Last Friday was 1990s Night at the Rose Garden. Over the course of the evening, the home crowd celebrated Jerome Kersey, Clyde Drexler and Blazer teams from a decade that included two trips to the NBA Finals, two trips to the Western Conference Finals, a 63-win season and 10 straight postseason appearances.
The 2012-13 Blazers picked up their 10th consecutive loss on ‘90s Night, losing by a wide margin to the Oklahoma City Thunder. By a miracle of NBA scheduling—or maybe even on purpose—the Thunder happen to be the same team that, in a past life as the Seattle SuperSonics, played once for an NBA Championship, once for a shot at the Finals and three times for the Western Conference Finals in the 1990s.
All things considered, from start to finish, the NBA Western Conference was dominated by the Pacific Northwest in the decade that began just over 20 years ago.
The now-ancient history of an NBA rivalry that has been dormant since the 2008-09 season is once again relevant. In the coming weeks, outgoing commissioner David Stern and the league’s Board of Governors will make a decision that could bring professional basketball back to the 206.
As it stands currently, Stern and company will have to decide whether or not to approve the sale of the Sacramento Kings to an investment group led by hedge fund founder and native Seattleite Chris Hansen. If the sale goes through, the Kings will relocate to Seattle. When that happens, they will once again become the SuperSonics of old.
There’s pushback on the idea of selling and relocating another of the NBA’s remaining small-market teams, of course. In a twist of fate, much of the grassroots movement to save the Kings is reminiscent of the “Save Our Sonics” movement that sprung up around the sale of the Sonics and their eventual relocation to Oklahoma City.
That same “Save Our Sonics” movement hosted an unofficial Sonics Night at the Rose Garden back at the end of the 2008-09 season on the night the Thunder made their first appearance in the Pacific Northwest. In those days, Kevin Durant was still building up to his All-NBA potential, and on that night Sonics fans turned out in droves to watch the Thunder get trounced.
Five seasons later, a lot has changed. With the help of a full-frontal marketing assault, Durant is one of the biggest basketball stars on the planet. His Oklahoma City Thunder is no longer the doormat of the Western Conference. There were plenty of Durant jerseys in the Rose Garden last Friday. They’re no longer green and gold—now, they’re light blue and red-orange.
As the Thunder has grown into an NBA powerhouse, the focus of Seattle NBA fans has changed some, too.
“I’m not sure exactly what the Seattle people think, but time moves on and people move on,” said Thunder backup power forward Nick Collison after Friday’s win over the Blazers. “We’re in Oklahoma City now, and we’re trying to win a championship.”
Kevin Durant was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics and played his first season there, but Collison is really the last Sonic standing. Drafted out of Kansas by the Sonics in 2003, Collison has played all of his professional seasons with the Sonics/Thunder and still makes his offseason home in Seattle.
“I’ve been following it,” Collison said of the developing deal to bring the NBA back to his adopted hometown. “I’ve been like everyone else, interested to see what’s going to happen. We’ll see in the next couple weeks what the league does.”
What the league decides to do may hinge on the whims of David Stern. As Sam Amick of USAToday points out, the decision to move the Kings to Seattle has many variables. Among them is the aforementioned passionate and vocal Kings fan base, but also an emergent potential Sacramento-based ownership group that includes an Indian software tycoon. As Amick reports, Stern has built his legacy as commissioner on the international expansion of NBA-branded professional basketball, and India is a major emerging market.
“The league’s running a business. I think we’ve all seen that over the years, [the owners] are going to do what’s best for the league,” Collison said. “I would like to see good things happed for [Seattle fans]. I realize that means bad things happen for someone else. I don’t want to see that.”
What’s best for the league may include a new team in Seattle next season. For Sonics fans, that means their rescue mission is complete. For Blazer fans, it means they once again have a competitive neighbor to the north with whom they can fight over more than just the Cascadia Cup.
“I know there’s a lot of people passionate about basketball [in Seattle],” Collison said. As for the chance to play again in his city of residence: “If it happens it would be great to be back there for sure. I’m getting old, though. I don’t have too many years left. If it doesn’t happen soon it might not happen.”