By Mike Sherman
Watching the NBA Draft and following all the Sonics’ first-round picks and moves reminded me of when I was 11 years old, growing up in Maryland, and watching San Diego Padres baseball games being carried on a Washington, D.C. television station.
You may be wondering what on earth would inspire a D.C. station to carry Padres games? Crazy as it sounds now, late in the summer of 1973 the San Diego Padres were practically packing for a move to Washington, a city whose lukewarm support of major league baseball cost it not one but two big-league teams.
It wasn’t some strange exercise in civic wishful thinking that led that D.C. station to carry the games. Topps baseball card company was so certain that the Padres were moving, its 1974 set included these cards.
Somewhere in the scores of boxes in my closet are a bunch of these things. Someone on ebay is offering you a chance to act now and own one like them.
Unfortunately for Topps, or perhaps fortunately for collectors of rare baseball cards, the ultimate decision on the Padres’ destination was made after Topps’ printing deadline. McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc swooped in to buy the team and keep it in San Diego.
I guess you could say Topps and that Washington, D.C. television station jumped the gun. You might even think The Oklahoman and NewsOK are jumping the gun by providing so much news and information on the Sonics. I’ve been getting that question lately from some readers, and even a few people inside our building.
Our reasons for doing it have nothing to do with the family we work for and everything to do with the fans we write for.
The family we work for — the family that owns the Oklahoma Publishing Company, The Oklahoman and NewsOK — is the Gaylord family. One of the three siblings who own the company is married to Clay Bennett, chairman and head of the Oklahoma City-based ownership group that bought the Seattle SuperSonics last summer. Last month Bennett has expressed pessimism about getting a new arena in Seattle and said he would begin relocation discussions. Oklahoma City and Kansas City are the most likely destinations if the team leaves.
The only thing the Gaylord family asks of us in sports is that we provide the best coverage available anywhere of the topics that interest the Oklahoma sports fan — whether they live in the state’s borders or beyond.
Two years ago the NBA ranked way down on the list. The Oklahoman ran less than two columns a day of NBA news and statistics during the season. Then the Hornets came six weeks before the 2005-06 season and Oklahomans bought 12,000 season tickets before the first exhibition game, making OKC the talk of the league.
Could the Sonics and Kevin Durant someday be the talk of Oklahoma City? Possibly, though it’s hard to imagine anything in this state eclipsing interest in OU football.
But I do know that many of our readers are newly baptized NBA fans who long for a team of their own. Some are long-time followers of the Association. Sure, some wonder whether the space devoted to Sonics stories is taking away from that which could be devoted to OU, OSU, high school or state college coverage. But the change in our coverage of those topics ranges from zero to negligible.
It’s possible that the Ray Kroc of Seattle — now there’s an association the folks of the great Northwest probably won’t care for — will swoop in, toss in about $250 million for arena, and keep the team in the Seattle area. An American Indian tribe is poised to submit a proposal for a new arena, according to this report.
Our columnist, Berry Tramel, has reminded our readers before that hopeful folks in Oklahoma like to talk about the “Oklahoma City businessmen” who own the team, but the emphasis should be on the last word in that phrase and not the first two.
If these guys get a new arena in Seattle, they’re staying.
And if that happens, the Sports home page of NewsOK and Friday’s cover of the Sports section could look an awful lot like those 1974 Topps baseball cards.
In the meantime we’ll keep doing what the D.C. television station did in 1973, providing sports fans coverage of what for them is a tantalizing topic.