Sidelines: ‘Sonicsgate’ opens up some old wounds that time had almost healed

Array

It was a tough pill for me to swallow when Clay Bennett moved the beloved Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in July 2008.

But, like anything, time heals a lot of wounds. During that year, I have basically had nothing to do with the National Basketball Association. About the only thing I know is that the Lakers won the NBA title, LeBron James is super big and super good, and I rooted for the Oklahoma City Thunder to lose every game they played.

In short, the NBA was just an afterthought in my mind. And that can be directly traced back to the nonsense displayed by the likes of Bennett, former owner Howard Schultz, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and NBA Commissioner David Stern in regards to the Sonics.

So I want to personally thank Seattle filmmaker Jason Reid for opening that almost-healed scab, which formed when the Sonics jetted town last year, with his documentary “Sonicsgate.”

The film, which was released online Monday, seeks to “expose the truth behind the SuperSonics’ tragic exodus” from Seattle. “Sonicsgate” can be viewed for free on the Internet at sonicsgate.org.

The nearly two-hour film tells the story about Seattle’s 41-year relationship with the Sonics. Several key characters were interviewed for the documentary, including former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, lawyers Paul Lawrence, Brad Keller and Tom Carr, sports columnists Art Thiel and Steve Kelley, Nick Collison, Sam Perkins, Desmond Mason, Wally Walker and Kevin Calabro, among others.

“Sonicsgate” falls into basically three separate chapters. The first and shortest section depicts when the Sonics come to town in 1967, win an NBA championship in ‘79 and relives the George Karl-Gary Payton-Shawn Kemp years.

The second chapter follows Bennett buying the franchise from Schultz. The third and final act details how the city files a lawsuit against Bennett and his Oklahoma City ownership group and eventually settles that lawsuit hours before the judge was scheduled to rule.

“Sonicsgate” ends with guys like Nick Collison, Brent Barry, Jamal Crawford, Doug Christie, Karl and Payton lamenting about how much Seattle needs another professional basketball franchise.

“Sonicsgate” is a very sad story that never ends the way I want it to end. The film doesn’t change a thing and left me pointing the same fingers of blame as I was when this whole thing was materializing.

But the film does do a very good job of documenting the events that eventually led to the Sonics leaving town for Oklahoma.

The segment detailing the ownership run of Howard Schultz was the one that really got my blood boiling. Even as a diehard Sonics fan, I never realized how much players, coaches and media members despised the Starbucks mogul and how much money Schultz actually made when he sold the franchise.

Schultz made a killing when he sold the team in 2006. He bought the Sonics in 2001 for $200 million from Barry Ackerly and sold them for $350 million to Bennett under the guise they were going to keep them in Seattle.

And despite making $150 million during his five-year run as owner, all Schultz could do during his tenure was complain about how much money the franchise was losing because KeyArena was not a viable NBA arena.

But Schultz isn’t the only villain in “Sonicsgate.” That distinction can also be slapped on Bennett, Nickels and Stern. And not coincidentally, all four of those guys declined to be interviewed for the film.

And like any movie, there are inevitably “good guys” who counteract the villians and “Sonicsgate” is no different. Those “good guys” come in the form of Brian Robinson, the co-founder of the grass-roots group Save Our Sonics, and Seattle author Sherman Alexie, who testified about his love for the Sonics during the trial.

“Sonicsgate” was made for less than $10,000 and is worth devoting a couple of hours in front of the computer. If you were a Sonics fan, it still leaves you wondering why all of this happened. But, like anything good or bad that happens in history, the story needs to be documented, and that’s what “Sonicsgate” attempts to do.


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