The Front Row with JASON ELLIOTT April 28, 2009
After watching the highlights of the Lakers-Thunder playoff series non-stop for the past three weeks (yeah, who knew), it made me wonder just what could have been had the team not moved out of Seattle two years ago.
UNLESS YOU'VE completely stopped paying attention, the Thunder that is creating havoc for the Lakers' repeat was once known as the Seattle SuperSonics.
Had the team been able to secure a new arena, chances are that owner Clay Bennett does not move the team to the Midwest and it continues playing at KeyArena. However, that didn't happen, and the team moved to Oklahoma City two years ago.
It's kind of a shame that the only team in Seattle that had actually won a world championship was run out of town, but after taxpayers already built two new stadiums (Safeco Field and Qwest Field both opened in 2002) to replace the Kingdome, a new arena virtually had no chance of happening.
Attendance dropped that final year, because the team was bad and rumors of a move weren't enough to bring fans to watch a team that was on a short-term stay.
What is worse is that the team, which was one of the worst in the NBA with a young squad two years ago, is battling with the best of the West this season, with the same roster.
SEATTLE'S FINAL first-round draft pick, Kevin Durant, developed himself into an MVP candidate and the face of the franchise. (Russell Westbrook was technically a Sonic when selected in 2008, but the team moved shortly after the draft.)
When he was in Seattle, Durant was just a rookie cutting his teeth in the pro game. Not only that, but after coming out of the University of Texas as a freshman, he had an entire team on his back from the moment he was selected second overall.
Since the move, the players around him have gotten better and the fans have begun to support the team, mainly because they are winning more often.
Despite the years when Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton and Detlef Schrempf had the team in the Western Conference Finals and once in the NBA Finals, the nostalgia of having a competitive team on the court still wasn't enough to keep the Sonics in Seattle.
ALTHOUGH I never went to a Sonics game, I'd tune them in once in a while, especially if they were playing Chicago, which played almost nightly on WGN in Chicago when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were Bulls.
These days, the Sonics have been replaced by the Utah Jazz on Fox Sports Net Northwest, even bumping a few Mariner games off the schedule to broadcast Jazz regular season games.
As the Thunder took on the Lakers late Tuesday night, they weren't expected by a lot of experts to have much of a shot against the defending champions, but they will at least take the series to six games, no matter the outcome of Tuesday's game.
Should the Sonics had found a way to stay, the Seattle landscape may have been changed forever.
Now, I guess we'll never know.
Jason Elliott is a sports writer for the Coeur d'Alene Press. He can be reached via telephone at 664-8176, ext. 2020 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.