I miss the Sonics, and I miss them a lot. My friends came to blows multiple times over who got to be Payton and Kemp in NBA Jam. I grew up dribbling a rubber basketball around puddles on outdoor courts and shouting “HERSEY” (and later, “RAY-RAY”) after releasing every three-pointer. I willingly owned and wore a Vin Baker jersey in public, and am desperately trying to find it for the next time I go for coffee in Rhode Island. Detlef Schrempf used to sit behind me at First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue, his knees jutting precariously over the wooden pew in front of him. The Sonics even held open practices at my high school and signed autographs afterwards; I still have a treasured poster with smeared Sharpie signatures collected from Rashard Lewis, Shammond Williams (hahahaha), and Coach Nate McMillan somewhere in my parents’ house.
When rumblings about relocation started in the early 2000s and picked up in the aftermath of the Hornets’ successful post-Katrina stint in Oklahoma City, and even when said rumblings grew deafening after the city refused to plunk down $220 million for a renovation of an arena that had just been gut-renovated ten short years earlier, we didn’t really believe it would happen. The Sonics had fallen on marginally hard times, sure, but they were a historically successful and popular franchise. They had won a title! They had Kevin Durant, and they weren’t really going to go to Nowheresville, USA. Right? Right?
The first entry in this Bill Simmons mailbag is 21-year-old me, probably written while sobbing quietly so my roommates sophomore year couldn’t hear me. When the news broke, I was living in D.C. for the summer. I became despondent and, in an effort to clear my head, I decided to go to a bar and drink, because according to movies, that’s what one does when one is sad. What was on TV at every bar I went to? SportsCenter. There is no justice.
Professional basketball will return to Seattle at some point in the future; most sources peg it as the 14th- or 15th-largest media market in the U.S., well above NBA cities like Memphis (50th) and New Orleans (51st). It might not be immediately; as seen recently in Sacramento and Milwaukee, NBA owners love the looming specter of a franchise-hungry Seattle because they can use the prospect of Pacific Northwest relocation as leverage to scare cities into coughing up extra cash for a new taxpayer-funded arena. Eventually, though, some upstanding city council will hold firm and sensibly say something noble like, “No, this is a bad decision for a city like ours, and instead of giving hundreds of millions to NBA owners who are already millionaires and billionaires and begging them to stay a bit longer, we choose to invest that money in our schools, our local economy, and our infrastructure in order to ensure a secure future for our children.” And when that moment of courage finally occurs, Seattle will happily pay up and bring the Sonics home! SPORTS. The question, though, is which existing NBA team that will be.
To that end, I’ve carefully parsed through the rosters of all 30 NBA teams and ranked their projected fit in the great Pacific Northwest. One note is that per the terms of a 2008 settlement agreement between Carpetbagger Clay Bennett and the City of Seattle, the Sonics’ colors and nickname can be restored to a future Seattle franchise when it eventually arrives. Given Clay Bennett’s proven propensity for being a lying liar and horrible person, though, nicknames are considered just to be safe.
- Seattle Warriors. The reigning NBA champions, obviously! But this is not just an exercise in frontrunning; it is also the team I adopted in 2008. It made sense at the time. I was living in Berkeley, the throwbacks are the best in the league, and everyone was riding high from the “We Believe” playoff run, and I worshipped the ground on which Baron Davis walked. Sometimes I still watch clips of him dunking on Andrei Kirilenko when I’m sad. However, in many other ways, including the “is this team that I am picking as an NBA fan free agent any good” way, this was not a good plan. Baron left town, Corey Maggette showed up, Monta Ellis rode his extracontractual moped into obscurity, Steph Curry’s tissue-paper ankles (remember how big a deal that was?) kept betraying him, and Don Nelson was standing on the sidelines during games looking for all the world like an ex-alcoholic who really wanted a drink, which, to be fair, he was an ex-alcoholic who probably really wanted a drink, but still.
Of course, this decision seven-plus years ago paid off handsomely this past season, as the Dubs in the hands of Steve Kerr (the Curry Whisperer) morphed into a hyperefficient offensive machine and a defensive juggernaut that won a wire-to-wire NBA title. The team has Curry, Thompson (a Washington State University alum, no less), Draymond, Bogut, Barnes, and Super-Sub Andre under contract for the next two years. This team is a good look and it’s going to stay that way for awhile. I want this one, Dad. I want this one real bad.
