An NBA blog from Newsday's Bobby Bonett
'Sonicsgate' a depressing history lesson for NBA fans
Imagine the Knicks leaving New York City. Or the Celtics leaving Boston. Or the Bulls leaving Chicago.
That's what it was like to Seattleites when the Sonics left for Oklahoma City.
In "Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team," millionaires, billionaires and politicans are villified in a saga that started, in a way, with the short-sighted signing of Jim McIlvaine, and ended with a short-sighted $45 million settlement that was ultimately the final nail in the Sonics' coffin.
Originally, "Sonicsgate" was a two-hour Web documentary that won a Webby Award. (In fact, Sonics great Gary Payton delivered the acceptance speech for the Webby.) Now, the film has been adapted into a 43-minute television version that will air on CNBC starting April 27.
Now, when you tune in to watch "Sonicsgate" -- which every diehard NBA fan and historian ought to do -- keep in mind that the movie has a very one-sided, Seattle feel. You won't hear from Clayton Bennett, who despite his thinly-veiled promises that he would keep the Sonics in Seattle, purchased the team in 2006 with the intention of moving it to Oklahoma City. You won't hear from David Stern, who is shown in old clips stammering through attempted defenses of Bennett. And you won't hear from Howard Schultz, the Starbucks-made 2011 Forbes Businessman of the Year, who opened the door to the Sonics' move with his sale of the team to Bennett in 2006. (At the end of the movie, you read that all three declined to be interviewed.)
What you do get, though, is a pretty emotional look at how Seattle went from one of the premier NBA teams in the 1990s, with Payton and Shawn Kemp and George Karl, to a city on the brink of losing its franchise just a decade later. A look that is especially topical now with the issues facing the Sacramento Kings.
Of course, the spoiler is that the Sonics do, in fact, move. In the final stages of the movie, you see Seattle mayor Greg Nickels, someone that appeared to be a pro-Sonics proponent for much of the saga, betray the team's fans. Between his mis-steps during the city's final courtroom push to keep the Sonics and his highly-criticized settlement with Bennett at the final hour, Nickels winds up looking like an out-of-his-element buffoon (who, ultimately, lost his mayorship in 2009 as a result).
Amongst all the NBAers -- including Kemp, Payton, Karl Doug Christie, Nick Collison, Sam Perkins -- and all the politicians that are interviewed, though, it's author, poet and filmmaker Sherman Alexie who ultimately steals the film.
Embodying the tragic hero in the movie -- the Sonics fan -- Alexie breaks down when talking about what winters in Seattle are like without an NBA team.
"We had Ray Allen here. Ray Allen is very likely the best shooter who has ever lived. There were 41 nights a year, 50 nights a year, where you could have gone and seen that. . . . And people let that go."
At the end of the film, you get several former and current NBA players -- Payton, Collison and Brent Barry -- expressing optimism that a team will be back. Alexie, though, brings the saga full circle.
"The thing is if we get a team, it's going to be somebody else's team," Alexie said. "To get a team, I'm going to have to break the hearts of people just like me."
The film, produced and directed by Adam Brown and Jason Reid, will air at 10 p.m. on CNBC on April 27 and 29. In the meantime, you can visit the "Sonicsgate" website by clicking here, and watch the trailer below.