Hello Seattle Kings ERRRRRR Supersonics
Well, how’s this for big Wednesday news: The Maloof Brothers, who own the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, have reportedly agreed to sell the team to an ownership group led by Seattle’s Chris Hansen. Obviously Hansen and Co intend to move the team to Seattle (where plans are afoot to build a new sports arena in SODO) and facilitate the rebirth of the Seattle Supersonics.
(The details aren’t yet final, we’re going off of hearsay and the Maloofs have a thing for bailing on deals at the 11th hour and 59th minute… so this could all be moot. But enough unbiased sources are running with this info that I feel safe presuming this deal is done.)
Now, the NBA has been mostly dead and gone from my sports consciousness, though not because of how Clay Bennett ripped the Sonics franchise from Seattle to put a team in his town of Oklahoma City. The quality of play has slid as the Jordans and Magics of the league’s heyday gave way to the talented but undisciplined, showboating, troublemaking and cocky Kobes, Iversons, Metta World Peaces and Shaqs of today. The textured coaching styles of yesteryear have given way to 30 identical middle aged men in suits, all of which make Phil Jackson and the Princeton Offense’s Pete Carril look like wizards (the mythical ones who make magic, not the losers in Washington DC) in comparison.
Teams identities were once tied to their style of play: The Bad Boys of Detroit, the Showtime Lakers, the Stockton to Malone pick and roll in Utah, Doug Moe’s ABA style strategy with the Denver Nuggets (score a billion points and play no defense), Mike Fratello’s Cavs playing stingy defense and trying to win 76-72 games because they had no offensive weapons. The Sonics of those days themselves had a unique three pronged attack: Shawn Kemp dunking on people, Gary Payton generating turnovers and driving the lane, plus uncanny outside shooting from Dale Ellis and other various big men (Detlef Schrempf, Sam Perkins). Even the teams led by star power (e.g. Michael Jordan in Chicago, the Atlanta Hawks with Dominique Wilkins, the Rockets with Hakeem Olajuwon), or power teams like the Celtics w/Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale et al, forged a unique identity through those players and the teams built around them.
Now, every team plays roughly the same style of basketball because all of the coaches are the same and, save for the stars, there’s not much to discern one talented NBA player from the next. In fact, identities today are mostly a product of what big star is on your team. The Heat stockpiled stars (LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh). The Lakers stockpiled stars (Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol). Even with minimal star power on their team (sorry, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson), the recently relocated Brooklyn Nets are known mostly for the star who co-owns their team (rapper Jay-Z).
We didn’t even get to the sloppy, homogenous, frequently meandering and unwatchable style of play in the NBA that occasionally is interrupted by a thunderously awesome dunk. Blake Griffin is a draw for the LA Clippers not because he’s a good leader and a sound, productive player under pressure, but because he can jump 10 feet in the air and annihilate people with spectacular, dexterous yet monstrous dunks unseen at game speed since the days of Reign Man Shawn Kemp.
So, Steven (you may be asking), if you’ve got issues with the NBA and haven’t watched regularly in years (I haven’t mentioned that but thanks for reading my mind, reader!)… then why are you at all interested let alone excited about the impending return of the Sonics?
Let me tell you a story of a US city that was awarded a new team in the sport of soccer. The Seattle fanbase was excited to finally get an MLS of their own, and immediately packed all 35K+ available seats in the stadium, in a sport where most teams were lucky to draw 20K for a match. MLS at the time was not a particularly interesting brand of soccer. As most imports were from Latin America, the league largely adopted the risk-averse, dribble and wait, flop like a modern dancer and feign horrific injury until the foul’s called brand of soccer common to Latino soccer leagues. I watched a fair share of MLS pre-Sounders, and that shit was pretty boring.
The Sounders debuted with a more European fast-flowing aggressive “let’s actually try to score goals as if that’s the point of soccer” style. Despite a new-ish team with a few new stars (Freddie Ljungberg, Freddy Montero, Steve Zakuani, Kasey Keller) and a bunch of 2nd division holdovers + MLS castoffs, the team vaunted into immediate contention, retained the novel interest of their fanbase and in turn won matches and contended with a watchable, exciting style of play that is now starting to catch on with the rest of MLS. They changed the culture of a troubled league with a combination of a ravenous fanbase showing the league how to support and a better style of play with which they succeeded on the field. Cheesy as the adage sounds, they were the change we wanted to see in MLS, and the league followed suit.
The soon to be newly minted Sonics have a golden opportunity. The current day Sacramento Kings are 13-22 under interim head coach Keith Smart (after the firing of Paul Westphal) and are in definite flux, a fast paced but sloppy team led nominally by DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson and Tyreke Evans. As NBA talent goes they’re alright but definitely not leaders; you probably could not point these guys out in a room. CUrrent GM Geoff Petrie is in the final season of his contract and, given the Kings have remained irrelevant for about a decade, I would bet the farm that he will not be brought back for another season.
Recall that soon after the then-rebuilding Sonics moved to Oklahoma City, coach PJ Carlesimo was let go, new coach Scott Brooks took over and that team began winning games soon thereafter. It would figure under new ownership, especially in a new city, that the owners and front office will want a new GM, a new coach and will shuffle the deck on the roster.
I don’t know that the new Sonics coach will bring with him any sort of unique trailblazing style. Chances are very good it’ll be more of the same generic NBA x’s and o’s, and it’ll be up to the guys on the roster to outplay the guys on the other rosters. At that point it comes down to star power, what 30 point a game superstars you have on your team, and this team obviously has a long way to go for that to manifest.
But Chris Hansen’s latest venture is a golden opportunity in more ways than one. This is not only an oppportunity to bring the beloved and much missed Supersonics back to Seattle, but an opportunity to capitalize on that excitement with a fresh team playing an innovative style that turns the NBA upside down and changes the league’s culture. Can the Sonics find that innovator, and the players to turn innovation into wins and contention?
Let’s hope so. For now, Seattle’s thrilled as it is with the mere news that the Sonics are back.