You’ve surely heard it said, maybe you’ve even said it yourself, amidst all the rumors, reports and rumors of reports that the Sacramento Kings will move to Seattle in time for next season.
“We’re getting the Sonics back!” Or, “The Sonics are returning to Seattle.”
It is part celebratory. Many National Basketball Association fans have dreamed of the time when the loss of the Sonics to Oklahoma City could be reversed.
But painting the pending purchase as a return of the Sonics is not only inaccurate, but might just be a mechanism to hide the guilt that more than a few might have. The Sonics aren’t returning, at least not until the Oklahoma City Thunder comes to town as an opponent. Instead, the Sacramento Kings – a team with its own history – will be removed from the California state capital and renamed the Sonics.
But it won’t be the same team. Thanks to a rare good provision in the bad deal cut by Seattle political leaders that let the old Sonics escape their lease, the Kings can be called the Sonics if they move north. The transplanted team can wear the former team’s colors (at least until they become some variation of black like every other professional and college team). The 1979 NBA championship banner can be flown, and a copy of the trophy can be displayed.
Clay Bennett and the Seattle politicians he bested at the bargaining table acted as though these were big concessions. But it is more likely that he would have abandoned the name and colors anyway once he accomplished his mission of getting a team for his hometown.
Not that it would be unusual for a sports team to keep a nickname that reflects its former home. The Lakers name made sense when the team started in Minneapolis, less so in Los Angeles. The Utah Jazz? Not so much unless you recall that the team started life in New Orleans.
Few would have questioned the Oklahoma City SuperSonics, even though the name emerged from Boeing’s brief hope of building the American version of the supersonic transport. Still, Bennett moved on and likely doesn’t care if whatever team ends up in Seattle wants to call itself the Sonics.
If it can make the local fans happy, all the better. If it can make them think that they have reclaimed something that is rightfully theirs but was stolen away, go for it. If it can make them forget that Seattle is doing to Sacramento what Oklahoma City did to Seattle, by all means forget. (For that matter, Sacramento likely will scowl at Seattle for this theft without remembering that the team was in Kansas City before it moved west and had been shared by Kansas City and Omaha before that and was in Cincinnati before that and in Rochester, N.Y., before that).
Such are the ways of the professional sports world, where local fans are taken advantage of by wealthy owners to score more financial concessions from elected officials. And should Sacramento gain another team someday, it too can avert its eyes when it thinks of the fans in whatever burg lost a team.
Will the new Sonics honor the history of the Kings or will the team always pretend it produced Jack Sikma and Fred Brown and Gus Williams? Will the numbers of Royals-Kings Hall-of-Fame inductees Nate Archibald and Oscar Robertson stay retired in Seattle? Will they fly the 1951 NBA championship banner in the new arena next to the 1979 banner for the Sonics?
Or will they let all that history die and instead share a legacy with the hated Oklahoma City Thunder?
Few in this region will let any lingering guilt overshadow their joy at getting a team (and, from the sounds of it, at getting a one-in-a-million billionaire owner who is paying most of the costs).
Instead, we’ll simply shout “Welcome home, Sonics” and worry about the details firstname.lastname@example.org