In 1996, at a flea market at a Racetrack in Yonkers, NY, I bought a Shawn Kemp jersey as a 12-year-old. Kemp, who was dominating the NBA at that time, played his last games in the NBA in 2003. So, it was pretty paralyzing for me to be conducting a post-game interview with a sweat-soaked Kemp after he played in a basketball game at the Key Arena. But that’s just what happened last night.
About one hour before we were going to head out to the gym, the 3BA website posted a flier saying that Kemp would be in uniform for the Seattle team that night. Matt and I were stoked by this development and quickly gathered our things and headed to our SUV. It was the exact moment in which the trip became very interesting.
Kemp has been making appearances on the court all summer working towards a comeback. He also played in the International Basketball League’s All-Star Game in June. On August 18th, 2008, Kemp signed to play in Italy with Premiata Montegranaro and cashed in on the all the NBA names defecting to Europe. Sheridan and I first met Kemp, where he was serving as the Seattle Team’s Assistant Coach, in Portland when the 3BA Tour kicked off.
At the gym, the usual pre-game routine got underway. Players shot around, dancers danced around and ushers took tickets. The one thing that was missing was Kemp. He played the illusionist and certainly sold the “is he really going to show up?” effect to perfection. As the lights dimmed, Kemp was the last player announced, emerging from the same dark tunnel he’d run out of as a Supersonic.
Kemp came out to a riot of applause. Even wearing the #41 as opposed the number (40) he wore when he played for the departing Seattle NBA franchise, the fans are no less familiar or no less in love with the “Reign Man.” It was the best way the city of Seattle may ever be able to honor Kemp’s memory now that the team he played for has left for a much smaller market 2,000 miles away.
“The Reign Man” played hard and tough throughout the entire game. At first, Kemp wasn’t in the starting line-up but switched off a split second before the jump-ball went up. Besides playing, he coached his teammates and cheered them on from the bench, often seeming really intense. While he was in good shape, his full-court wind could use some work. Kemp finished the game with 25 points and 16 rebounds in 24 minutes.
Some long-time Supersonic fans showed face to see their long since left hero, Kemp. Lorin “Big Lo” Sandretzky, who was noted as Seattle’s biggest sports fan on the jumbotron, was nearly moved to tears as we spoke to him about his departed and beloved Sonics outside the entrance. Sheryl Swoopes and Slick Watts, two Seattle basketball heroes in their own right, were on hand, and so were the ushers and security guards who helped make their teams run over the years. It was a nice gathering of friends at the end of the road – eerily similar to the last scene of the movie Titanic.
It was not only a special night for the 3BA, who’s Seattle team came away with a one-point victory (141-140) in the closing quarter, but for the Sonics fans in attendance. It was a reunion of sorts, one in which Kemp showed the Sonics fans that supported him through his best and worst days. Just by running out of that tunnel, Kemp showed the Seattle fans that they were not forgotten or abandoned – at least not by him.