As LeBron James Returns to Cleveland, a Sonic Fan Can't Help but Root for the Thunder

When LeBron James steps into Quicken Loans Arena for the first time in a visitor's uniform tonight, anything short of a public stoning by Cavaliers fans will be considered an act of supreme restraint. Which got me thinking: What if the Oklahoma City Thunder returned to KeyArena for a preseason game against the Portland Trailblazers. Would fans be out for blood, or would some actually root for the Zombie Sonics?

Count me in the latter camp, grudgingly. Granted, if I saw Clay Bennett walking in public sans bodyguards, I'd deck him, consequences be damned; but Clay Bennett never played for the Sonics. Kevin Durant and Jeff Green did, and Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka were Sonic draftees shortly before the team's hijacking became official. These four players form the core of a brilliant young team that's become a very trendy darkhorse pick to make it to the conference finals, and maybe even the NBA Finals if they can topple the Lakers in the playoffs, like they almost did last Spring.

When Durant and Green were rookies, the Sonics posted a terrible won-loss record. Prior to that, they traded franchise cornerstone Ray Allen to Boston (for Green) and let Rashard Lewis waltz to Orlando as a free agent. Understandably, there were bitter cries of sabotage at the time, with fans and analysts claiming owner Clay Bennett and general manager Sam Presti conspired to blow up the Sonics in a Major League-esque plot to blanket the city in hoop apathy. But I consistently maintained a contrarian opinion, feeling strongly that Presti was tearing down a shoddy rambler to erect what would eventually become a handsome lakefront mansion. That theory's proven to be true, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

But does that mean Seattleites should cheer the Thunder from afar? Absolutely not--no amount of psychological Neosporin will ever heal that wound. However, the minority who do should be unconditionally forgiven. For one, expecting Sonic fans to adopt a bitter rival (Portland) as their quasi-hometown team simply because they're the closest remaining NBA franchise to Seattle was a pretty ridiculous notion to begin with, even given Blazer Coach Nate McMillan and star Brandon Roy's strong local ties. More to the point, the Sonic legacy, like it or not, lives on in Oklahoma City, in the form of Durant, Green and Nick Collison, who loved Seattle so much that he keeps an off-season home here. Once that trio's knees are too creaky to lace 'em up at the highest level, the bond will be broken. But until then, for some of us, it's hard to abandon the ones you loved.

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