by Dave Zirin / @EdgeofSports
As I write this, the Seahawks are heading to the Super Bowl, with brash cornerback Richard Sherman’s name on everyone’s lips. As I write this, people are dancing in Seattle’s streets, in full fever over being at the center of the sports universe. As I write this, Kevin Durant is living the life of having the inside-track on the 2014 NBA MVP award, splashing shots from every angle and dropping threes like he is throwing oranges in a garbage dumpster. He is doing it for a team without their second best player in fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook. He is also doing it for a team with a name that sounds like it was ripped from a roller derby squad and in a city that by any conceivable metric should not be home to an NBA team.
Yes, all love to Oklahoma City for making it work and supporting the Thunder. But I’d love to see what the crowds look like once Durant has moved on to another team or retirement. This is a team that has become must-see television though the individual greatness of one 6-9 three-point god, who plays like an elastic Dirk Nowitzki with a mean streak. The power of Durant in 2014 forces me to wonder what the sports world would be like right now if Clay Bennett had never ripped the Sonics out of Seattle and dropped them in the heart of his wife’s family’s fortune in Oklahoma City. Imagine the Seahawks in the Super Bowl while Durant is making three-pointers look as easy as a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. I wish the Sonics were around right now so much that I’m walking around with a Slick Watts headband on in protest that the world is not how I want it to be.
Much has been written about the fact that Durant, a basketball ascetic, likes Oklahoma City because there are “no distractions” and he can just concentrate on playing ball. Another way to put this is that he likes Oklahoma City because it limits the possibilities for a 25-year-old with cash in hand to get into any in-season mischief. But the man and the city are a mismatch. Seattle fits KD like hand in glove. They would have been inseparable like Baltimore and Cal Ripken Jr. Durant himself said in 2010 after the move was made, “I miss Seattle a lot. It was my first city that I lived in on my own. It was a great city to play for. It was unfortunate for the fans what happened, but it’s time to move on. I’m sure they’ve moved on. But in the back of my mind, I still have a thing for Seattle and always am going to remember what they’ve done for me.”
Durant loved Seattle because, frankly, it’s lovable, with a hoop culture that is second to none. It is also a city, however, that is progressive enough that it refused to accede to the threats of Clay Bennett and David Stern. They would not hand over $300 million in tax money to finance a new arena. Schools were being closed because of underfunding, homelessness was on the rise, and for too many people in Sea-town, giving a billionaire a few hundred million more was an obscenity.
I spoke with Jesse Hagopian, a teacher in Seattle who led a nationally recognized boycott of the state’s standardized testing regime. He is currently running to be the youngest teacher’s union president in a major American city. Jesse said to me, “I grew up with Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp and we miss the Sonics every day. The thought taking my own little kids to see the Durantula gives me chills just to think about it. But in Seattle we had just paid for a new baseball stadium and just paid for a new football stadium. We were sick and tired of being held up when there were so many needs across the city. I personally wish the state had just taken over the team like the Packers. Maybe next time….”
In 2014, the sports world should have belonged to Seattle and it does not. Now as the NBA Commissioner begins his slow stroll toward retirement and the tributes begin, we should never forget that the absence of Durant in a Sonics uniform will always be the most shameful part of the Stern legacy.