Major League IV: Scripting the Sonics Movie

The uncertainty surrounding the city’s oldest pro sports franchise is worthy of a sequel to its cinematic progenitor. Here’s the script.

In July 2006, an ownership group led by Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz sold the Seattle SuperSonics and its championship sister squad, the Storm, to an outfit consisting of investment mogul Clayton Bennett, anti–gay marriage activists Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward, and two dudes whose first names are "G" (G. Edward Evans and G. Jeffrey Records). Like history's other great raiders and plunderers (Attila, Genghis K.), the new ownership group came from the plains—Oklahoma, to be exact. Here, one recalls Steve Martin banging a spoon on a pan and yelling "Oklahoma! Oklahoma!" in a movie whose title, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, leads us back to the aforementioned carpetbaggers. The common assumption was that as soon as the Oklahomans bought the Sonics, the team was as good as gone. Bennett made all the obligatory statements about committing to Seattle and working with local political leaders on a plan for a new arena. He then set about that task with all the earnestness of a 7-year-old instructed to clean his plate of Brussels sprouts and broccoli.Watch the trailer for Major League IV: SuperSonic!     The team's proposal for a Renton arena would have been, for the most part, publicly financed—but all profit from all events would have gone to the team. Unsurprisingly, this legislation went nowhere in Olympia. Meanwhile, word leaked of McClendon and Ward's bankrolling an anti–gay marriage group to the tune of $1.1 million, in addition to McClendon's previous quarter-mil donation to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. On top of all that, McClendon told an Oklahoma paper that the new owners had secretly planned all along to move the team to Oklahoma City. Despite Bennett's initial half-hearted assurances to the contrary, as soon as the 2007 season started, the Oklahomans filed papers with the league office to relocate ASAP. Bennett and his cohorts' success at hijacking the team depends on a vote of NBA owners, as well as the franchise's ability to break its KeyArena lease with the city, a contentious matter that is now in civil court. There, the same folks who tried to sell a new arena to the public on the promise of economic benefits have declared that the team's exit will have no impact on the city's economy. With an expected weeklong trial scheduled to begin in June, there's a chance the Sonics could be gone before next season. You could argue there's no requirement that owners gladly stay put with their investments or share their fan base's political leanings. But none of that changes the fact that Bennett & Co. are a bunch of retrograde interlopers, the uninvited dinner guests who double-dip at the chip bowl, piss on your toilet seat, and ask for the leftover beer on their way out the door. Seattle's not the first city to suffer from insufferable team owners. In Charlotte, Hornets owner George Shinn traded his stars, got accused of rape, and then demanded the city build him a new arena at no expense to himself. Unsuccessful in his negotiations, he moved the team to New Orleans, where, despite fielding an elite team, attendance is flagging to the point where Shinn is contemplating yet another change of scenery. In another tale of civic Grinchdom, Colts owner Robert Irsay infamously told the media, "This is my goddamn team," and indicated the team would remain in Baltimore—before accepting a secret deal to move the team to Indianapolis. (The moving vans arrived unannounced on March 29, 1984, and hit the road at 3 a.m.) In exchange for the city dropping a lawsuit against him, Irsay agreed to support Baltimore for the NFL's next expansion franchise. When the NFL decided to expand in 1993, he supported Jacksonville and Charlotte (Baltimore ultimately got the Ravens). But perhaps the most comforting analogue comes from Hollywood, in the form of the 1989 tour de force Major League. This star-studded slice of celluloid cheese tells the tale of a fictitious Cleveland Indians team inherited by a trophy widow who wants to move them to Miami. A clause in the franchise's contract allows the owner to uproot the team if it draws fewer than 800,000 fans in a season. Thus, she attempts to damn the team to relocation by signing every flotsam, jetsam, and Joe her anti-scouts can turn up. Playing these misfits are, among others, Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, Tom Berenger, and future 24 president Dennis Haysbert. While the season begins disastrously, as planned, in time the rejects prove to have heart and hidden talent, morphing into lovable underdog winners and eventually beating the Yankees to make the playoffs and cement the team's future in Cleveland. The parallels to the current plight of the Sonics are obvious. The new Sonics management jettisoned stars Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis in favor of a collection of promising but underdeveloped youngsters and washed-up veterans. Predictably, the team's winning percentage has taken a nosedive—as has fan attendance. Scalpers can't give their tickets away, and on many