With the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals just four years after leaving Seattle, I decided to interview Jason Reid, the director of the critically acclaimed documentary "Sonicsgate" and to get his thoughts on what is a painful situation for a city still reeling from its loss.
Mark Graham: As a Seattle Sonics fan, what were your thoughts on the Thunder finally winning the West?
Jason Reid: I mean, it was a lot more difficult than I anticipated it would be. We're huge NBA fans to put together "Sonicsgate" and so we've gotten used to seeing the Thunder be successful, but to see Clay Bennett, the owner who basically lied and stole the team from the city of Seattle, to see him celebrating and holding up the trophy and talk about how great it is for the city of Oklahoma City, when we all know it should be happening in the city of Seattle. We drafted Kevin Durant, we also drafted Russell Westbrook, this team was built on the backs of many, many losing seasons of Sonics basketball, so it was pretty devastating to watch for us Sonic fans up here in Seattle.
MG: Seattle drafted, like you said, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, are you happy for their success?
JR: Well I mean its a difficult thing, right, we by no means blame the players for what happened. The players were pretty much as helpless as us fans were in terms of having any control of the powers that be who wanted to make this happen, so personally we don't hold anything against Durant and Westbrook, but at the same time they play for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Oklahoma City Thunder are owned by some people who betrayed the city of Seattle. So, if we were to root for them and their team we'd be rooting for the owners that screwed us over in Seattle, so it becomes really hard for us to root for them, as much as we like Durant and Westbrook as players.
MG: How is the city of Seattle coping with yet another blow?
JR: You know it is, it is another blow after what was perhaps the most scandalous franchise relocations in the history of professional sports. To have that team be as successful as they are now four years later, its difficult to deal with. People are dealing with it in different ways, I think a lot of fans up here, a majority are almost 95-100% rooting against the Thunder, so we've been Lakers fans, we've been Spur fans, now we're Heat fans. We're nomad fans that are looking for a team to root for and we'll root for just about anybody but the Oklahoma City Thunder. If we can root for the Spurs and the Lakers, our former rivals, then that kind of shows you, but another thing is we're really rallying behind bringing the NBA back to Seattle. We have a new arena proposal that is unprecedented, private public partnership where nearly 100% privately funded arena is on the table to be built. The Mayor and King County have already gotten 100% behind it, so we're just trying to convince our city and King County councils to pass this deal, then we will have an agreement in place that basically says, "we will build a half billion dollar arena here if the NBA can guarantee us an NBA franchise." So we're just getting behind this plan and Sonic fans fully, we have a big rally planned this Thursday in Seattle before Game 2 of the NBA Finals where Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp and a bunch of other Sonic greats, local musicians and stuff are going to be performing and rallying, get a big rally party to get the Sonics back, so we're doing what we can to do deal with whats otherwise become an extremely painful situation.
MG: You mentioned the proposal for a new arena, just how confident are you that David Stern is going to bring the NBA back to Seattle?
JR: Its actually funny you asked that question because today the Mayor of seattle met with David Stern in New York to make sure David understood that we at all costs want to bring the NBA back. We have political support this time around, we have financial support and I think that when you look at it on paper, maybe this is an opportunity for David Stern and the NBA to get this giant black eye that is the Seattle Sonics situation of their face, its not going away the more successful the Thunder are the more outcry there is by Seattle fans and other sports fans saying that this was an unjustified move and so I think they'll have the opportunity know that we're doing our part locally in getting an arena deal done that they have an opportunity now to reward us with an NBA franchise to make up for all the wrongs they've done in the past. In addition to that, we're an attractive market, probably the most attractive market without a team right now we're anywhere from 12-14 (largest) media market in the country. We've supported this team for 30 generations, 41 years. We've proven that its a hotbed for basketball talent, we've got Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson, and Spencer Hawes and countless other guys coming out of this area and we're pretty much the most attractive market. In addition to that the political leadership that David Stern didn't really get along with back 5 years ago, a lot of them are gone now. Mayor Nickels is gone, some of the others politicians taht he had a contentious relationship with are gone or on their way out and so I think that there's a good chance that starting things fresh is a big deal and if he's not dealing with the people he was dealing with before then I think that's another kind of feather in our cap.
MG: It is actually hard to believe that the Sonics are gone from Seattle. I grew up a huge fan of the NBA in the 90s and still to this day is very hard to believe.
JR: It feels weird right now to know that we possibly could have had this team thats in the NBA Finals right now. I always go back to 1996 when we played the Bulls in the Finals with Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp and I can't believe that we are being robbed of that opportunity to happen again after so many years of not being in the Finals it feels wrong. KeyArena had a high school graduation going on. They're having high school graduations in our arena where there should be an NBA Finals going on. It feels very, very bizzare up here right now.
MG: With the situation in Sacramento right now with the Maloof brothers possibly moving the team, how would you feel if the Kings moved to Seattle and basically making King fans feel what you are feeling right now?
JR: Its definietly something that we're concious of, you know we made the movie to bring the NBA back to Seattle first and foremost. We also made the movie to educate the public to what happened here and that's a big part of what we do. We do a lot of interviews down in Sacramento we advised a lot of the fans down there. Our movie is really a blueprint on how not to lose your team and so we're trying to ring the proverbial cowbell and tell them, "Hey, if you don't do what you need to do, you're going to lose this team." Now, we don't actively want the Kings, there's certainly other teams in the league that don't have the history of that the Kings have, but if push comes to shove and that's the only way we're going to have a team back, then we will definietly welcome them with open arms. I think there's a major difference between how the NBA handled the Sacramento situation and how they handeled the Seattle situation. David Stern has bent over backwards the last 5 or 6 years to try and get a deal done and the Maloofs are backing out when they're having a 70% publicly funded arena, when they're paying less than 30% because they're splitting the bill with AEG and the NBA and that's still not a good enough of a deal for them, I mean its not the fans by any means, but the city of Sacramento and everybody has gotten screwed over by the Maloofs and if the team moves from there, its not Seattle to blame. The NBA and everybody has done everything they have there and its the Maloofs to blame and if the team comes to Seattle, we'll certainly support them, but we don't nessecarily feel good about taking a team from Sacramento either.
MG: Is it safe to say that Seattle and Miami are the only two cities rooting for Lebron?
JR: I think its relatively safe to say. There's been a lot of national press here the last two days that are really exposing the Oklahoma City Thunder and the ownership group as not being real villains, because they are. You look at what Lebron James did and he's just a player, this is a minor offense compared to colluding and lying to moving an entire franchise away from an entire region. Its a totally different ballgame, like Cleveland still has a basketball team, if they suck that's too bad, but I'd rather have a bad basketball team without Lebron James than have no basketball team at all. Ask anyone in Seattle and they'd feel the same way and yeah you can be mad at Lebron and you can call the Heat the evil team are the bad guys in the series, but when push comes to shove the real bad guys are the ownership of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Check out "Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team" at sonicsgate.com and on Twitter @sonicsgate.