Sonicsgate: A (sort of) movie review

 

[The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Tao of the Passing Big Man, and other essays. Due out if and when we survive this global pandemic.]

 

 

When people bring up the city of Seattle, its typically to talk about Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain (maybe even Quincy Jones’ depending on who you’re talking to), coffee, and months of rain.

Outside of the diehard NBA fans, the normal American does not think of basketball. Seattle, however; is a fertile hotbed for talented basketball players. On top of that, it is a really dope city–one of the dopest cities in the United States. So dope– that the majority of the millionaires living in this country, live in Seattle. It is downright head scratching that a city so dope, does not have an NBA team. 

What the average person does not know is that Seattle has a rich history of hoop dating all the way back to 1967. They won an NBA title in 1979, and from 1993 to 1998–led by Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton and a collection of high level role players–had a 60% winning percentage. 

 

Things took a tumble for Seattle when they signed center Jim McIlvaine to an enormous contract (mistakenly) believing that he was the final piece to a championship puzzle. This alienated the franchise face Shawn Kemp (who was lobbying for a new contract) enough to the point that he demanded a trade before his contract was completed [Folklore has it that Kemp had already been dangled in a trade once before with the Chicago Bulls for then small forward Scottie Pippen]. The Sonics traded Kemp to the Cleveland Cavaliers–for a two piece and a biscuit meal– starting a gradual decline that culminated with George Karl not getting a contract renewal in 1998. The 1998-99 lockout immediately followed; which hurt the Sonics revenue when not all their fans returned to the Key Arena when the basketball did.

In 2001, the Ackerley family sold the team to Coffee baron Howard Schulz, and to quote Gary Payton, “he tried to run the basketball team like a coffee business.” Frustrated with low attendance, poor team performance, and a venue that was outdated compared to the new wave of NBA multi purpose arenas, Schultz sold the team to an Oklahoma City investment group–led by Aubrey McClendon and Clay Bennett–that had just seen promise while hosting the New Orleans Hornets for an interim period during post Hurricane Katrina. 

 

After realizing that the city was not going to pay for either a new arena or renovations (the city eventually passed initiative 91 More Important Things i.e. no sports subsidies) despite spending over $517 million on SafeCo field (for the Mariners) and $430 Million for the Seahawks’ new stadium, Questfield. The Okies saw their chance and took it, using this initiative as an excuse to move the team to OKC, even though they were sued for breaking the lease. The city settled for a 75 million dollar buyout, with 45 million of it paid upfront and the rest of the 30 to be paid out over the next 5 years; if the city could put together a renovation plan for the Key Arena (Are you confused too? Okay. Good I’m not the only one who can’t make sense of this deal) The city never put together that plan an forfeited the 30 million from the settlement. There is a prevailing thought that had the city of Seattle fought harder to keep the team, that the OKC based group would have eventually caved, and sold the team as majority stakeholder (Aubrey McClendon lost over 90 percent of his fortune in the upcoming 2008 economic recession). 

While it is true that the OKC buyers ( and arguably the league—err–David Stern) probably did some underhanded actions to acquire the team; with the agenda to move the team, the city of Seattle did everything it could to help give away their franchise. One could argue that in Seattle, basketball was this esoteric sport that only urban kids and hipsters supported. The city ponied up the funds for their baseball and football teams, but left the basketball team dangling in the wind. I know that no one wants to see a bad product, but historically, the Sonics were the only franchise at the time consistently winning [my argument against this would be Warriors fans who supported their team through thick and thin–although Oaklanders eventually lost their team too once it started winning].

The Mariners had a brief run in the late 90’s and early 2000’s (with an expanded playoff format starting in 1995), and the Seahawks were perennial doormats until the early 2000’s. Sonics fans just have to face up to the fact that the city didn’t care about basketball enough. They even let Bennett and the other okies take all the team records, banners, stats, and history with them to Oklahoma. Say what you will about the whole process being unfair, the fact is that the city didn’t want it enough. As Sir Mix A lot said, Seattlites were always “fair weather fans when it came to the Seahawks and Sonics”, comparing them to the wine and cheese crowd that 49ers fans are reknowned for. He called them “Upscale cats drinking 4.50 cups of tea.” I WOULD LOVE to see a team back in Seattle (and Vancouver while we’re at it. Move Memphis to the east where they belong) but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Outside of the hardcore hoop heads up there, no one in Seattle really misses basketball. 