nights, fans' loudest cheers are reserved for the appearance of a 5-year-old break-dancer who does headspins during time-outs. Not a bad situation for an ownership group that wants to leave town. (What this surface examination fails to show is that the new owners were all but forced to start over by the remarkable incompetence of the preceding front office, whose stunning array of bad personnel decisions were highlighted by their propensity to draft 7-foot teenage stiffs and unwillingness to properly compensate standout coach Nate McMillan, who moved along to greener pastures working for Paul Allen in Portland.) Still, even if their personnel decisions aren't as nefarious as their pseudo-negotiations and politics, Bennett and his cronies are worthy of a cinematic flogging—and the Sonics' situation in general is the stuff of a great underdog sports flick. Thus, we present you with a sneak preview of Major League IV: SuperSonic! Casting decisions are of paramount importance in a reality-inspired movie like this: The actors must be convincing as characters the audience already knows. Here's a peek at our choices for a few key roles. Howard Schultz: Schultz got the ball rolling with his "Oh my God, I'm almost the 354th richest person in the United States!" panic sale of the franchise in 2006. Tall, good-looking, and young for a magnate, he's a former college football player who rose from the projects of Brooklyn to head the world's signature coffee franchise. He's also the same age and height as the ever-charming Jeff Goldblum, to whom the role falls. Clayton Bennett: Key features include a parted flat-top and beer-barrel build. Not as much of a head-turner as his curvaceous Major League counterpart, Bennett relies instead on a self-effacing, drawling charm. If this were an episode of Celebrity Scooby-Doo, Bennett would appear as Andy Griffith until Shaggy tore off his mask to reveal himself as Donald Trump, who would then fire the cast and crew and move production to Oklahoma. Trump's his own brand, though, so we'll go with John Goodman. Mini–Clayton Bennett (aka "Mini-Clay"): Like Dr. Evil before him, Bennett goes everywhere with a diminutive doppelgänger. Thus far, the best fit we've been able to find in the pool of little actors is Jackass' Wee Man. We'd like to use a fresh face, so consider this a casting call. Little people looking to get a little evil, this role is for you! Aubrey McClendon: Like his co-owner Tom Ward, oilman McClendon has a distaste for gays and assures us he's straight. He'll be played by his doppelgänger, Jerry Springer, as a hands-on owner who drops in on practices to demonstrate the proper wide stance for defensive slides. Tom Ward: The Tom Ward of our movie is a shadowy figure who might be hiding an embarrassing secret. He'll be played by Aubrey McClendon. David Stern: As NBA commissioner, Stern has developed the easy confidence of knowing he's The Man. And who plays The Man better than anyone? Erik Estrada. Sen. Margarita Prentice: The stocky state senator from Skyway was the biggest elected booster of a new Sonics arena; she will be played by Danny DeVito in drag. Greg Nickels: Shall be played by Saturday Night Live alumnus Horatio Sanz, with a blown-dry pompadour. He'll be flanked at all times by Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis (portrayed by Siegfried Fischbacher of the Vegas lion-taming duo Siegfried & Roy). Sam Presti: The team's general manager is something of a prodigy, having ascended to the position at the age of 30. A lean, blond man, he shall be played by a lean, blond man with a history of playing prodigies: Neil Patrick Harris. P.J. Carlesimo: Unfortunately, the man who was born to play the Sonics' head coach, Sam Kinison, died in a car accident in 1992. Thus, the job of portraying the ear-chewing former college coach in over his head falls to Daily Show commentator Lewis Black, who must grow a beard for the role. Kevin Durant: Occasionally a tiger on the court, the franchise savior is nevertheless soft-spoken off of it, with boyish good looks and an unassuming charm. (He recently admitted to being unnerved by the courtside presence of Beyoncé Knowles. "I really love her," he explained.) The natural choice would be the similarly ascendant, similarly gangly, similarly charming, similarly 19-year-old Michael Cera. Jeff Green: The broad-shouldered Robin to Durant's willowy Batman, Green seems more mature than his 21 years, and also wears his jersey a little tight, in semi-throwback fashion. Thus, an older actor might work best. The name Jeff is sufficiently Anglo that Bill Cosby should feel comfortable playing the role. Wally Szczerbiak: The only member of the current team to have played in an All-Star game, Szczerbiak has an obvious parallel in the Corbin Bernsen character in Major League: a past-his-prime pretty boy accused of selfishness. Derek Zoolander turned the role down, so we'll give it to Mount Vernon native Jim Caviezel. Robert Swift: The tall, shy redhead with the ill-fittingly urbane fashion sense shall be played by his now-gregarious fire-crotched predecessor, Bill Walton, outfitted with hair extensions and tatted to the tits. Sue Bird: While a number of Hollywood actresses can match the Storm star's beauty, few could convincingly portray