Friday night, April 7, a dozen of my closest friends and I attended the Sonics-Blazers game at the Rose Garden in Portland. In practical terms, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more meaningless and depressing National Basketball Association game on the schedule. Both teams are way, way out of the playoff race, and both teams have filthy-rich Seattle owners who are all but pleading bankruptcy in their respective quests for more favorable arena deals.
So why bother going? Rather than answering that straightaway, let me regale you with an anecdote from my days as an editorial consultant at a Web sports startup called Rivals.com. I sat in the desk next to Glenn Nelson, a platonic soul mate who, at that point, had just left a prime gig as the Seattle Times NBA writer to chase Internet gold.
In the midst of NCAA March Madness one year, Nelly and I were rapping about whether the Supes' Rashard Lewis would one day develop into a more competent small forward than the Clippers' Cory Maggette, the type of minutiae only the most hard-core geeks haggle over. As we broke 'Shard and the Machete down, our boss came over and launched into a diatribe about how he much preferred the college game to the NBA, on account of how spoiled he thought the pros were. He then asked Nelly why he favored the pros.
They've been, far and away, this town's most consistently competitive professional sports franchise. They and their sister WNBA team, the Storm, have secured the city's only two world championships.
"Because, for me, it's like watching ballet," Nelly replied, matter-of-factly. And there you have it. If you're a true-blue hoop fan, it doesn't matter who's playing or which team you're rooting for. As long as there are 10 NBA players on the floor, you're sure to be awed by the grace and athleticism with which these towering, dexterous gentlemen move around and above the floor, with or without the ball.
For my first 28 years, this bouncing ballet could turn a bad day good. Then, when professional circumstances prompted a four-year exile in St. Louis, I got a firsthand look at the sort of depression life without NBA can cause.
St. Louis is a wonderful sports town, arguably the best in the country. Attending a regular-season Cardinals game is tantamount to Husky homecoming and puts even a sold-out Safeco Field to shame. Football, hockey, college hoops—everything else was there and thriving. Me? I felt empty. Why? No NBA. (Admittedly, the lack of mountains, hills, salt water, a downtown movie theater, and discernible civic pulse might have contributed to this gray mood, as well.)
Before recently embarking on the 2,000-mile trip back home, I joked with some friends about how ironic it would be to come back to Seattle, only to have the Sonics leave. They feel my pain. Unfortunately, Mayor Greg Nickels, the Seattle City Council, and seemingly the whole of the Seattle print press corps don't. Which is also pretty ironic, considering the city basically bent over and let the Mariners and Seahawks tax our asses ragged when they wanted new places to play, peddling the same rich man–poor man crap that lead owner Howard Schultz is hustling now.
So why the double standard for the Supes? After all, they've been, far and away, this town's most consistently competitive professional sports franchise. They and their sister WNBA team, the Storm, have secured the city's only two world championships.
I get that this is the second time in the past decade Sonic owners have asked that KeyArena be revamped in the name of increased luxury and revenue. I get why that argument pisses off a lot of people in a dynamic, burgeoning city with a serious homeless problem and a host of meritorious organizations and activities which could make far more efficient use of public funds and tax breaks.
And you know what? I don't care. When you're head over heels in love, rationality doesn't hold much currency. If Schultz wants the city to pay for a hundred-robot fleet of automated baristas for the new, improved Key, let him have it, because a big city without ballet isn't much of a city at all.