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News » Seattle fans make trip to see the Thunder

Seattle fans make trip to see the Thunder

Seattle fans make trip to see the Thunder
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Standing just a few steps from the Rose Garden floor Wednesday night, former Seattle SuperSonics employee Matt Heuer stood wearing a green No. 20 Gary Payton jersey, with his nephew Zach in one arm and a sign in the other.

"Clay Bennett Ruined My Childhood."

The NBA may be gone from Seattle, but the anger lingers toward Bennett, who whisked the SuperSonics away from the Pacific Northwest and turned them into the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The former Sonics were back in the region Wednesday night, playing the Portland Trail Blazers in front of some of their old fans.

"My life, I wouldn't be satisfied if I missed this game," Heuer said. "This is something I had to be at and see."

It was the first chance for Sonics' fans to express their angst over last July's settlement between Bennett and the city of Seattle, which gave the team the green light to move.

Sure the game wasn't in Seattle. That didn't mean the classic green-and-gold which defined the Sonics franchise wasn't scattered throughout the sold out arena. They yelled and screamed at anything in Thunder blue and orange, finally getting a chance to see upclose the team they cheered for a year ago.

"I don't think it's closure," said Aubrey Galaviz, clad in a "Save Our Sonics" T-shirt, while riding in a shuttle van with fans from Seattle to Portland a few hours before the game. "It's an opportunity to show we supported to the Sonics, and this is the closest thing we have - to go and have the enjoyment (of the NBA) again."

The move of the Sonics to Oklahoma City was a stunning conclusion to a drawn out affair that started when Bennett and his ownership group purchased the team from Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz in July 2006. The settlement between the city and team came following a federal courtroom battle between the team and the city over the enforcement of the team's lease to play at KeyArena. Bennett wanted out immediately, saying that KeyArena was not a viable venue and the Sonics would lose millions if forced to play in Seattle through 2010.

The city argued that the team should be required to abide by the letter of the lease, believing that enforcing the final two years could leave open a better chance of the team remaining in Seattle for the long term - a belief that appears correct with the current economic downturn.

The stunning resolution came on the day U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman was expected to give her decision. A last-minute settlement was announced whereby the team would pay $45 million for the right to move to Oklahoma City immediately and would be required to pay another $30 million if plans for a renovated KeyArena are approved by the end of 2009, and the city doesn't get a new franchise within five years.

The settlement left fans bitter and angry at the city and specifically mayor Greg Nickels for what they saw as a sellout, and resentful at the NBA for letting the move happen.

"Bennett makes a good villain. But we shot ourselves in the foot. This was entirely self-inflicted," said Steven Pyeatt, a co-founder of the fan group "Save Our Sonics."

He adds in the next breath, referencing the current economy, "If the mayor hadn't taken the buyout not only would the team be here, we would have a local owner or a local owner with an option. The team would still be here and that all hangs on the mayor."

Most of the eight current Thunder players that spent last season in Seattle kept quiet about their feeling of picking up and moving to the Midwest. One of the few willing to be vocal was Nick Collison, who owned two homes in the Seattle area and spoke openly of his desire to stay.

That willingness to speak his mind endeared Collison to the Sonics fans who made the trip. Most booed everyone in blue, sans Collison.

"I loved Seattle," Collison said Tuesday night in Los Angeles. "I was proud to be a Sonic, proud to play in Seattle, and was upset when we had to leave, for sure."

Pyeatt is planning a bigger, more organized gathering of fans to make the trip in April when the Thunder come back. By then, he hopes the Washington Legislature has moved forward approving money to help pay for a remodeled KeyArena that could get the NBA back to Seattle.

"Why wouldn't people want the NBA?" Galaviz wondered. "Why wouldn't you want a basketball team?"

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: February 12, 2009


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