Seattle — For the legion of NBA fans still living in Seattle, May is the cruelest month. It’s is the month of memories. The month of Jack Sikma and Fred Brown. The month of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. The month of Lenny Wilkens and George Karl.
May is when the Sonics used to own this town. It was the best of months and the worst of months.
In May, the Sonics won Western Conference championships. In May, they began playoff runs that took them to the NBA Finals in 1978, ’79 and ’96.
But May also was the month they lost to the Lakers in the 1980 Western Conference finals and the month they were upset in the first round by Denver in 1994.
This May, however, could be the cruelest month of all for the tens of thousands of Seattle fans who still love the game and still wait for its return.
The Sonics are playing the Grizzlies in the Western Conference semifinals. Or, at least, the team that used to be in Seattle and has moved to Oklahoma City is playing the team that used to be in Vancouver and has moved to Memphis.
Imagine what the Northwest would feel like this month if these teams still were a mere 21⁄2 hours apart. Imagine the buzz in this city if Game 2 had been played in Seattle, instead of Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.
And this May, Seattle gets to watch while Sacramento gets what it didn’t get in 2008 — a stay of execution; one more season to find the funding to save the team, build a new arena and keep the Kings in town.
Now, let’s not be naive about this. The Kings are staying in Sacramento because the NBA (think Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss) wasn’t keen on the idea of the Maloof brothers moving their team to Anaheim.
Probably this extra season will only give NBA fans in the California state capital the chance to say goodbye. There will be rallies and editorials imploring the league to stay in town, just as there were in Seattle.
At the end of home games, fans will chant, “Save Our Kings,” the same way Seattle fans chanted “Save Our Sonics.”
Almost certainly, 2011-12 will be the Kings’ last season in Sacramento unless, of course the league locks out the players. But at least its mayor, former NBA all-star guard Kevin Johnson, is fighting to keep his team.
In the meantime, the league continues to insult Seattle. The NBA Store is advertising an Oklahoma City Thunder “Trefoil Snapback Hat.” On the front of the blue and black hat it reads, “Thunder.” On the back it reads, “1967.”
What? This idea of a shared history between OKC and Seattle is a joke.
On the television broadcasts of Thunder playoff games, TNT and ESPN throw up graphics illustrating the “Thunder” playoff history. Those graphics include the Sonics’ years.
“You can’t take another city’s stats,” analyst Charles Barkley, always a staunch Seattle supporter, said recently on NBA-TV.
By now the passion to return the NBA to Seattle should have cooled. It hasn’t.
A video of a protest at former Sonics owner Howard Schultz’s book signing last month in Issaquah got 45,000 hits on the “Sonicsgate” YouTube channel. Its video of Barkley defending Seattle got 15,911 views. “I miss Seattle,” Barkley hollers.
And since it began the channel about a year and a half ago, “Sonicsgate” has had almost 500,000 viewers, including 119,000 since April 8.
Seattle still cares about the NBA.
But May reminds us that the games are being played elsewhere. It reminds us of the new arena the city should be building, but isn’t. It reminds us that Kevin Durant plays in Oklahoma City, not Seattle.
May reminds us of all that we had.
And all that we’ve lost.