Sixty-One Things I Learned During the Sonics Trial
A Sonics Love Story
These are the last 61 things that I will say about the Seattle Sonics. No, that's a lie. These are the last 61 things that I will say until I think of some other things a few months down the road:
1. I've given thousands of speeches, readings, and interviews, and once gave shit to then president Bill Clinton for claiming Cherokee heritage when we appeared together in 1998 on NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS. But the trial testimony in Seattle vs. Sonics was by far the most terrifying and stressful public speaking gig I've ever had to endure.
2. There are many Sonics fans who think they could have done a better job than I did testifying. To that, I say: ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Ninety-seven percent of you would have folded like an origami crane, two percent would have crapped your pants, and that magical one percent of more- effective witnesses would have worn a light-blue button-down shirt and khaki pants.
3. Sometimes, after testifying, one will weep in front of sports reporters.
4. The sportswriters who hated my testimony or press conference subsequently overwrote their stories in cute attempts to outwrite me. Relax, guys, you ain't ever gonna be better than me. Or I. Or me. Or I. Shoot, I can never remember which pronoun I'm supposed to use.
5. The sportswriters who liked my testimony and press conference, or felt rather neutral or only slightly negative about it, were happy to note that I introduced emotion into the trial. Isn't it strange that we have to highlight the introduction of emotion into a gathering?
6. There are sportswriters who love their jobs. There are sportswriters who have obviously come to hate their jobs. This trial has made it easier for readers to tell the difference.
7. I know that I touched the hearts of every man in that courtroom when I talked about my late father. I know that each son remembered a gorgeous and/or ugly moment with his father.
8. I realized that Clay Bennett probably bought this basketball team in order to impress his father, father figures, and all of his buddies. As angry as I am with the man, I also understand his motivations. At heart, he's a boy who bought the best toy imaginable—a professional basketball team. But like some preschool tyrant, Bennett ripped that toy out of the hands of the kid who had it first.
9. Clay Bennett is huge—as in heart-attack huge. I wonder if he's a stress eater like me. If so, I would strongly urge him to consult a nutritionist if all of these trials move into appeals.
10. I strongly urge myself to consult a nutritionist if all of these trials move into appeals.
11. I'm actually not that big a fan of cucumber sandwiches.
12. For those of you who think that sports doesn't matter as much as literature, at least in Seattle, please count the column inches devoted to my Sonics testimony as opposed to the inches devoted to my recent National Book Award win.
13. When I think of Howard Schultz, I hear Jewel singing, "Who will say-aay-aave your soul?"
14. More than anything else, I hate Howard Schultz for making me think of Jewel.
15. In writing, thinking, and talking about the Sonics' possible relocation to Oklahoma City, I shuffle like an iPod through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and Hall & Oates.
16. And, yes, it's true: During a season-ticket holder relocation party at KeyArena five years back, I played a little one-on-one with a tall Sonics employee, a young man three inches taller, 20 years younger, and 30 pounds lighter than me, and I head faked left, spun right, and hit a 25-foot fadeaway three-pointer on him.
17. And, go ahead, ask my basketball buddies: I hit that crazy shit all the time. I am sure that all sorts of readers out there think they could take me on a basketball court. But most of you couldn't; I'm better than at least 90 percent of you.
18. In the days leading up to and following my testimony, my friends told me amazing and poetic basketball stories about their fathers, sons, and jump shots. These were love stories. My detractors can give me all the shit they want. I welcome their shit. But I am trying to write a love story. I did introduce "love" as evidence into a federal trial. Call me what you will. Accuse me of any and all clichés. And so, yes, I admit that the "professional basketball players as Greek gods" argument might have been a tad hyperbolic, but please remember that I was not motivated by hate, rage, or condescension; I was motivated by love. God, it sounds stupid to type that and read it aloud. But, damn it, I am a silly, romantic shithead.