- Seattle Grizzlies. Holy crap, LOOK AT THAT NAME. That’s incredible. If you’re now thinking about how, yeah, “Memphis Grizzlies” makes no sense, what’s up with that, recall that the Grizzlies owe their moniker to their time in Vancouver, where there are grizzly bears, and for some reason decided to keep it when moving to Memphis, where there are definitely no grizzly bears. Let’s fix this. Memphis should be the Kings (after B.B., and after they defeat Sacramento in a death match for naming rights), or the Blues (after the music, though there’d be no need for any death match because no one cares about hockey), or the ribs (mmmmm), or the Three 6 Mafia, with Juicy J as assistant coach. And look what we get once that finally happens: the Seattle Grizz! This is my best idea ever. I would buy a bajillion ursine t-shirts with a green-and-gold fearsome bear, and gleefully let out Jumbotron-coached roars on defense, and furiously waive my novelty giant bear claws in the air during free throws. I am all in on the Seattle Grizz.
- Seattle Pelicans. To the Mariners and the Seahawks we add another nautical nickname. Wikipedia confirms that some species of pelican have in fact been found as far north as Canada, so we’re good in the fact-checking department, and hey, the on-court product is looking pretty enticing these days! They have a great new coach in former Suns coach and Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry, an easy fan favorite in former UW star Quincy Pondexter, and the future 21-time MVP in Anthony Davis . He would love Seattle, and Seattle would love him. I’m getting started on a nickname right now, just in case. How do these get done? Alliteration? How about the “Seattle Swat”? I guess “Reign Man” is already taken, but maybe we can do something with his eyebrows and umbrellas? I’m open to suggestions. There is no such thing as a bad idea here, except for possibly “Seattle Swat.”
- Seattle Spurs. The thing about the Spurs is that they are always so good. The NBA was just starting to get over the Duncan-Ginobli-Parker-Poppovich combination, only to have Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge added to the mix. Given that Robot Tim Duncan is still playing like a 24-year-old, this team seems like a good bet for the future. As was also the case in any of the past 16 years. Plus, this team used to absolutely wreck the Sonics, and as the old saying goes, if you can’t beat them, appropriate them from a lesser city with no other sports teams.Also, no NBA team draws so many of its successful players from abroad, and while plenty of cities fancy themselves cosmopolitan and welcome everything international, no other city would be quite so annoyingly pleased with itself for doing so in the context of the Spurs. This dynamic would play precisely to that weird Seattle complex where its residents privately consider it self-evidently superior to other cities, but nonetheless also feel the need to talk about it constantly because they know that other cities consider it inferior, and they must know how wrong they are. Yeah, Manu has a favorite Argentinean spot in Ballard, but it’s so quiet, so he also knows he’ll never be bothered there. It’s not like [derisive snort through coffee] New York or something.
- Seattle Cavs. This would be higher, because LeBron, but I can’t do that to Cleveland, because also LeBron. Though Seattle would welcome J.R. Smith’s unnecessary hoverboard with open arms. We live for impractical technology like that.
- Seattle Th—–. Official NFR editorial guidelines, a copy of which I will send you for $100, prohibit printing of the franchise’s nickname; editing it (as above) or referring to it as the Professional Basketball Franchise Currently Located in Oklahoma City is preferred. On the one hand, reacquiring this franchise would be sweet, sweet justice; Kevin Durant won his Rookie of the Year as a Sonic, and Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka were also Seattle draft picks, so really, we’re just reclaiming what’s ours. I’m not a lawyer, but I bet that’s how the law works. On the other hand, Durant and Westbrook are going to make tracks out of that place in a year and two years, respectively, and then PBFCLOKC will finally assume its destiny as a wasteland franchise in a wasteland state. I want no part of that. I hope Clay Bennett gets MRSA.
