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.
By Mike Sherman
The Sonics’ lottery luck couldn’t have been better. They are guaranteed to get either Greg Oden or former Texas star Kevin Durant. And with the No. 2 pick instead of No. 1, they will never be second-guessed for who they take. Perfect.
Our columnist Berry Tramel says NBA fans in OKC will remember this day. I think he’s right, but what none of us — not Berry, Lenny Wilkens, not Clay Bennett, not David Stern, Bill Gates or Mick Cornett — know for sure is exactly how it will be remembered.
Is this the day Oklahoma City fell in love with a Longhorn who will make all its NBA dreams come true? Or is this the day that Durant saved the Sonics for Seattle?
Who knows? We really can’t even be sure when we’ll know.
A couple weeks ago I thought there was a slight chance Sonics chairman Clay Bennett and his OKC-based partners could still move the team to the Ford Center in time for the start of the 2007-08 season. Now I say fat chance.
Getting the No. 2 pick and Durant — Portland takes Oden at No. 1; bank on it — almost guarantees that the lobbying effort for a new arena in the Puget Sound goes into overtime.
It’s the first positive news story for that franchise since the Sonics made the playoffs in the 2005-2006 season. It gives Bennett something to talk about other than an arena. Durant will sell some tickets. He’ll generate some excitement and revenue. Why wouldn’t the Sonics stay in Seattle at least one more season and see where all this leads?
By Mike Sherman
Here’s a scenario for the NBA-fixated fans of Oklahoma to stew over Tuesday as they count down the hours before the NBA Draft lottery (7:30 p.m., ESPN).
The Sonics’ future home could hinge on ping-pong balls. At least that’s the theory advanced in this column by the Seattle Times’ Jerry Brewer.
What if he’s right? What if getting one of the top two picks is the only thing that could keep the Sonics from moving, possibly to Oklahoma City (though as I write this a colleague emails me a report that Sonics owner Clay Bennett will consider Kansas City).
The theory that Greg Oden or Kevin Durant could save the Sonics for Seattle goes like this:
The Sonics, who have an 18 percent chance of getting one of the top two picks, get lucky but not outrageously lucky (the last two teams to draft No. 1 — Toronto and Milwaukee — had only an 18 percent and 13 percent chances of finishing in the top 2). They draft Oden or Durant, who immediately transform the franchise and the voting public, which rises up and passes a referendum to spend $200 million or so on a new arena in Renton.
Basketball in Greater Seattle is saved and Oklahoma City turns to who? The Memphis Grizzlies? The Cavalry of the CBA?
Some of that sounds like the stuff of fairy tales, sure. But Seattle sports fans remember the time Ken Griffey’s slide — and the Angels’ dive — saved the Mariners.
In the summer of 1995, Griffey was injured — isn’t he always? — and the Mariners were 13 games out of first place. They appeared to be headed out of town. Not that anyone cared. Attendance was dismal at the Kingdome, a mausoleum the team was desperate to abandon, even if it meant bolting Seattle.
Then the Angels choked, the Mariners rallied and Griffey slid home with the winning run in a one-game playoff against the Angels to win the AL West title. The Mariners went to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, even beat the Yankees in the first round. The fans who jumped on the bandwagon rally support for a new stadium. Safeco Field is built, and the Mariners remain in Seattle.
Which is probably the biggest reason the Sonics won’t. The good folks of Washington appear to be weary of paying for stadiums for millionare athletes and billionaire owners. But let’s not wake Jerry Brewer from his sweet dream just yet.
If it’s really possible that getting Oden or Durant could trigger a chain reaction that Saves Their Sonics and convinces Citizens for More Important Things there really aren’t more important things, what are the NBA-starved folks in the OKC to think about as they ponder pingpong balls?
Should they hope the Sonics come out fourth or fifth in the NBA Draft Lottery and a month later draft Florida center Joakim Noah and his lame hairdo, jump shot and dance moves, thereby scaring off the last remaining Sonics fans and sealing their farewell to the great Northwest?
Only if you believe if fairy tales.
Bet I know which way Oklahoma City’s most leveraged NBA fans are rooting.