19. Here's an obvious news bulletin: A whole bunch of males are very uncomfortable in the presence of masculine love, whether expressed romantically or platonically. I am often uncomfortable in the presence of my own gushing emotions. Did I really need to opine that the love of NBA basketball is at least partially homoerotic? Yes, I did. Of course, I did. LeBron James is indeed the basketball equivalent of Michelangelo's David.
20. And how pathetic was the local television coverage of my testimony and press conference? Instead of focusing on the serious issues that I raised—race and class among them—the local news led their stories with clips of me saying, "And, yeah, that's homoerotic, but that's okay." Yes, our local TV news folks giggled like adolescents at the mere mention of homoeroticism.
21. Yeah, I cuss a lot. Get over it. In writing about basketball, it would be utterly hypocritical to abstain from cursing. Did you catch the last four minutes of the Boston Celtics game six tap-out of the Los Angeles Lakers? As they danced together on the sidelines and celebrated their world championship, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce danced and sang so many "motherfuckers" that the bleeped-over broadcast turned into a John Cage sound collage.
22. In order to explain the previous punch line and to bring two worlds together: Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce are African-American basketball players who were employing a poetic obscenity closely associated with black culture; John Cage was a Euro-American, avant-garde, and mostly unlistenable musician and composer.
23. "Motherfucker" is, of course, the purest distillation of mama insults. Since single mothers are sadly common and sweetly revered in black culture, mama jokes are ironically hilarious. However, I've always wondered why the term "fatherfucker" is so rarely used as an insult. I think it's far more original, powerful, and disturbing than "motherfucker." I assume that "motherfucker" is an insult borne of misogyny, so wouldn't "fatherfucker" be a more egalitarian, homoerotic, and therefore more disturbing obscenity? Wouldn't we all be challenging the patriarchy if we adopted its use?
24. Kobe Bryant is one mean and gifted fatherfucker. Does that work for you?
25. Ray Allen, one of my favorite players and Sonics of all time, just won a championship with the Boston Celtics, my most hated franchise of all time. According to F. Scott Fitzgerald, "the sign of a superior mind is the ability to hold two opposing thoughts at the same time." Well, I possess only a slightly above-average mind, but I decided that I loved Allen enough to also be happy for the hated Celtics. Crazy, huh? Who ever heard of a compassionate sports fan? But let's not get too misty here. I also loved Allen's epic and recording-breaking performance in the NBA Finals because it made the Oklahoma City guys look like fools. In order to make the Sonics a supposedly better basketball team, Clay Bennett and the gang traded away a champion who hit a record- tying seven three-pointers in the clinching game and a record-breaking 22 three-pointers in the entire championship series.
26. On defense, Ray Allen also spent most of his time making life incredibly difficult for Kobe Bryant, the so-called best basketball player in the world. In playing defense and offense with such passion and accomplishment, and by breaking himself out of a horrid slump leading up to the championship series, Allen become one of the greatest stories in NBA Finals history.
27. For Ray Allen, the Oklahoma City guys got Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, and Jeff Green. Later in the season, in a three-team trade, the Okie guys sent Szczerbiak and West to the Cleveland Cavaliers and we received Ira Newble and Donyell Marshall. We soon released Newble. So, in sum total, the Okies traded a world-champion all-star for an ancient power forward (Marshall) and a rookie (Green) who was the 278th best player in the league this past season. In professional basketball circles, this is known as "rebuilding." In the real world, this is known as "wild-ass guessing."
28. To add insult to amputation, I must also remind you that we traded Gary Payton, the Sonic of all Sonics, for Ray Allen. So the generational timeline is Payton to Allen to Green. Let me repeat that: Payton to Allen to Green. Man, oh, man, do you think Jeff Green thinks about his (mis)place in Sonics basketball history? In order to make the world whole, Jeff Green will have to become the third or fourth best small forward in the league. Will Green become that great? He has enormous potential. I will be praying for him. Yes, I pray for professional basketball players.
