Last Friday, a Major League Baseball team did an unprecedented thing. They celebrated another sports franchise. Even odder, in this case, it was a former franchise.
The Seattle Mariners didn’t make any new friends in David Stern’s office by providing the city it’s first chance to collect 16 legends from a team that no longer exists, and get them together for a tribute. And odd as it may seem, the Mariners may have been the most logical host for this type of party.
The Mariners were just entering Major League Baseball while the Sonics were having their first glory days in the late 1970’s. And then the two teams shared the job of electrifying the sports community in the mid 1990’s.
So for 30 brief minutes, a baseball stadium full of Green and Gold celebrated what we miss about the Sonics. We miss the people, the characters. We miss guys with nicknames like The Glove, The Reign Man, Slick, X-Man, Sleepy Sam, the Hawk, and Downtown. Guys who were recognizable by first name only – Nate, Lenny, Detlef, Dale, Bernie, Vincent and Desmond. We miss Michael Cage’s giant afro, Jack Sikma’s freakishly large frame, and George Karl’s Space Needle tie.
I appreciate what Jack Zurencik and Pete Carroll are doing by flipping over the entire rosters of the M’s and Hawks. But a team achieves cult status and hero worship when there’s a core group of players that you root for. You wanted Gary to get a ring. You knew that Hersey Hawkins could score 6 more points a night if he played somewhere else, but you loved he was bombing three’s for us. There was something about George and Nate that made you think you could ask them to dinner and they’d say yes.
The Schultz led Sonics never quite got that. And tellingly, no one from the last 5 years of the franchise were represented as a Sonics legend. It’s true, we didn’t adore the 2003-2008 versions of the Sonics that got rid of Gary. Ray Allen is the best 3 point shooter of all time, but he wasn’t Det. Nene, Robert Swift, Jermoe James, insert big stiff here….. none of them were Cage, Brickowski, Sikma, Lister or Perkins. When they left for OKC, we mourned the loss of the guys who didn’t actually play anymore.
I still don’t think we care all that much about bringing back a generic NBA Sonics club that looks like any other NBA club. But that doesn’t make us miss “Our Sonics” any less. Ask any sports fan in Seattle, and they can tell you where they watched Game 5 vs Denver, Game 7 vs Houston, Game 7 vs Phoenix and Game 7 vs Utah. You don’t even have to say the year. We all just know what games you’re referring to. There was a connection to those guys – not to the franchise, but to the guys – that made you happy when they won, hurt when you lost, and want to fight anyone from Phoenix.
So good for the Mariners for bringing back those guys. I hope their front office took note. It’s not about rally fires or a moose. Bring in players who are also great characters, let us connect with them over a long period, and we’ll come back to Safeco.