her remarkable athletic skills. Jennifer Garner's the obvious choice. She's got the looks; and I'll be damned if Sydney Bristow can't ball. Kevin Calabro: The role of the silver-tongued bard of the hardwood demands considerable verbal dexterity. Shakespeare in the Park is good training, Mr. Malkovich— but the rap game is better. Lil' Wayne, the role is yours. Steve "Snapper" Jones: Calabro's broadcast sidekick is a former ABA and NBA baller who used to clash with Bill Walton as part of NBC's broadcast dream team. He mixes genuine insight with inane needling of everyone from fans to players to play-by-players. The actor? Bernie Mac, of course. When making an underdog sports movie, formula is your friend. Why think too much? Your audience isn't going to. Some important rules to remember: Slow motion = emotion, and when it comes to character development, two dimensions = one too many. With that in mind, here's a teaser of Major League IV (two forgettable sequels followed the original) and its adherence to the underdog orthodoxy established by its esteemed progenitor. 1. A glimpse at the past. Major League opens with a montage of the city of Cleveland and its citizens' bond to their historically woeful baseball team—all set to Randy Newman's "Burn On," a wry ode to the infamous fire on the Cuyahoga River. In our movie, the city's emotional bond to the team is presented more obliquely: Stung by the rash of vitriol from Sonics fans and local media after selling the team to Bennett's group, Howard Schultz is refusing to leave his bed. Schultz pauses in thought, and then looks at the wall. There's a Shawn Kemp "Reign Man" poster, signed jerseys from Gary Payton and Detlef Schrempf, a newspaper from the 1979 championship, and a handwritten thank-you note from Jack Sikma in a glass case (former assistant coaches Schrempf and Sikma were both jettisoned from the Sonic franchise after last season). Below, on the floor, is a newspaper, whose headline reads "Et tu, Howard?" The former owner resumes his hysterical sobbing. After a minute or two, he dabs his eyes with a Java Jacket, blows his nose in a Benjamin, and goes back to sleep. 2. Enter the villain(s), holding a winning hand. In Major League, this occurs when the haughty Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton), heiress of the franchise, saunters into the meeting of front office personnel to take her seat at the head of the table. In our movie... One week before Schultz's emotional breakdown, the plot is set in motion in the M&H (Moguls & Heirs) Club, a secret subterranean complex in the Nevada desert where the eponymous can indulge their vices free from meddlesome boards and the bloodsucking business paparazzi. While Aubrey McClendon waits outside with a shotgun (to defend the club against gay marriage), there's some high-stakes poker being played in the smoky, whiskey-doused interior. Schultz is down to his last chips, but holds a straight flush. Martha Stewart has folded, as has 50 Cent, who's managed to squeeze himself into the Howard Hughes flight suit from the glass case on the wall, and is now smoking a Cuban cigar and boasting about the secret aphrodisiac Vitamin Water he's about to debut. That leaves one other remaining player: Clayton Bennett. (Mini-Clay has passed out, his head and neck completely covered by Bennett's ten-gallon Stetson hat.) Schultz is arguing that Bennett should allow him to bet the additional chips on credit. "Come on. You know I'm good for it," he pleads. "That's not what I'm sayin', Howard," counters Bennett. "I reckon we both got more dough than we know to do with. Let's play with somethin' that means somethin'. How 'bout you put up your team? If I win, I'll buy it offa you, fair 'n' square." 3. The villains set to scheming. Throughout Major League, Phelps tries underhandedly to reduce her team's chances of success—for example, by turning off their hot water or making them travel by bus. In Major League IV, Bennett and his crew are advised in this regard by trench-coat-wearing consultants Leo (Johnny Knoxville) and Orifice (Biz Markie). For example: Told by Leo and Orifice that his butch haircut is endearing him to Storm fans, Bennett sells the women's franchise rather than change his look. "This is good," remarks Orifice. "Divide and conquer." 4. A veteran mentors the rookies. In Major League, Jake Taylor takes rookies Rick Vaughn and Willie Hayes out for a congratulatory dinner after they make the team. In a poignant Major League IV moment... Having noticed the light dusting of fuzz on Durant's upper lip, Kurt Thomas (played by Idris Elba) gives the rookie his first razor. Season-ticket holder Steve Ballmer (played by a clean-shaven Sean Connery) witnesses the exchange and tells Durant, "You're the man now, dog." Durant nods solemnly. 5. That same veteran shows a childlike enthusiasm for the game in his daydreams of stardom. Before the season begins, Taylor sneaks into the stadium, pretends to hit a walk-off home run, and rounds the bases triumphantly, narrating the action throughout. His reverie is interrupted by the taunts of rookies Hayes and Vaughn. In Major League IV... Kurt Thomas has arrived at the gym early to shoot a few jumpers, or so he tells the security guard. He then sneaks the trampoline out of Squatch's dressing room and lines it up in front of the basket, declaring his intention to "posterize" an imaginary Alonzo Mourning with a tomahawk dunk. His preparations are cut short by the snickers of onlookers Durant and Green, who offer to lower the hoop. Durant puts a hand on Thomas' shoulder. "Alonzo's done, old-timer," says the rook. "Dwight Howard would've been better." 