 

BM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found in the KDVS studios making on air playlists. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com

 

In Retrospect: Examining the 2007 NBA Draft First Round

[The following is a chapter from my upcoming book, Tao of the Passing Big Man, and other essays. Due out if and when we survive this global pandemic.]

The NBA draft is a fascinating social phenomenon. Front offices use it as an opportunity to pitch entice their team’s fan base to renew their season ticket packages (sometimes before the season is even over). Some fans use it as a beacon of hope for their favorite team and some players see the draft as a harbinger of what is to come for their own careers. 

A great draft can create a dynasty, a good one can extend it, and a bad draft can set a franchise back five to ten years. The line between bust and boom depends on two important factors: the health of a player and the health of a franchise. Would Steph Curry and Kawhi Leonard be the same kinds of players had they landed in Brooklyn or Indiana? Would we think of Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant the same had their careers started in Portland?

Sometimes it really is just a matter of a player landing in the right situation. Successful organizations invest in their draft picks and put them in situations to succeed. Not all superstars come into the league ready made; some need to be developed and coached and polished into the diamonds they eventually become.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Veterans carry value within the locker room as well as on the court. As is in life, sometimes its all about meeting the right people to help steer you in the right direction. But NBA success isn’t guaranteed. For every Kobe Bryant and Jimmy Butler, there are tons of players who eat themselves out of the league, have substance abuse problems, and even cases of mental illness. The NBA draft is a crapshoot, and some organizations were good, some bad, and others were just plain (un) lucky.

In this chapter we examine a few select draft classes–ones which altered the league indefinitely–that were springboards to some franchises success and doomed others to being league doormats. These drafts were full of generational talent that changed the league for years to come. Some teams set themselves up to contend for the decade, while other teams set themselves up for failure. You can take a look and see from the drafts which teams trended where.

                                                     2007 First Round

  1. Greg Oden C, Portland
16. Nick Young SG Wizards
2. Kevin Durant F, Seattle 17. Sean Williams PF New Jersey
3. Al Horford C Atlanta 18. Marco Bellinelli SG Golden State
4. Mike Conley Jr. PG Memphis 19. Jarvis Crittenton PG Los Angeles Clippers
5. Jeff Green SF Boston (Traded to Seattle) 20. Jason Smith PF Miami (traded to Philadelphia)
6. Yi Jianlin PF Milwaukee 21. Daequan Cook SG Philadelphia (traded to Miami)
7. Corey Brewer SF Minnesota 22. Jared Dudley SF Charlotte
8. Brandon Wright PF Charlotte (traded to Golden State) 23. Wilson Chandler SF New York
9. Joakim Noah C Chicago 24. Rudy Fernandez SG Phoenix (traded to Portland)
10. Spencer Hawes C Sacramento  25. Morris Almond SG Utah
11. Acie Law G Atlanta 26. Aaron Brooks PG Houston
12. Thaddeus Young PF Philadelphia 27. Arron Afflalo SG Detroit
13. Julian Wright SF New Orleans 28. Tiago Splitter C San Antonio
14. Al Thornton SF Los Angeles Clippers 29. Alando Tucker SF Phoenix
15. Rodney Stuckey SG, Pistons

 

All Stars 

Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah

 

Notable Role players Drafted This Round

Ramon Sessions,Glen “Big Baby” Davis,Carl Landry,Arron Afflalo,Aaron Brooks,Tiago Splitter,Rudy Fernandez,Wilson Chandler,Jared Dudley,Daquan Cook,Rodney Stuckey,Nick Young,Thaddeus Young,Spencer Hawes,Corey Brewer,Jeff Green,Joakim Noah, Marco Bellinelli,

 

First Round Busts

Greg Oden, Wright, Javaris Crittendon, Brandon Wright, Yi Janlian

 

Steal of the draft: Marc Gasol with the 48th pick. Gasol turned into an All NBA defender, and was a key mid season trade acquisition for the 2019 Champion Toronto Raptors. He along with Mike Conley became the cornerstones of the “Grit N Grind” era Grizzlies.

