Pro Basketball is good for Seattle, good for fathers, good for sons. Save the Sonics.
After Howard Schultz sold the Seattle SuperSonics to Clayton Bennett of Oklahoma City, I boycotted Starbucks.
For approximately three hours.
Yes, I am a leftist Democrat who likes Starbucks, and might even love the Northgate 24-hour drive-through and the University Village store that serves as a UW study-hall annex.
I'm an insomniac, so it makes sense that I'd need a highly predictable cup of coffee at any and all hours. And Starbucks coffee tastes exactly the same whether I buy it at 3:00 a.m. or 3:00 p.m. And it also tastes the same in Seattle, Des Moines, Manhattan, Tucson, and Bismarck, North Dakota.
A few years ago, during a room-service breakfast in an Oklahoma City hotel, I drank Starbucks coffee and can assure you that it tasted absolutely familiar.
In fact, it tasted good.
Yes, I said it.
And I'll say it again: Starbucks coffee is good.
I'm sure that many of you readers—especially the coffee purists and lefty peacemongers—think that I am a tasteless and immoral supporter of economic imperialism, charred beans, callous gentrification, and Mitch Albom books.
I am a Native American, so I have personal experience, of course, with hardcore American gentrification.
When Starbucks built a shop at 23rd Avenue and Jackson Street, many folks cursed and condemned that development as gentrification.
How's that store doing now?
Tonight, I walked inside and approached an elderly black man in a tweed suit.
"Excuse me, sir," I said. "Do you think this store is an example of gentrification?"
"What?" Tweed Suit asked.
"Do you think Starbucks gentrified the neighborhood?"
"You some kind of politician?"
"Nope, I just want to know what people think about the social and economic impact of this franchise on the Central District."
"I'm sitting in this here store, drinking this here coffee. What do you think I feel about it?"
I feel good about the store. It's near my office, so I visit on a daily basis.
And the place is always filled with elderly black guys, especially on weekend mornings.
They're often playing backgammon, and they're always talking shit.
Last year, as I waited for my Americano, I heard this conversation between a mustached black man and a bald black man:
"You remember when you could get a hooker on this corner?" the mustached man asked.
"Man," the bald man said. "I remember when I got a hooker on this corner. I must've been 20 years old."
"There ain't no hookers out there anymore."
"The diseases they got now, you wouldn't want a hooker out there."
"Don't matter anyhow. All I got left is my memories and this coffee."
How often do you hear that kind of conversation in the Madison Park Starbucks?
I've visited that upscale store a few dozen times, and I've occasionally seen KING 5's Jean Enersen drinking her nonfat something-or-other.
And I've admired her biceps. The woman might be overly styled and tan, but she is cut.
So why the hell am I talking about Jean Enersen's sinewy muscles and the sexual nostalgia of local black men?
Well, first of all, I love to watch stories happen. And secondly, I know that Starbucks is certainly a huge and generic conglomerate, but each store itself contains multitudes.
And with multitudes come interesting conflicts.
Last week, at the 23rd Avenue and Jackson Street store, I waited behind two white women, a blonde and a redhead. Three black women worked the counter.
"Can I help you?" the cashier asked.
"Yes, I'd like a green tea," the redhead said.
"You want honey with that tea?"
"I need a honey," the redhead said. "I haven't had a honey in a long time. You got a honey back there for sale?"
The cashier politely laughed and made the sale. But when the white women walked away, the black women rolled their eyes.
"That white woman was horny goofy," the cashier said.
The other black women laughed. I laughed, too.
"Oh," the cashier said. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for you to hear that."
"It's okay," I said. "She was horny goofy."
She laughed, relieved that I wasn't offended. I can't remember the last time I was offended. In fact, I prefer offensive human beings. They make for better stories.
Trust me. I am the great-great-great grandson of a man who was killed by a Ninth Cavalry soldier, so short of genocidal murder, it's very difficult to offend me.
I have a high tolerance for shit, in solid or liquid form.
I have swallowed gallons of truly horrible coffee at various powwows, bingo halls, casinos, and grange-hall meetings, so I know that, in comparison, Starbucks brew is liquid sex.
I grew up dirt-ass poor, so drinking Starbucks feels like a privilege, like something I've earned through luck and hard work.
And for those of you who think that Starbucks coffee is pond water, I suspect that you're elitist bastards who also attend wine-tasting parties and have pledged allegiance to a favorite microbrew.
As for Mitch Albom, well, fuck him and his sentimentalism.
As for my sentimentalism, well, I say fuck me, too.
You see, I admire Howard Schultz. I think his rise from a humble Brooklyn, New York, housing project to head of an epic coffee dynasty is a romantic story.
Yep, I am a believer in that sentimental crap known as the American dream.