6. The villains' schemes appear to be working. Major League's Indians began with a whimper, looking every bit as inept as their owner hoped. The Sonics were 3-13 in November. We may simply use archival footage for this section. 7. Even the diehards begin to despair. To endure the Indians' awfulness, play-by-play announcer Harry Doyle takes to drinking during broadcasts. Calabro and Jones do the same: On account of the broadcast team's bizarre and offensive remarks, Fox Sports Northwest has to increase the duration of its broadcast delay. FCC regulations being what they are, the few remaining viewers (mostly kids and old folks) are treated to long stretches of silence. 8. The youngster uses his bad-boy stylings to pick up women at the bar. In Major League, Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn leans against a jukebox, sleeveless shirt showing off his guns 'n' tats, jagged lines shaved into his hair like notches on the proverbial belt. As the jukebox plays his song, a young woman approaches him and seductively whispers its lyrics: "Wild Thing, you make my heart sing." Meanwhile... It's a moderately crowded Tuesday night at Ozzie's on Lower Queen Anne, and Robert "Wild Bobby Ginger" Swift has just slipped an Abe Lincoln in the jukebox so he can go old school and floss to R. Kelly's 12 Play in its entirety. He's approached by a flirty UW senior who's on the rebound and tired of the Greek scene. "Is that an assault rifle?" she asks, lightly tracing the tattoo on his arm with her finger. Swift holds her gaze, coolly tosses his ponytail off his shoulder with a sideward jerk of his head that could be interpreted to mean "meet me in my Escalade," and gives her half a smirk. 9. An aging star's vanity jeopardizes the team's success. In Major League, Roger Dorn fails to field a ninth-inning grounder, fearing that a bad hop might lead to bruising or worse for his handsome face. In the SuperSonic sequel... Wally Szczerbiak and his family have taken an All-Star break trip to Miami Beach. It's early morning, and Wally's off for a workout, sporting spandex and a low-cut tank top reminiscent of the one worn by Wesley Snipes in White Men Can't Jump. As he Rollerblades down the promenade, he realizes he overgelled: The greasy mixture of sweat and hair product has begun to drip into his eyes and cloud his vision. Thusly impaired, he doesn't notice an empty soda bottle ahead of him. It sends him sprawling into a nearby palm tree, making first contact with his right shoulder. His face contorted in indignation, his palms turned upward in disgust, he immediately looks around for a referee to complain to. 10. The turning point occurs when the team receives an inspiring locker-room talk. The Indians are hovering around .500 when manager Lou Brown gathers his players and tells them that Phelps signed them because she thought they were surefire losers. Determined to prove her wrong and, in the words of Taylor, "win this whole fuckin' thing," the team begins its unlikely pennant run. In our movie... The Sonics' first game after the All-Star break is against the Utah Jazz. Kevin Durant faces Andrei Kirilenko, who dominated him in their previous meeting. But Durant got an unexpected pep talk via a 1 a.m. drunk dial from Shawn Kemp, who regaled him with tales of the mid-'90s Sonics defeats of the Stockton-and-Malone Jazz squads. Duly inspired, the rookie plays with a tigerlike ferocity from the tip, icing the game with a 10-point fourth quarter, which a besotted Snapper misses, having passed out at the end of the third. Calabro attempts to match Durant's sense of the moment by doing both his own commentary and Snapper's, in Snapper's voice. The end product is a slurred mass of incoherence, with only his catchphrases ("Flying chickens in the barnyard!") discernible to the naked ear. With the delayed feed being monitored and edited by the Fox Sports Northwest production team, the home-viewing audience hears virtually none of it. After the game, Snapper comes to and stumbles into the locker room, where he mistakes Robert Swift for Bill Walton. "What happened, Bill?" he asks the red-headed big man. "We won, Snapper," replies Swift. Snapper then climbs unsteadily atop a folding chair and delivers a speech, gaining passion and coherence before reaching the following crescendo: "Your fans aren't showing up...your owner hates you...and you feel like you're bringin' a knife to a gunfight 'cause Walton's always hurt." Swift hangs his head. "But listen here: You sonsabitches got heart...so when you need an extra something, you dig deep." He pauses to belch, realizes it's vomit, and quickly swallows it, grimacing at the sour taste. "You dig down deep and go out there...and win one for the Snapper!" news@seattleweekly.com Damon Agnos writes about the Sonics for SW's Buzzer Beater blog (seattleweekly.com/buzzerbeater).

 
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