- Seattle Clippers. A lot to like here. Not only would this give us another nautical nickname, but Blake Griffin would LOVE making zany fish-throwing videos at Pike Place. We could also get a whole new chapter of the Chris Paul-Cliff Paul State Farm ads, with split screens featuring new-school Chris-and-Blake and old-school Payton-and-Kemp evaluating rainstorm damage or something. Bump them up a few extra spots if they decide to re-sign Nate Robinson, the tiny UW standout who turned down at least 31 Facebook friend requests from me in college. And if that’s not enough, this would give us shockingly overenthusiastic Clippers owner and Very Wealthy Microsoft Guy Steve Ballmer talking trash to Blazers owner and Very Wealthy Microsoft Guy Paul Allen. Nothing like a good technology executive grudge match to get those Pacific Northwest competitive juices flowing! Speaking of which…
- Seattle Trail Blazers. The post-LaMarcus team is going to be hilariously terrible, but sticking it to those wannabes in Portland would be glorious.
- Seattle Hawks. A lovable but overachieving team that will almost certainly regress this season, particularly after losing do-everything wing DeMarre Carroll. None of that matters, though, because there is no stopping the fervor for any Hawks-related Seattle team. It would take at least a quarter and a half for fans at the first home game to stop cheering for touchdowns at every made basket. Move them up four spots if they agree to sign Marshawn Lynch to a handful of ten-day contracts in February and March.
- Seattle Celtics. A team that prominently features Isaiah Thomas, the most famous Husky in recent memory, and Kelly Olynyk, the most famous long-haired Zag in recent history (sorry, Adam Morrison), will do just fine for itself here. Plus, the green looks good! We’d just have to yellow that white part up a bit and we’re good to go. Let’s get a Costco pack of highlighters and make this happen.
- Seattle Rockets. Jason Terry is a beloved Seattle guy who won two state titles for Franklin High. On the other hand hand, Jason Terry is 68 years old, and once he retires we’ll just be stuck with the most unlikable pair of star teammates in the NBA in Dwight Howard and James Harden. The former tries way too hard, and the latter not nearly hard enough. The Seattle Rockets is a short-term sentimental pick, and I will not be fooled.
- Seattle Kings. Bring back George Karl! The man led the the Glove, the Reign Man, Hersey Hawkins, Detlef, Big Smooth, and Nate to the franchise’s best-ever 64-18 record and a 4-2 NBA Finals loss to Jordan’s best late-nineties Bulls team. Yes, he has admittedly sucked since then, but maybe, just maybe, he’s the man who can get the best out of DeMarcus Cousins. (Oh.) Still, “Kings” is such a cool nickname but doesn’t work in Sacramento, a place that will never be confused with royalty territory. If Memphis doesn’t score the name in the aforementioned death match, Seattle should make its move. You know, because this worked out so well last time.
- Seattle Timberwolves. For SURE. Wolves and bears are the rightful province of the Pacific Northwest. I will do all the kitschy howls that the PA announcer commands me. And with a nucleus of defensive monster Karl-Anthony Towns, Seattle native Zach LaVine, funny nose guy Ricky Rubio, future action movie villain Nikola Pekovic, and person-who-will-make-us-forget-we-ever-gave-Vince-Carter-the-Air-Canda-nickname Andrew Wiggins, this team is going to get good quickly. Get well soon, Flip Saunders.
- Seattle Jazz. Any team leaving Utah is going to be understandably startled at the sudden dip in white people that it will inevitably experience. Suffice to say that Seattle is probably the easiest place to make that transition.
- Seattle Heat. I know you’re thinking that this name translates rather poorly, but this most recent July begs to differ. And this team! With Bosh, Wade, Deng, and Stoudemire, this team is a lock for a 1- or 2-seed. For the 2007 playoffs, but still.
- Seattle Suns. Alright, this name really won’t work. Next.
- Seattle Nuggets. This team has nothing good going on on the court, but it’s young, Kenneth Faried is pretty fun, and no one in Denver will notice if the team were to disappear. Safe pick.
- Seattle Hornets. The good news is that Marvin Williams is a Seattleite and loves coming home; his career-high in points (33) came against the Sonics during their last season in 2008. The bad news is that Marvin Williams otherwise is terrible, and so are the Hornets. Unless MJ decides to make another comeback, which I am absolutely not ruling out until he’s been confirmed dead by a team of independent medical experts and has been buried for at least five days, pass.
- Seattle Raptors. Look, as the Expos and Grizzlies have shown us, major American professional sports have a fine tradition of thinking that Canada seems like a good idea and then quietly giving up and leaving. Just look at how the wary the Bills are about moving to Toronto, which has been courting them heavily since at least 2006 and, on paper, makes way more sense than Buffalo. It’s no use fighting this anymore; bring Terrence Ross and his random 50-point outbursts home. Come fight me, Drake. I haven’t written a profoundly ill-conceived rap since at least sophomore year of high school, but I can probably still out-diss Meek Mill (RIP).
