A Tale of Two Cities

by February 13, 2013

by Duane Watson / @sweetswatson

In October of 2009, Jason Reid directed Sonicsgate, an investigative documentary that examined the ill-fated circumstances behind the Seattle SuperSonics’ departure to Oklahoma City after 41 years. Three years later, in January of 2012, Tobin Halsey directed Small Market, Big Heart, a film that examined the plight of the Sacramento Kings and the city’s fight to keep them and their 26-year history, despite the intentions of money-grubbing ownership. Both are great movies worthy of your time, critically looking at the issues and affairs in each city.

This is where the stories intersect. Less than a month ago, Seattle investor Chris Hansen entered into a binding agreement with said money-grubbing owners, the Maloofs, to purchase the Kings for $525 million. The deal takes him one step closer to his goal of moving the team to the Northwest, restoring the SuperSonics name and ultimately bringing them home. While NBA owners have to approve the sale, the city of Sacramento isn’t about to let its team go without a fight.

SLAMonline spoke with Reid and Halsey about their films and their feelings of a possible move of the Kings, or return of the Sonics, depending on whom you ask.

SLAM: It’s not final, but how do you feel about the Sacramento Kings potentially moving to Seattle?

Jason Reid: People are excited about the possibility of the Sonics coming back, but I think people are cautiously optimistic. They’ve been on a pretty big roller coaster for six and a half years, since (Howard) Shultz sold the team to Clay Bennett. So we’re just waiting to see what happens. Fact of the matter is, Chris Hansen has an arena deal in place in Seattle. He’s purchased the majority of the team from the Maloofs in a binding agreement, and all signs point towards it being extremely hard for Sacramento to really do anything to save the Kings, and keep them in Sacramento.

Tobin Halsey: I wouldn’t feel good about it. I think it definitely would be a tough pill to swallow, especially considering everything that Sacramento has gone through. Obviously Seattle has gone through some large stuff too, but their city failed them and ours did not. There’s quite a bit of irony there, that of all the things and for Sacramento to do everything in their power, they showed the fan support, the business community has been there and everything else and the city have an arena plan ready. Everything there and essentially a handshake deal, and then to turn around less than a year later, and sell to a Seattle interest group is pretty tough to take if it happens like that. I don’t think it will though, I really don’t, especially with all the stuff happening right now.

SLAM: It’s been reported that David Stern is determined to get an NBA franchise back in Seattle before he steps down. Do you think that is motivated out of guilt?

Reid: I think if you probably asked David Stern, he’d say one of the biggest black marks on his record was allowing the SuperSonics to leave Seattle. He has a shot at redemption in a lot of ways, by restoring the history of the Seattle SuperSoncics before he leaves, getting the black eye off his face. I think that’s part of the reason why he put Clay Bennett in charge of the relocation committee. I think he has experience in relocation clearly, he moved the Sonics to Oklahoma City. But at the same time, if Clay Bennett moves the team to Seattle, we hope Seattle fans can forgive the both of them, seems like it could be a two-for-one.

SLAM: Did the Sonicsgate movement inspire Small Market, Big Heart?

Halsey: I had not even heard of Sonicsgate. We started doing the interview process and one of our producers, James Ham, said, “Have you seen Sonicsgate?” The stories were so different anyway, I got that from about 10 minutes in watching it, then I stopped watching it as I didn’t want it to influence how we were going to put this together. We had actually contacted them and asked about their process, ’cause none of us had done anything like this. So we asked them a couple of things, not on story, but some of the other things as far as production.

Our motivation was different than Sonicsgate. Theirs was to show people how wronged they were; we wanted to show Sacramento and anyone else that was willing to watch it [that] this was something worth fighting for. At the time we didn’t know whether the city would come through, or the council would have votes, or whether they could put an arena deal together. So win or lose, whatever happens, whether we get it done or not, everybody should know what we’re winning and what we’re losing and why we’re fighting.

SLAM: When you made your film, did you anticipate that this is how it would unfold?

Reid: We always believed that, [as long as] we were loud and we weren’t silent about what happened here, how it went down and also loud about the fact we want the NBA product back in our market. We want to go to games and spend money on jerseys and stuff, and I think that we felt like the perception nationally was, Sonics fans didn’t support the team and that’s why they left and that couldn’t be further from the truth. So what we’ve done with the film and the subsequent movement to bring the Sonics back, has been to prove to the nation that Seattle is a basketball city. We were wronged the way the team was moved out of town and I think that by us being loud with the film and loud showing up at games in green and gold and sitting courtside behind the Thunder bench. Some of the antics we’ve done have helped to facilitate bringing the NBA back to our market. Without kind of speaking out, I think that the issue could have faded away and history could have been written a different way.

Halsey: Honestly, this story has been so wild and crazy on the Sacramento side, there’s nothing that would surprise me with how things have gone. If you wrote this thing as fiction, this whole story, no one would believe it. The truth is stranger than fiction. It’s been a wild and crazy process and it’s going to get wilder.

SLAM: Are there plans to do an updated version of Small Market, Big Heart?

Halsey: Yes, we haven’t got any kind of interviews set up like we did before. We just shot events, film press conferences and things going on, but we haven’t done a lot of sit down interviews as yet, as so much is happening right now. But we are committed to finishing out, however it finishes out, whether it’s for us a happy ending or a sad ending, I guess for Seattle that would be a happy ending.

SLAM: What did you think of the Sonicsgate producers’ open letter to Sacramento that was on Grantland?

Halsey: It was really interesting, ’cause we talked to them a couple of times and they seemed like pretty decent dudes, but it came off pretty condescending. It was basically like, “Sorry we’re buying the team, we’ll take care of them and remember you the best we can.” I feel like, Hey, we’re going to be fighting this until the moving trucks pull up, and that’s the way they were. So it was a little surprising to get that kind of letter written to us from Seattle. We’re not giving up. Again, it’s one of those things that shouldn’t be a competition—I think it’s an easy fix. I know the League isn’t anxious to expand, but I think this is one of those win-win-win situations; it’s a win for the NBA, a win for Seattle and a win for Sacramento.

SLAM: How do you feel about the fans in Sacramento?

Reid: I think that everybody in Seattle would prefer an expansion team to taking the Sacramento Kings, but the reality is David Stern and the NBA have made it more than clear that expansion is not on the table, at least right now. We’ve known that this is how it would have to play out the whole time, with us taking a team and that’s why we made Sonicsgate. To alert other cities that no team is truly safe in this modern sports era, that’s been kind of our whole thing. We think the Kings fans should fight to the very end and do everything they can to keep the team there, but we know from experience that once these transactions are done and once the momentum is going one way, it’s extremely difficult to turn it around. I think all of our hearts up here in Seattle go out to the Sacramento Kings fans and wish them the best, even though our end motives are in competition to each other. We’re certainly here for Sacramento fans, to give them advice on the blueprint that we lived with losing a team and getting a team back. It’s a tough situation. It’s not really fans versus fans and we’re pretty much helpless.

Sonicsgate trailer | Sonicsgate full movie | Small Market trailer | Small Market full movie