Monday, February 4

The Terrible, Inevitable What If Machine

With San Francisco coming oh so close to winning the Super Bowl on Sunday, 49ers fans are going through the same emotional torment that Seattle Supersonics fans suffer through on a daily basis: the dreaded What If Syndrome.

What if they avoided that costly illegal formation penalty on the first play of the game?
What if the offense had shown up in the first half?
What if the power never came back on?

As a lifelong Sonics fan, I have spent most of my life going through this sort of masochistic mental torture.

What if Nate McMillan had stayed in 2004?
What if Steve Ballmer had bought the team in 2001 instead of Howard Schultz?
What if Jim McIlvaine had never been born?

Dwelling on these dark thoughts is, of course, pointless. Time is linear. It moves on, with or without you. And yet, for many sports fans, there is a tiny room in the back of the mind that stores a terrible, horrible device that keeps track of this sort of thing: The What If Machine. Its sole purpose is to examine crucial points in time and pinpoint the exact crossroad that led to the team bus driving off the cliff.

My own personal Seattle Supersonics What If Machine recently spat out a date: June 28, 2007. The day the Portland Trailblazers drafted Greg Oden. (I'm sure many Blazers fans would like to have a replay on that day as well.)

It's hard to imagine, but back in '07, most of us in Seattle were praying that we'd somehow get Oden. At the time, he was seen as the second coming of Bill Russell. Despite the long history of number one picks tanking and the fact that Oden's bones were apparently made out of paper mache, the mystique that comes with a top draft pick is undeniable. It might have, at least momentarily, galvanized the community to fight harder to keep the Sonics in town. At the very least, Ballard would have been ecstatic about having a guy (almost) named after Thor's dad.

More importantly, He Who Must Not Be Named would still be playing in the Northwest, wiping Sam Bowie from Portland's own What If Machine, while Mr. Eggshells For Bones would be on the Permanently Too Fragile To Play List for a very mediocre midwest team that no one cared about.

But, like the Mirror of Erised, spending too much time with the What If Machine will lead to madness. Dwelling in the past is the ultimate act of futility.

Kind of like cheering for a professional sports team.

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