Movie Review: Sonicsgate

by Matt Lawyue

Last year I attended the 2008 NBA draft. Two things stand out from that day–Gallinari getting heckled by Knicks fans and my conversation with some guy wearing a yellow “Save Our Sonics” t-shirt. I told him I didn’t understand what was going on in Seattle, but I did empathize with him. How would I like it if the Knicks were shipped to somewhere in North Dakota? How would any sports fan feel if their team was uprooted and planted somewhere else?

Whether people want to admit it or not, sports are “not just sports.” It’s a culture, a way of life that connects complete strangers on an emotional level like very few things can. It’s a representation of your city, wrapped in tradition.

Sonicsgate, which you can watch for free on their web site,, the chronicling of the life and death of the Seattle Supersonics franchise, provides a thorough dissection of what really went down in the Emerald City and why the Sonics are now in Oklahoma City.


The film’s basic plot runs like this:

The inception of the franchise – the ’90s golden era – downfall – tragedy – massacre – cancer – deathbed – death – burial – interminable mourning.

Sprinkled in are interviews with Gary “The Glove” Payton, George Karl, Seattle media, Seattle basketball players and a few other notables.

The film does a terrific job with the chronology. You know what happens, why it happened and find insight from the people who covered it. They need about two hours to fit it all in, which is a lengthy film, but to truly understand all of the details you need to watch every minute. By the end, you just want to hug a Sonics fan. They’re the real people who were Knickled & Dimed.

If I ever ran into the Sonics fan I met at the Draft, based solely on what I’ve learned from this movie, I’d scream with him.

— Why did Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, stick his hands into the Sonics and try to run it like a coffee company?

— Why is Greg Nickels, ex-Seattle mayor, such a coward? Here’s where I get real pissed off. Nickels comes off characterless and so low-class. He’s a sell-out and a cheat.

— Why didn’t David Stern do more to keep the team in Seattle?

— Why is Clay Bennett, one of the Oklahoma City businessman who relocated the Sonics, such a liar?

(Give the movie a watch and deduce your own opinions on these characters. I’m sure they won’t be too far off from mine.)

There are more than enough villains disguised as male, businessmen who feign their passion for the Supersonics. By the end, you conclude who should be blamed and held accountable.

The real reason why this movie succeeds is because it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.

From their press release:

By exposing the truth behind the Sonics departure, the film’s producers hope to preserve 41 years of Sonics history in Seattle while generating momentum for Seattle to get a new NBA team.  They opted to release the film for free online rather than pursue the usual for-profit channels because they feel strongly about getting the message out to as many people as possible.

“This weekend’s sold out screenings in Seattle were amazing,” director Jason Reid said.  “Seattle fans deserve a chance to grieve our loss while celebrating 41 years of Sonics history, and we hope this film can provide a small amount of redemption for the injustice they have endured.

The film’s director and producer, Jason Reid, could have easily just interviewed fans bitching and moaning about their loss. With the exception of Sherman Alexie, renowned author, filmmaker and Seattle native, who provides all of the unnecessary Seattle pageantry and whining, and a scene where the cameraman chases after Clay Bennett, hurling junior insults to the point where you become embarrassed for him, they stayed away from self-pity.

Reid and the film’s media director and otSonicsgate posterher producer, Adam Brown, stick to their purpose–a genuine reflection of professional basketball in Seattle. They don’t force you to grieve with them, you do it naturally. It’s only a consequence of all the lying that goes on in the movie.

However, fatigue does set in, not at the fault of the filmmakers. You get tired of the same suits, the same rhetoric, the same bullshit. Like most things in life, it’s all about money and saying the right things. It’s what some of the men I mention above (Shultz, Nickels, Bennett), do best. They have enough money to exert power and have perfected the art of deceit. (I hold my tongue on Stern because I’m a big fan of his global expansion of the NBA brand.)

You walk away from this believing these men aren’t even basketball fans. What they see is an investment opportunity. An investment that soured, so they bailed. They ignored the integrity and sanctity of the sport by entering this process with the completely wrong mindset. Yes, sports are an underlying business. But to destroy the business and not even accept the blame? It’s cowardly.

This is a must-watch film for any basketball fan. You walk away grieving with Seattle fans, furious with management and appreciative you still have a team to call your own.

Knickled & Dimed List

• People who don’t rep their city