Root for the Miami HeatJun 19, 2012 By Walter Cook
Although I was an enthusiastic fan of the NBA in my youth, I haven't paid attention to the league in awhile. As I grew older, I tired of the egos involved and the value our society places on sports at the expense of more important matters.
I mean, seriously, it's not like these guys are curing cancer or anything like that. They simply throw a ball in a hoop. Entertaining and graceful? Yes. Important? No.
But recent discussions I've had with my friend Shawn, a Californian originally from Seattle, have given me a reason to watch the ongoing NBA championship series between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder.
I am now aware of a storyline involving cold-hearted businessmen, taxpayer subsidies, and the global economy, which I find intriguing.
As a result, I find myself rooting for Lebron "The Decision" James and his Miami cohorts. Because of his ego, which is proportional to his 6-foot-8-inch frame, James is the most hated player in the NBA, if not all of sports.
But his delusions of grandeur pale in comparison to the sins committed by the owners of the Thunder. Shawn refers to the Thunder as the "Zombie Sonics" and sees them as a painful reminder of the Seattle Supersonics NBA franchise that had built a 41-year legacy before being uprooted by a greedy, redneck robber baron and sent to Oklahoma.
As a teenager in the 1990s, I regularly watched Supersonics legends Shawn Kemp and Gary "The Glove" Peyton usher the NBA into the next era. Kemp, a behemoth dunking machine, in particular, set the stage for guys like James. Also like James, Kemp, realizing his freakish abilities and, perhaps, his lack of enthusiasm for education, entered into the NBA straight out of high school and became a force in the game. So when the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008, I was floored. It would be like the Lakers leaving Los Angeles, the city Inow call home. It seemed unimaginable.
But I shrugged off the move at the time, having long abandoned the NBA for other interests and not knowing the bloody story behind the Sonics' move.
The Sonics-Thunder story is eerily similar to what goes on in our economy today: Multinational corporations -- once loyal to the interests of the United States but no longer -- threaten to close down domestic factories and move them to China, as well as transfer their money to Caribbean banking havens, if they don't get taxpayer subsidies and lower taxes.
Substitute Seattle for the Unites States and Oklahoma City for China in the above example, and you have the Sonics' tragic story in a nutshell.
Essentially, former Sonics owner Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, tried to extract hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers for a new stadium that would have a mall atmosphere and feature restaurants and other attractions that would allow him to make a larger profit.
Seattle voters, understandably, scoffed, with the most vocal among them saying taxpayer money shouldn't be used to enrich a businessman when a perfectly good arena -- Key Arena -- already stood in a historic part of town. So in 2006, Schultz responded by selling the Sonics to a group of Oklahoma City businessmen led by Clayton Bennett.
Schultz had purchased the Sonics in 2001 for $200 million and sold the team for $350 million to Bennett and his crew five years later.
After half-hearted attempts by the new owners to once again convince Seattle taxpayers to build a new stadium, the owners relocated the team to Oklahoma City in 2008 following a court battle, and the Oklahoma City Thunder was born.
Though the Okie owners claimed they made the move as a last resort, e-mail exchanges later uncovered revealed that their intention all along was to steal the Sonics away from Seattle.
Unlike Seattle's citizenry, Oklahoma City residents passed a tax in 2008 to fund the arena the team's owners wanted. In doing so, they unknowingly served as pawns in a strategy that punishes governments and progressive citizens who don't believe in enriching private businessmen at society's expense.
Children who work in Third World sweatshops for a couple dollars a day fourteen hours a day also don't realize they're taking good-paying jobs away from formerly middle class Americans.
Oklahoma City, although surely blessed with some attributes, is, nonetheless, a city on a flat plain in the middle of the country that few outside of the United States have ever heard of.
In contrast, Seattle has ports, saltwater views, and mountains. It's a place that sets trends that are eventually followed nationally and even globally. Seattle is a worldwide destination.
Yet Seattle residents don't have a hometown NBA team. But at least, unless they're suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, they have Lebron James and the Miami Heat this June.
Go, Heat! Down with the Zombie Sonics!
Editor's note: Former Ranger reporter and Fremont County native Walt Cook is a business writer in Los Angeles.