- Seattle Mavericks. Too close to Alaska; too many Sarah Palin implications; and, holy crap, look at this roster. Deron Williams, Raymond Felton, and Devin Harris are their point guards and are making a combined $15 million next year. After the DeAndre Jordan debacle, Mark Cuban might be their 9th-best player.
- Seattle Lakers. I dunno, maybe we put the proposed new arena on Lake Union or Lake Washington? Sure would make more sense than L.A., and Vancouver native and Gonzaga alum Robert Sacre could bring his legendary celebrations home. On the other hand, everyone on this team not named Julius or D’Angelo is unmitigated garbage, Jack Nicholson hasn’t made a good movie in ten years, and we in Seattle don’t take kindly to mercurial alleged sex offenders getting paid tens of millions of dollars to blow their knees out and then complain about the state of the roster. Also, Carlos Boozer’s hair weirds me out.
- Seattle Bulls. Nah. The presence of another former Franklin High Star in Aaron Brooks aside, there’s still way too much 1990s-era animosity for this to be okay yet.
- Seattle Wizards. Bremerton native Martell Webster is a bust, more people in DC care about the Orioles or Ravens than they do about the Wiz, and you can’t name three people in this roster not named John Wall. As a DC resident until recently, I can confirm that the loudest it ever gets at Wizards games is when Chik-fil-A runs a fourth-quarter promotion, the “Fowl Shot,” where everyone in attendance gets a free sandwich if an opposing player misses two consecutive free throws. If you clank the first one, the place will go NUTS. I went to see Warriors-Wizards this season, and the Dubs beat the hell out of the home team, but you wouldn’t know it from the celebration that ensued when Andre Igoudala missed two garbage-time free throws. It’s the little victories sometimes.
- Seattle Bucks. Sure! This is a fun young team. But we’re also still kind of bitter at this one, too. So close.
- Seattle Pacers. I have nothing to say about the Pacers, who are a boring and anonymous team from a boring and anonymous place, so this serves as your reminder that Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker was born in October 1996, and you are a million years old.
- Seattle Pistons. At first I wondered if we could do something about the pistons in airplane engines and tie that in with Boeing, but also, two minutes of Wikipedia research indicates that jets don’t use piston engines, and Boeing corporate headquarters moved from Seattle to Chicago in 2001, so whatever. Also, this roster features 4.5 NBA players and is coached by a Van Gundy.
- Seattle Magic. In April, I sent my friends and fellow NBA junkies Zach and Ryan the following list of ten players and asked them to pick the two players on the list who are NOT in the NBA anymore.
Luc Mbah a Moute
This is relevant because Washington native, former Oregon star, and first-round (!!!!) Sonics draft pick in 2003 (!!!!) Luke Ridnour was, as of last year, still being paid to pay professional basketball at the highest level in Orlando, Florida. I haven’t gotten Ryan a wedding present yet and I’m strongly considering this. The NBA is an amazing place (correct answers: Daequan Cook, Hilton Armstrong).
- Uh, woof. Slim pickings at this point. Hey, can I get a hockey team instead? Who just won the…hockey Super Bowl? Do you think they want to come here? They should think about coming here.
- Seattle 76ers. Tony Wroten was good for UW, I guess. But this franchise is otherwise a dumpster fire that might be good in 2049. Free Carl Landry.
- Seattle Nets. We could make the team name about fishing! More strong nautical synergy with the Mariners and Seahawks. But also, this team is a raging dumpster fire that might be good in 2049 and gainfully employs Joe Johnson to the tune of $25 million per year, so steer clear.
- Fine. You know what, forget it. This was a fun exercise, but at this point I don’t need an NBA team in my hometown in order to be happy. I am just fine raising my children to share my love of basketball with them by showing them games on TV. It’s totally okay if their only hometown heroes come from championship-winning Seahawks and perpetually disappointing Mariners. The Sonics are a wonderful memory. They gave professional basketball in Seattle a great name, and there’s absolutely no need to sully that legacy by doing something stupid and brash and shortsighted, like, I don’t know, say —
- Seattle Knicks. Anything is better than the Knicks.