Thursday, May 01, 2008

My Team

With my beloved Seattle SuperSonics all set to move to Oklahoma, it is now time to address the questions most of you have been throwing my way for the past year or so:

Who is your team going to be now? Who are you going to root for now? What are you going to do with your life once the Sonics are gone? And other variations, but you get the point. Here is a list of potential destinations to redirect my passionate fanatical hood, followed by a lengthy explanation of how and why (not).

Basketball – I thought I could just be a fan of basketball. After all, the reason why we enjoy and watch basketball games is that we are basketball players. I always say those of us who play basketball understand the game far more than those who do not. As for being a fan of just basketball and not a specific team, it is more fun without the frustration and fear that you get throughout the grueling season and in close games worrying about your team. I am thoroughly enjoying these super competitive playoffs because I do not have a horse in the race, and can just appreciate all the games and the whole picture instead of worrying and stressing about one team. But then I talk to friends. Friends who are Lakers fans, Rockets fans, Spurs fans, Suns fans, Hornets fans, Celtics fans, Magic fans, and Lebron fans. And I see how much fun they are having, how the thrill of the wonderful playoff games and hope of winning and making a playoff run fuel their passionate nights. There is no feeling like when your team wins. Nothing like it. Only sports can give you this. Only your team winning can give you this. Only true sports fans understand what this is like. So watching these playoffs, I realize that it is not good enough just to be a fan of basketball. I need to be a part of something. I need the passionate feelings back. I need a team.

Portland Trail Blazers – They are owned by Seattle’s own Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft and owner of my beloved Seattle Seahawks. With the Sonics gone, they are the closest team to Seattle. Their head coach is Mr. Sonic, Nate McMillan. Geographically, they are the closest team to the city of Seattle and will no doubt become the passion of the Pacific Northwest once the Sonics are gone. Their best player, Brandon Roy, is from Seattle and is a product of the University of Washington, located right in the heart of downtown Seattle. Throw in the fact that they have a bright future with an improving LaMarcus Aldridge and charismatic Greg Oden, and the Blazers seem like a natural fit to be my new team. But we Sonic fans were trained to despise our I-5 rivals down the road, and I really do not feel any connection to the city of Portland.

Orlando Magic – I loved the Orlando Magic as a kid. I have been to the city three times, most recently going for a Magic home game. I have Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal posters in my room and think Chris Rock as Lil’ Penny is the funniest character no one remembers. I followed that team throughout the 90s, with the likes of Horace Grant, Darrell Armstrong, Scott Skiles, Bo Outlaw, and Nick Anderson. I remember their memorable run to the 1995 Finals, and the league spent the next decade adjusting to the dominant Shaq. I thought they finally rid of the Curse of the Shaquino by signing Steve Francis, then Tracy McGrady, and then Grant Hill, but they all came and went without much success. Finally, Dwight Howard, the biggest man of God the NBA has ever seen, has made the franchise relevant again. I wish his strong Christian faith would be more publicized. On top of that, former Sonic Rashard Lewis is their highest paid player. The Magic will continue to be my second favorite team.

Los Angeles Clippers – I have been to more Clippers games than any other team. It was practically a short lived tradition with me and my dad to go to every Clippers Sonics game when they were good. I was there at the final game at the Los Angeles Sports Arena against, of course, the Sonics. I remember Lamar Odom, Danny Manning, Bill Fitch, and Pooh Richardson. I think Donald Sterling’s stingy ownership has doomed the franchise up until recent years. I hopped on the Clipper Nation bandwagon for their 2006 playoff run. The Clippers would be the easiest team to adopt, given their close proximity and that I can watch all the games on television at no additional cost. But…they are the Clippers. I am tired of losing, I want to win.

San Antonio Spurs – I love Tony Parker. Total man crush. I manage to acquire him every year in my fantasy leagues and he works wonders. The guy is coming off the best year of any man’s life, leading the Spurs to the championship and winning the Finals MVP. But most importantly, he married the lovely Eva Longoria. His first date with her was breakfast. You can fill in the blanks and figure out how exactly that happened. When asked about his hard hit from Shaq, he responded, “it’s okay, my wife will take care of me.” But Tony seems genuinely nice and humble, as if he truly deserves it all. Everyone loves Manu Ginobili and his awkward game, he is a given favorite. I have been told that, when playing at my best, my game is most like Tim Duncan’s. And I felt crushed like he did when Fisher hit that 0.4 miracle shot. But other than that, I do not have a connection with the team built over years like I did with the Sonics. I do not feel the thrill when they win, and they have already won four championships. I cannot just jump on the small bandwagon just because they win. After all, it is San Antonio. For reasons we will never know, they are just boring.

Los Angeles Lakers

I am serious. I thought about it. This would be the biggest turn in the history of the world. It would be like if America suddenly turned and supported Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. It would be like when Stone Cold Steve Austin turned his back on his fans and joined forces with Vince McMahon. It would be like the Jews forgiving the Nazis and hailing Hitler. It would be like Ross and Rachel agreeing that it was a break, Ryan letting his brother anywhere near Marissa again, and Blair deep down really forgiving Serena. I could go on, but you get the point. Me being a Lakers fan just does not fit in the natural order of the world. Those of you who know me know that this could not possibly happen…could it?

