Seattle is great. Great scenery, great mix of local spirit and international influences, great list of worldwide corporations, great restaurants, great sporting scene. You want the best college-football experience in the Pac-10, you go to Husky Stadium, watch the boats ferry fans across Union Bay and dock alongside the facility, and feel the atmosphere of the chilled Saturday afternoon. (The best of basketball: Mac Court in Eugene.)
That doesn't have to mean it deserves sympathy for losing the Sonics.
In the last 10 years, the oldest professional team in town, the only team to win a title in a major sport, has averaged 15,595 fans and broken the top 20 in attendance twice. It finished in the top half of the league once, 1998-99. There have been playoff teams, different ownership groups, different coaches, a division title, and through it all little support.
But now there's an outcry the team may leave?
From a Sunday column by John Sleeper in the Herald of Everett, Wash, noting the chance to chap commissioner David Stern and current Sonics owner Clay Bennett in advance of the major trial that opened a few hours ago:
Bottom line is that Bennett and Stern want the world to believe that Seattle basketball fans don't care about a franchise it supported for the past 41 years.
In an attempt to prove them wrong, Save Our Sonics has scheduled a rally at 4:30 p.m. Monday in front of the federal court building, on Seventh and Stewart, the site of the trial.
Gary Payton will speak. Xavier McDaniel said he will attend. The rally needs to number in the thousands to make an impact on public opinion, to get the sports-news talking heads to notice and to tweak the noses of both the league and Sonics ownership.
The NBA wants to paint Seattle as a city that doesn't care about the Sonics in order to grease the skids for a move to the Midwest.
The rally may not prevent an eventual move, but if it creates a burr in Bennett's saddle and a thought in Stern's mulish brain that the city will make a franchise thrive with the right lease, it will have been more than worth it.
This just in. The NBA doesn't have to paint Seattle as a city that doesn't care about the Sonics.
In 2007-08, they finished 28th among 30 teams in attendance (averaging 13,355).
In 2006-07: 25th (15,955).
In 2005-06: 24th (16,199).
In 2004-05: 21st (16,475) while going 52-30 and winning the Northwest Division.
In 2003-04: 23rd among 29 teams, before the addition of the Charlotte Bobcats (15,255).
In 2002-03: 20th (15,541).
In 2001-02: 23rd (15,452).
In 2000-01: 17th (15,630).
In 1999-2000: 22nd (15,018).
In 1998-99: 14th (17,072).
Now they all have the trial that will largely determine the immediate future of the NBA in Seattle. There will be extensive coverage in the three major newspapers in the Puget Sound region -- the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Tacoma News Tribune -- but this is the bottom-line significance for fans and teams everywhere else: if the Sonics win, they will clear one of the last major hurdles in the desired move to Oklahoma; if the city wins, it can hold the SuperSonics to the final two seasons of the arena lease or tighten the screws as the sweating Sonics attempt to negotiate a buyout from a position of weakness.
The losing side will likely appeal. The team and the league want this resolved as soon as possible, hoping to get on with plans for 2008-09 in one location or another (a schedule has to be made, tickets have to be sold, advertising has to be sold, broadcast outlets for radio and TV have to be arranged, etc.). The case, to be decided by a judge and not a jury, is scheduled to last six days.