The NBA Finals begin Tuesday night. Those of you still seething about how the Oklahoma City Thunder spent 41 seasons as the Seattle SuperSonics can be forgiven for ignoring the Thunders best-of-seven series against the Miami Heat.
Then again, you can be forgiven for rooting for Miami, even though the Heat is pro basketballs version of the Evil Empire.
You can be forgiven if you tune in and find yourself pounding a shoe, pointing a finger, and wishing for a swarm of bees to attack the attired-in-matching-T-shirt Thunder fans inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, also known as The House That Ruthlessness Built.
Its all good, only because the idea of a championship parade snaking through the streets of Oklahoma City is so bad. Hey, whatever gets you through the night. Just remember what friends are for.
Do you know any Cleveland Browns fans forced to endure the humiliation of the Browns finally winning the Super Bowl on behalf of Baltimore, for a team renamed the Ravens?
Do you know any Dodgers fans who followed them during their Boys of Summer era in Brooklyn? After winning one World Series in six Fall Classic appearances between 1947 and 1956, they moved, in 1958, to Los Angeles, where they won the 1959 World Series. And the 1963 World Series. And the 1965 World Series.
As for the 2012 NBA Finals, I may watch, I may not. Im day-to-day, as the trainers are prone to say, waiting on a game-time decision.
I followed the Thunders series-clinching victory over the San Antonio Spurs last Wednesday, and for awhile, I was too captivated by the Thunders execution-style slaying of the slower, older Spurs to dwell on the 41-years-of-Sonics-history-gone angle. But when Thunder majority owner Clay Bennett showed up on the TV to accept the Western Conference championship trophy, I regretted that my fist doesnt have a 2,000-mile reach.
Whats frustrating about Bennett is that every move hes made has been accompanied by the sound of ding!-ding!-ding! After buying the Sonics from the group fronted by coffee magnate Howard Schultz, Bennett appointed the savvy, cerebral, ridiculously young Sam Presti as general manager.
Presti inherited a stagnant roster in Seattle and oversaw a tank job designed to keep public outrage over the Sonics relocation to a minimum. He traded potential NBA Hall of Famer Ray Allen and former All-Star Rashard Lewis, then stocked up on the draft picks who would form a stellar supporting cast for superstar small forward Kevin Durant.
Sure, some luck was involved: the Sonics settled for Durant only because the Portland Trail Blazers won the lottery that gave them the right to select center Greg Oden as the No. 1 overall choice of the 2007 draft. Durant went on to become a three-time scoring champion.
And Oden? He went on to become the latest injury-riddled disappointment among a succession of cursed Blazers draft choices.
Meanwhile, Bennett was surreptitiously greasing the skids for the Sonics move to Oil Country. He pushed the Washington state legislators to approve tax money for a $500-million arena, largely subsidized by the public. When the bill never got to the floor, Bennett ding!-ding!-ding! had the escape plan he wanted all along.
Now Robber and the Boy Wonder are four games away from the NBA Championship, with a powerhouse that looks nothing like the Bad News Bores who four years ago, during their final season in Seattle, stumbled to a franchise-record 62 defeats.
The uniform colors have changed, from green and gold to sky blue and orange. The head coach has changed, from the frantic, screaming, besieged-by-the-sunrise P.J. Carlesimo to Scott Brooks, a blend of bland and, well, more bland. Brooks, who understands that nobody buys a ticket to see him at work, lets his players play. And wow, can they play.
With a swashbuckling élan rooted in the Showtime style of Magic Johnsons Lakers, an Oklahoma City fast break is the most exciting play in the NBA. Its cant-miss stuff, even if the stuff misses.
You name it, the Thunder has it.
A dynamic point guard? Russell Westbrook isnt merely the straw that stirs the drink, hes the fizz in the drink.
A shot-blocking defender in the low post? Serge Ibaka, 6 feet, 10 inches tall, with a spring in his jump his teammates call him Air Congo is less a presence than a force. (Westbrook and Ibaka, by the way, were drafted by the Sonics in 2008, six days before the franchises move to Oklahoma City was announced as official.)
A sixth man capable of draining a 3-point shot from anywhere and everywhere? Meet James Harden, Chairman of the Beard.
And, of course, theres Durant, a cold-blooded shooter on the floor, a gentleman who carries himself with the grace of a prince off it.
The Thunder owns the home-court advantage in the series, but if Miamis LeBron James resembles the guy whose take-no-prisoners glare seemed to paralyze the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, all bets are off. James is the best basketball player on the planet. If he takes over and he craves the notion of taking over the Heat wins.
But heres the catch: The Thunder has the trappings of a dynasty.
Ibaka and Harden are 22. Durant and Westbrook are 23. The basketball team that relocated from Seattle to Oklahoma City is looking mighty pretty, for years and years, and destined to haunt Sonics fans with the ultimate paradox.
The Team That Got Away is here to stay.