The Lakers have the winning tradition that I have been somewhat a part of. I can honestly say I have followed the franchise and watched more of their games than any other team. I remember Jerry West’s brilliant roster moves, signing Shaq away and then mysteriously trading Vlade Divac for some kid barely out of high school named Kobe Bryant. I remember the amazing Game 7 comeback against Portland in the western conference finals. I remember the flurry of bandwagon flags during the three peat. I remember my bittersweet horror when Gary Payton signed with the Lakers. Hell, I even fell into the money trap and read Phil Jackson’s book. Just like any other true Lakers fan, I long for the days of Chick Hearn’s gifted calls. I still have the nightly “this game is in the fridge” rant memorized. I would immediately become the most knowledgeable Lakers fan given my freak obsession with watching and knowing everything about my team.

So I really thought it might happen, until I stumbled upon one problem: I cannot root for them. I think after so many years of rooting against them as our bitter Pacific rivals, it is now wired in my DNA. I like guys like Derrick Fisher, Ronny Turiaf, Jordan Farmar, and even Andrew Bynum, but there is something about the purple and gold that makes me naturally root against them. Maybe it is the way everyone claims to be a longtime Laker fan only when they happen to start winning. Maybe it is because their marquee player cheats on his wife, is an alleged rapist, an ego maniac, a ball hogger, is always swearing and whining to the officials, drove the best player out of town, unprofessionally demanded a stupid trade, and changes his number to suck his naïve fans out of more money. But more likely, maybe it is just me. Just like water cannot mix with oil, Vishal cannot be a Laker fan.

So. None of these teams do it for me. There is only one logical solution.

I was born in Seattle, attended Sonics, Seahawks, and Mariners game as a baby and followed them throughout my childhood. I remember the good times and the bad, the happiness and heartache. I remember Nick Van Exel and Vlade Divac and the 7th seeded Lakers stunning the 2nd seeded Sonics in 1994, thus beginning my reign of disgust with the Lakers. I remember feeling sick when the Denver Nuggets became the first 8 seed to upset a 1 seed, the Sonics in the 1995 playoffs. I still wonder what could have been every time they show the clip of Dikembe Mutombo lying down on our green key clutching the ball above his head in laughter and joy. I remember the feeling when I recall that the Sonics were 8-0 against the Houston Rockets in those two years they won the championship. I remember the glorious 1996 Seattle SUPER Sonics. I remember trying to draw the new logo. I remember how I loved the green Sonics warm up jersey which is still hanging in my closet at home. I remember asking my dad why Shawn Kemp is laying the ball up instead of dunking it during the pregame warm-ups courtside at a Clippers Sonics game, then him throwing it down on his next drive. I remember Gary Payton chucking him dangerous lobs from half court during intense stretches of games. I remember the Glove shutting down the other team’s best player in crunch time, posting up every opposing guard, and trash talking like there was no tomorrow. I remember the Sonics’ big three being rounded out by Detlef Schrempf, the first versatile European phenom. I remember the best shooter in Sonics history, Dale Ellis. I remember Big Smooth, Sam Perkins and his awkward and slow style. I remember Nate McMillan, his tutoring of and feuding with Payton, then his success as a coach. I remember George Karl, and his brilliant coaching moves and offensive adjustments. I remember the thrilling series against the Phoenix Suns, with the Squatch and Gorilla mascots fighting and Rex Chapman’s buzzer beaters. I remember Payton and Kemp vs Stockton and Malone, and how the crazy crowds would get fired up for each one of the seven amazing games that it took to decide who was the best in the west. I remember holding on to hope against Michael Jordan and his 72-win Chicago Bulls in the 1996 Finals. I remember my dismay when I learned that the Sonics drafted Scottie Pippen and traded him to the Bulls…for Olden Polynice. I remember NBC’s powerful epic intro and Bob Costas’ articulate hyping. I remember Shawn Kemp and Dennis Rodman battling like every play was a WWF match. I remember the Sonics winning two consecutive games after they finally put Payton on Jordan. I remember Payton dunking on MJ and then staring him down. I remember thinking the impossible was possible. I remember being so bummed out that the Sonics lost the championship, that I went outside and played baseball. I remember when Seattle traded away my favorite players, Shawn Kemp, then later Gary Payton, and practically everyone else that could play well. I remember Vin Baker. I remember how I love Luke Ridnour’s childish underdog look and quick agile moves. I remember the Cinderella 2005 season, with Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis pushing the eventual champion Spurs to the limit in the conference semifinals. I remember going to the McDonald’s High School All-Star Game where Kevin Durant won MVP, then watching him tear up the nation at Texas. I remember raising eyebrows at a sports bar when I jumped for joy during halftime of a playoff game once when the Sonics won the second pick in the lottery so they could draft Kevin Durant. I remember his knack for taking the big shot, hitting game winner after game winner…at age 19! I remember how happy I was to see Durant’s ‘where wearing the dream happens’ commercial before realizing that he needs to take off one more jersey to change from a Seattle one to an Oklahoma one. I remember how my team was stolen from my city.

But most of all, I want to remember more. So damn it, this is the 21st century, which means I can follow my team no matter where they are. When the Oklahoma Sonics, or whatever they are called by then, finally go on to win something, I can say I was along for the whole ride and remember what it took to get there, like a true diehard fan. I remember. Go Sonics!