29. One last thing about Ray Allen: He was participating in the Celtics championship parade through the streets of Boston at the exact time I was testifying in the Sonics trial. Ain't coincidence a fatherfucker?
30. If a country were governed like the National Basketball Association, we'd be sending in UN peacekeeping forces.
31. Oklahoma City is slightly more racially diverse than Seattle. My dear hometown white liberals, how does that statistic sit with you?
32. The original sin remains the signing of free agent big man Jim McIlvaine in 1996. And for that legendary mistake, the Sonics have been punished with a series of Gordian knots named Jerome James, Calvin Booth, Vitaly Potapenko, Robert Swift, Johan Petro, and Mouhamed Sene. When a Sonics fan is forced to fondly look back at the Peja Drobnjak Era, then that Sonic fan tends to repeatedly smash his or her skull against the wall.
33. After my testimony, I jumped into my car with my family, completely forgetting that I had scheduled a lunch with the editor of this newspaper. I'm always forgetting shit like that. Two years ago, I stood up a friend for lunch, and she wrote me an e-mail that said, in part, "If you had been courting me, then this would have been your death. As it is, you are still my friend, but you're an inconsiderate asshole."
34. I know my readers want me to go into detail about my conversations with the city's lawyers, and about strategies and secrets and such, but I am not always an inconsiderate asshole. I will say this: Nobody likes to lose.
35. But man, oh man, you can certainly do your best to pretend that a loss is a win. Did you see our mayor and his cronies yukking it up during the press conference to announce the Sonics' departure? At least Clay Bennett had the decency to take his press conference seriously, to admit that the trial and stress had taken a serious toll on his health.
36. So, when it comes to the settlement with the Oklahoma City guys and the NBA, let's get a few things straight: The NBA has not expressed any interest whatsoever in expansion, except internationally, so it is not going to drop some newborn team on our doorstep. And, more important, if we are to get an NBA team anytime soon, it will happen because our local rich guys bought another city's team and moved it here. And wasn't that the same battle we Sonics fans just fought and lost?
37. Hypocrisy is an airborne contagion.
38. I feel like a failure because I couldn't, with my testimony, single-handedly keep the Sonics in Seattle. I have been punishing myself for my courtroom failures of nerve, imagination, and poetry.
39. I should have said, "But my father didn't live in Minneapolis, he wasn't a season ticket holder, and nobody in Los Angeles ever lied to him."
40. I should have said, "I wrote those articles before the Oklahoma City guys started lying to me."
41. I shouldn't have said anything about those fucking cucumber sandwiches.
42. Of course, there are plenty of things that I wanted to say—I tried to get the city's lawyers to let me say them—but I would have been objected clear out of the courtroom. If I had tried to speak as I actually speak—with a whirling and spinning and beautiful and ugly and intelligent and stupid stream of metaphors, profanity, dick jokes, insults, Whitman and Dickinson quotations, Hall & Oates lyrics, the lifetime statistics of my favorite 127 NBA players of all time, and aching grief songs for my father—I would have been held in contempt and tossed into a holding cell.
43. But my lawyer friends were shocked that I was allowed to say as much as I did. One friend said, "The judge gave you a lot of room." Yes, she did. Thank you, Judge Pechman.
44. I've always thought of myself as a vengeful person. I always thought that if we lost the Sonics, I'd only feel rage at the Oklahoma City guys and at the city itself. But I don't. Oh, I'm pissed at Clay Bennett and his right-wing posse. But I'm not angry with the citizens of Oklahoma City. I'm not even angry at the trash-talking jerks who found my e-mail address and sent me insults, porn, and metaphorical threats to remove parts of my body and place them inside other parts of my body. Instead, I find those Oklahoma City fans to be very cute and innocent. You see, they think they're getting an NBA basketball team.