 

Notable Undrafted: Anthony Tolliver, Gary Neal, Joel Anthony

 

NBA Champions 

Kevin Durant (2017,2018) Tiago Splitter (2014) Glen Davis (2008) Marco Bellinelli (2014) Corey Brewer(2011) Marc Gasol (2019) Nick Young (2018) Joel Anthony (2012,2013)

 

Draft Day Notes :

 

  • Mike Conley is one of the few top 5 picks to never make an All Star Team and not be considered a bust. Conley is like a NFL quarterback without any weapons on offense. The only players that Conley ever had to help him on offense have been Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. If I were coaching a young point guard, I would make them watch countless hours of Mike Conley game footage to help them understand how to run an offense. There are few point guards in the league who can control an offense as efficiently as Mike Conley Jr. Conley also had the misfortune of playing in the West (why isn’t Memphis in the Eastern Conference?) during the point god renaissance and was always overlooked in favor of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Steph Curry, Tony Parker, and Chris Paul. Now pretty much washed, Conley may never get his true due as a high level point guard. 
  • Portland–not understanding they were doomed to repeat team history–passed on a generational talent in the draft to select a player based on need–and again it was a big man who never got his career off the ground in the way a number one draft pick is expected to perform. Greg Oden didn’t even stay in the league as long 1984 pick Sam Bowie. Oden had 3 micro-fracture surgeries on his knees in a five year period and was unable to stay healthy enough to make an impact on his Blazers’ teams success. He played fine when he could play, averaging almost  a double-double in his first two seasons. Durant of course became an all world player, winning Olympics medals, scoring titles, ten All star game appearances,  a league MVP, and 2 Finals MVP’s on the way to two championships–not to mention millions of dollars in endorsements.
  • If it were true what Portland apologists say–that the Trailblazers didn’t need another wing player; they needed a rim protector in the paint, then the proper selection of that particular draft would’ve been Al Horford (in hindsight). Portland could’ve easily swapped picks with the Atlanta Hawks and still gotten Horford without paying him as the number one pick in the draft. Who is to say that anyone could’ve foreseen Oden having injury problems? I certainly didn’t, but I’d watched enough ball that season to see that Oden’s body might not be able to handle his frame. Even I could see that there might be some problems, especially with him already missing most of his freshman year with a broken hand. Although, to be fair, he was a monster on the defensive end of the court when he played at Ohio State.On the other hand, Portland could’ve had a front line of AL Horford, Lamarcus Aldridge, and Nicolas Batum, with Joel Pryzbilla, Channing Frye, Travis Outlaw, and Rudy Fernandez coming off the bench. Oh yeah, by the way, Brandon Roy was the starting point guard. Blazers went 54-28 that season and finished 2nd in the Pacific Division to the West champion Los Angeles Lakers, but maybe they actually make a deep run instead getting knocked out in the first round to the Houston Rockets. There is no telling how far a big 3 of Aldridge, Horford, and Roy would have taken them during that Brandon Roy era.  Portland would continue to make the playoffs, only to be formidable playoff opponents that ultimately fell in the first round–their win total decreasing each season. Eventually, head coach Nate McMillan would lose his job, and the Blazers would miss the playoffs two consecutive seasons. In short, that blown lottery pick set the team back half a decade, and it took drafting Weber State’s Damien Lillard (after Brandon Roy’s degenerative knee condition forced him to retire early) to turn the franchise around again.
  • Jeff Green got traded to the SuperSonics that night, but Boston came calling again years later, when they broke up their mini-dynasty and traded defensive specialist Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green. Boston would never got back to the NBA Finals after trading Perkins; falling again and again to the Lebron James led Miami Heat.

 

And the Winner is: 

Oklahoma City. They pulled off the heist of the century in stealing an entire NBA franchise (with the help of David Stern)  and moving them to the midwest. Kevin Durant would become the face of the franchise, and OKC would end up with two more lottery picks that would become league MVP’s (more on that later). Seattle to this day still doesn’t have an NBA team, and the league is worse off for not having teams in Vancouver and Seattle. Maybe that will change by the time this book is published. One can only hope.

BM

 

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found in the KDVS studios making on air playlists. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com