazz victory.
That, however, would be the end of his struggles.
For the remainder of the series, Lewis showed he had earned his starting role, contributing 19 points in only 23 minutes of game two (another Sonic loss), 14 points and 10 boards in a game three win, 20 points in the game four win which pushed the series to its climax, and, finally, 20 more points in a game five loss in Salt Lake City which ended, as every Sonic fan worth his, well, salt, will tell you, a Chuck Person (!) missed three at the buzzer.
It was if, in the span of a mere two weeks, Lewis had transformed himself from the kid who got bypassed in the first round to a legitimate NBA offensive weapon.
He had eliminated the someday from the stories about him.
“The worst curse in life,” Ken Brett once told a reporter (and he would know), “Is unlimited potential.”
Such it was with Rashard Lewis during his tenure in Seattle. At 6’10”, he could seemingly do anything on the basketball court. But rather than celebrate his accomplishments, too often we derided his failures. His lack of intensity on defense, the fact that as a 6’10” small forward he averaged fewer blocked shots than some point guards, and, more than anything, his nonchalance never failed to irritate his critics in the Emerald City.
It was fitting, then, that his departure from this city was met with the same feelings he generated as a player – apathy. Although he scored more points in a Sonic jersey than Shawn Kemp, Gus Williams, Dale Ellis, Xavier McDaniel, or Tom Chambers, Rashard never entered the hearts of Sonic fans the way those players did. (And, judging by how frequently he updates his official website, it would appear that he’s not connecting too much these days, either). Whether due to a lack of playoff games during his tenure or his blasé on-court attitude, Lewis was an untasted entrée on the Seattle fan’s plate.
When asked their favorite memories of Lewis during his time in Seattle, most fans would struggle to come up with even one. In fact, for the majority of us, the enduring memory is watching him lying in pain on the San Antonio court during the 04-05 playoffs, his injured toe sidelining him for the rest of the playoffs at a time when the team desperately needed his scoring ability.
And yet, I imagine that a sizable portion of Sonic fans will be cheering for him during the Finals as his Magic take on the Lakers. Sure, for many it’s either out of spite for the hated Kobe Bryant (and that’s certainly as good a reason as any) or out of love for the underdog, but for others maybe time has allowed them to appreciate what Rashard Lewis offered to Seattle all those years.
Yes, his on-court emotion was more light jazz than Soundgarden, and, granted, his contract is a bloated anchor which will inevitably drag the Magic down, but does anyone in Orlando care about that right now? Not likely.
His clutch three-pointers during this year’s playoffs have forever altered our perception of Rashard Quovon Lewis, transforming him from a poor man’s Alex English into a potential Horry-like figure (albeit one who gets paid Kobe-like money).
It’s too bad that Lewis’ best days have come while wearing blue and white rather than yellow and gold, but so be it. Rather than point out his failings this spring, I’ll be celebrating his accomplishments. His pivotal battle with Pau Gasol at power forward will be crucial towards deciding who hoists the championship trophy this June, and that’s all you can ask for as a franchise player.
Is he worth the money? At this point, who cares. In the biggest series of the season, on the biggest stage basketball has to offer, Rashard Lewis will be front and center.
I hope he’s ready.
Tuesday, June 2
Much better is the PI's story this morning from Casey McNerthey, which paints a completely different picture (and, in my opinion, a much more accurate one) of how the area surrounding KeyArena has become a ghost town.
Best of all, though, is the link provided to the PI's coverage of the Sonics' championship 30 years ago. If you click on the link to the PDF (it's a large file, so beware), you may recognize a picture at the bottom right corner. Just one question: How is it possible that the PI is unable to conjure up a better quality representation of their old issues? Did they sell off all the scanners when the paper went belly-up?
Monday, June 1
Some kind soul is putting on viewing parties all over town today to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the Seattle Supersonics clinching the NBA championship.
1979 NBA Finals Game 5 Viewing Party:
Sporty's Beef & Brew
For more info, go to http://supersonics30.com/