I know how they feel.
I can remember living and dying with every shot, living when Alonzo Mourning hit the jumper from the elbow to beat the Celtics in the playoffs, and dying with every Kendall Gill trade rumor.
The Charlotte Hornets were my team, especially after Larry Bird hung ’em up on the same day I had my wisdom teeth out. (Moment of digression: I saw Larry Legend play the Hornets twice, and one time he was on the left wing, got a pass from the point and redirected the ball in the air — he never caught the ball, just kind of got his hands on it and literally redirected its flight — to a wide open — a wide open — Kevin Gamble on the baseline. Gamble, of course, clanged the shot off the rim, robbing Bird of a crazy-cool assist in front of me. I have hated Kevin Gamble ever since.)
Anyway, I loved the Hornets. Loooooooooooved them.
And then George Shinn started messing with dance team members and stopped paying players better than Larry Johnson what they were worth. And then Shinn decided to sell a minority interest in the team to some guy named Ray Wooldridge, who immediately claimed the Charlotte Coliseum was outdated, that it didn’t have enough luxury boxes, and started making trips on the corporate jet to Roanoke, Norfolk, Louisville and New Orleans.
And while all this courting was going on, Mecklenburg County voted down a referendum 2-to-1 for a new arena, and Shinnridge took off for Nawlins, leaving behind the city that led the league in attendance for eight straight years.
And through it all, NBA Commissioner David Stern sat around and did nothing. Just let it happen, and the NBA has never been the same for me.
Well, it’s happening again in Seattle, only to a franchise this time with four decades of history and an NBA championship banner in its rafters. And again Stern and Co. are doing nothing to stop it. And again an NBA team, for the fourth time in less than 10 years, will relocate to another city, most likely Oklahoma City.
And why does this happen?
When the Hornets were in the process of leaving, the other NBA owners said Shinnridge had to come up with a $200 million relocation fee. So for an ownership group that wouldn’t put up money for a new arena, it could drop $200 mil just for the right to leave town.
On top of that, when Bob Johnson pursued bringing a franchise back to town, he had to put up a $300 million ownership fee. On top of that, Charlotte city officials forgot all about the referendum and came up with some new taxes to fund a new arena.
So the NBA’s coffers were greased for a cool half a billion, and the other league owners gave each other the nod-nod, wink-wink, knowing that if they ever needed to skip out in search of the shiniest new building on the block, that they’d be allowed to do the same thing.
So Sonics fans are going to go the way of former passionate Hornets fans like me. And then they’ll feel the same way about the seven New Jersey fans when the Nets run to Brooklyn in a couple of years.
But don’t fret. Stern is already thinking about expanding the NBA into Europe. So for enough coin, he and the owners might be willing to listen.