Why do I believe in it? Because I am the American dream.
I am a reservation-raised Indian boy, whose mother and father barely graduated high school and never went to college, and I have grown to become a very successful writer. I win awards, draw huge crowds, sell tons of books, and make much money by telling stories. Isn't that crazy and magical?
At least once a day, I laugh in wonder at my great fortune and greater luck.
And while I'm arrogant about my skills, I'm also relatively modest about my exact position in the literary world.
I'm not the best writer in the country. Not even close. I'm not in the top 10. No way. And I'm probably not in the top 50. But I'm certainly in the top 100. In fact, for the sake of argument, let's say that I am the 78th best writer in the country.
According to ESPN.com, the Seattle SuperSonics' Luke Ridnour is the 78th best basketball player in the NBA.
Yep, Luke Ridnour is the Sherman Alexie of the NBA; and I am the Luke Ridnour of the literary world.
Of course, Ridnour's rise to fame and fortune is even more unlikely than mine.
Jesus, he's a six-foot, 150-pound white kid competing against the best athletes in the world. Do you know how many great white point guards there have been in the NBA?
Well, off the top of my head, I can only think of Bob Cousy, John Stockton, Mark Price, and Steve Nash.
That's four in the last 40 or so years.
And many people think that Luke Ridnour might have the tools to become that great. He has so much potential that the U.S. Olympic Committee named him as an alternate for the national team.
What do I think of Luke Ridnour? I think he's the primary reason why the Sonics were a crappy team last year and will be a crappy team this year and every other year until we find a better point guard.
I hate Ridnour's game.
Of course, since Ridnour and I occupy similar positions in our professions, this could be a form of self-hate.
And since I am now and have always been an offensive-minded basketball player who can't guard anybody, just like Ridnour, I'm pretty damn sure it's a form of self-hate.
Among my basketball friends, I am vilified for hating Ridnour. My basketball friends defend Ridnour like they are married to him. They think it's love; I think they're battered spouses.
We spend inordinate amounts of time during our weekly pickup basketball games, e-mail conversations, and phone calls arguing about Mr. Ridnour.
We care about Ridnour's failures and successes more than we care about most everything else in our lives.
Isn't that pathetic?
Well, yes, of course it is, but it's also the most common way in which a particular kind of male expresses love for himself, for other men, and for the world.
While my father was dying, he and I talked basketball. Three days before he died, my father still had enough will and character left to deride Kobe Bryant for being a rotten smallpox wound on the game of basketball.
"I know," I said. "I can't stand him."
That meant I love you, Dad.
"I still can't believe they traded Shaq instead of Kobe."
That meant I love you, too, Son.
Of course, no matter how much I hate Kobe, I still love to watch him play. He's a ferocious poet on the court. And I most especially love to watch him lose.
I hate Kobe like other people hate the New York Yankees. And, man, it feels good to hate like that because I won't start any wars because of it. I get to hate without fear of violence.
And my father hated Kobe like that, too.
When I look back at my relationship with my father, when I put a narrative to it, I realize that every plot point, every surprise, and every tender and/or painful moment has something to do with basketball.
My father was a great basketball player. I was a very good small-town hoopster but I couldn't beat him one-on-one until I was 16 years old.
And I have never felt better or worse than the day I finally defeated my father.
My father haunts every basketball game.
Luke Ridnour's father was his high-school basketball coach, and the Sonics' power forward Nick Collison's high-school team was coached by his father.
Talk about haunted.
I'd rather my father had been my priest or my doctor than my basketball coach.
Small forward Damien Wilkins's father is the NBA journeyman Gerald Wilkins and his uncle is the all-star Dominique Wilkins.
Imagine pursuing a profession where your uncle is known as "The Human Highlight Film."
We currently have a U.S. president who followed his father into the most highly stressful and public profession in the world and look what happened to him—and us.
When I watch a Sonics game, I certainly see the players as athletic competitors, but I also see them as human beings, as fathers and sons and husbands.
I don't know them personally, of course, and I only know the barest details of their biographies, but I like to guess at their motivations.
It's my job, you know, as a writer, to guess at motivations.
And so I see every basketball game as a chapter of the novel known as a season. And I see each season as another volume in an unending series of mysteries.
I don't watch the Sonics because of their wins and losses on the court.
Of course, I'd much rather see them win every championship for the next 10 years, but I am not going to give up on the Sonics because they've had one bad season. Or two. Or three. Or eight.
Shit, I'm not going to give up on the Sonics if they move to Oklahoma City. I'd fly to Siberia to watch Rashard Lewis shoot a turnaround. And I'd fly to, well, Oklahoma City, to make bets with my friends on how soon Danny Fortson picks up his first foul. Hell, I might even become a fan of Clayton Bennett if he proves to be a smart owner.