45. Well, okay, Oklahoma City folks, you are getting an NBA team, but it is going to be the worst team in the league for the next three years. Over the next three years, your new team will lose somewhere between 160 to 180 games. That's going to be tough for you because, frankly, you don't love the Sonics. You love the idea of professional basketball being played in your city. But once reality sets in—once you realize that you have a horrible team coached by an incompetent and unpleasant man featuring an offense that puts your superstar into a dozen different places on the floor where he should not be—you are going to lose that glow. Your initial infatuation will end and then the hard work of being a fan will begin: You will have to learn how to love a loser.
46. And I have to be honest about something else, too. I like your city. I've only had positive experiences in your town. But I am not a twentysomething newly minted millionaire (and especially not an African-American newly minted millionaire). I guarantee you that the best players on your new team—along with their agents, business managers, and lawyers—are already strategizing about how to get out of your town. Seattle is a gorgeous, cosmopolitan city and we had difficultly keeping and signing big-time free agents. How do you think Oklahoma City is going to do?
47. As I write this, the general managers and owners of every other NBA team are making plans to clear their cap spaces so they can offer massive money to Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Nick Collison.
48. And don't go telling me about how small-market teams like Salt Lake City and New Orleans are doing well and winning games. If you can find a great coach like Utah's Jerry Sloan, then you can talk. If you get lucky with your draft picks and end up with a player as great as Chris Paul because a number of other teams were too idiotic to draft him, then you can talk.
49. Oh, to make you happy, I think your new draft pick, Russell Westbrook, is going to be an amazing player. I don't think he'll be as good as Chris Paul, but he's going to be close.
50. Westbrook is going to be a free agent in 2012, I believe.
51. When the mayor's press conference was over, I screamed. And my scream was immediately answered by thunder and lightning. My friend Aaron e-mailed me and said, "Can you believe it's fucking RAINING right now?" Distraught, wanting and needing my family's attention, I drove home. As I walked up the front steps, as I began to cry, as I touched the doorknob, it thundered so loudly that car alarms went off. Then, as I stepped into the house, closed the door behind me, and fell onto the floor and loudly wept, the wind blew open our back door. That's the power of grief.
52. I don't believe in magic. But I do believe in interpreting coincidence exactly the way you want to.
53. Do you know why Indian rain dances always worked? Because the Indians would keep dancing until it rained.
54. The last time I fell on the floor and cried like that, it was the day my father died. These two events are not unrelated. I bought Sonics season tickets for my father, and though he only went to a few games before he died, his ghost was always sitting between me and my guest.
55. A few folks, including one who writes for this paper, think I'm naive for my faith in and love for professional basketball. Well, I am a reservation Indian who has never once believed anything a white man in a suit has ever said to him. It is historically, politically, and culturally impossible for a reservation Indian to be naive.
56. Don't you wish Howard Schultz were a reservation Indian? A rez Indian would have never signed that deal with Clay Bennett.
57. Ah, who am I kidding? Reservation Indians are still signing treaties with lying, evil white guys (and also with other Indians who are evil liars).
58. My love of the game has not diminished at all. For those Sonics fans out there who are threatening to give up the game because of this trial, I only have this to say: Fuck you and your fake-ass love; I'm happy that I'm not married to you.
59. Okay, well, my love has been tested. So I take back the previous insult. I understand that many Sonics fans are speaking out of genuine pain and heartbreak. I respect that. So I'll give you a year to mourn, and then you better get your ass back on the NBA wagon.
60. I just bought a 10-game package for the Portland Trail Blazers. My two best basketball buddies and I are planning our road trips. We kind of feel like the bastard widower who married the hot twentysomething a few months after his wife died. But it's ball, man. It's pro hoops.
61. And hey, I live just a few minutes from Brandon Roy's childhood home and high school, and I taught the man in college, so I think I can justify rooting for him and his Blazers. And Portland is coached by Mr. Sonic, Nate McMillan, and owned by Paul Allen, and—ah, hell, I'm a hoops junkie, man, and I need my fix.