And I'm not going to give up on the Sonics for being a poor defensive team, or a team that can't seem to win close games, or a team that can't seem to draft anybody other than extremely tall and mostly useless guys.
Instead, I choose to love the Sonics holistically. Yes, you read that correctly.
I am a holistic basketball fan.
I love the wins and losses. I love the spectacular assists and idiotic turnovers. I love the poetry of teamwork and the pornography of jump shots taken too early in the shot clock.
And, yes, I love Luke Ridnour. And I hate the little fucker, too.
I hope that Earl Watson (or anybody else) will soon replace Luke Ridnour at point guard, but I also hope that Ridnour proves me wrong and becomes the 33rd or 21st best player in the league.
I am obsessed with Luke Ridnour.
I think about Luke Ridnour nearly every day of my life.
If my father were alive, he'd be calling me to talk about Ridnour.
"Jesus," he'd say. "I can't believe they're still playing the little shit."
"I know," I'd say. "I think it's because he's a white kid in a very white city."
"That's a racist thought."
"It's a racial thought."
"There's no real difference between racist and racial. Don't be such a writer."
"Well, okay, then, I think that Luke Ridnour's fans, no matter what color they are, root for him because they see this tiny little guy running around the court and they secretly think they are better basketball players than him."
"Of course it is. Ridnour is the 78th best player in the NBA, which means he's probably the 128th best player in the whole world. But you know how people are."
"Yeah, people hate greatness."
Of course, my father wouldn't have said any of that. He was a fairly simple man. But I put the words in his mouth because I wanted to put the words on the page.
I think that certain people do hate greatness. And I most definitely know that certain American leftists absolutely despise capitalistic greatness.
Can you imagine hating Howard Schultz simply because he's the greatest coffee seller in the history of the world?
Think about it. There has never existed another human being who is better at selling coffee than Mr. Schultz.
He is the Einstein of coffee.
The Michelangelo of coffee.
The Meryl Streep of coffee.
The Emily Dickinson of coffee.
The Oprah of coffee.
The Michael Jordan and/or Larry Bird of coffee.
Yes, Schultz is that good.
He is proof that, once in a while, the United States is a meritocracy. And so I feel like his American dream brother because I think I am also proof that the United States is a meritocracy. And Ray Allen and Luke Ridnour and Rashard Lewis are proof of that, too.
Can you imagine hating Ray Allen (or Alex Rodriguez) simply because he gets paid millions to demonstrate his greatness?
I admire the poverty-stricken greatness of saints. But I also admire the well-compensated greatness of basketball players.
I admire the greatness; the money is incidental.
So, yes, I admire Howard Schultz's greatness.
I also hate him because the fucker gave up on the Sonics. And I hate him for trying to blackmail the city for an arena. And I hate him for selling the team to a boring red-state millionaire named Clay.
And I have wept at least 20 times since the Sonics were sold.
Yes, I wept because I know the Sonics will be leaving us. I don't want them to leave us. But leave they must.
And I know that plenty of you are happy that the Sonics are leaving. And that plenty of you don't give any kind of shit at all.
I know that a few of you, like Seattle City Council Member Nick Licata, think that the Sonics in particular and professional sports in general have negligible cultural value.
Well, I say this to Mr. Licata and to all of you who agree with him:
I know more poetry and more basketball than any of you do, and both pursuits are equally valuable to me.
I can quote by memory a few hundred poems and I can quote by memory the lifetime statistics of a few hundred basketball players.
I've had Sonics season tickets for 10 years and I've read approximately 1,000 books during that same period.
So, okay, do you understand now how much I love the game and how much I love the Sonics?
Do you love anything in your life that much? Do you love rock climbing that much? Or running? Or yoga? Or gardening? Or football? Or baseball?
So, do me a favor right now, and think of the thing you love most, and imagine that it has been taken from you. Imagine yourself so bereft. And imagine that you live in a city where most, if not all, of the citizens don't care about your loss.
"But, Sherman," you might say. "It's just basketball. It's not as important as feeding the poor or educating our children or providing affordable housing."
And, of course, basketball is not as important as those other social issues. But the health and pride of a city depends on more than its politics. It also needs art and, yes, it needs athletics.
A great city needs to work on its soul, mind, and body.
A great city needs to embrace as much greatness as it possibly can.
And we need to keep the Sonics, or at least remember them fondly, because Ray Allen is the greatest shooter in the world. Maybe the best shooter in the history of the world.
Yes, right now, in this city, lives the Emily Dickinson of jump shooters. The Michelangelo of three-pointers. The Meryl Streep of the pump fake and fade away. And most of you have never seen him play.
That's a shame.