Any talk of the NBA in the Pacific Northwest can be a sensitive topic of conversation, especially if you're a Seattle sports fan as many Juneauites are.
The Supersonics were cruelly taken away from a great sports town after Howard Schultz' sale of the team to Oklahoma businessman Clay Bennett, which basically ensured the club's departure given the lack of public funding for a new arena (something made even more brutal by the drafting of Kevin Durant the year before the Sonics' left the Crescent City). It truly was one of the great heist jobs in the history of the league, and one of the few times David Stern has made a decision that dearly cost an entire city.
Then there are the Portland Trailblazers, a team that passed on Durant in the draft to select Greg Oden with the first pick in 2007. This is also the team that drafted Sam Bowie with the No. 2 overall pick in 1984 instead of some guy named Michael Jordan.
It really is an eerily familiar situation. The same franchise passed on two high-scoring swingmen to draft two "franchise" big men to anchor the paint, and it has gone wrong on two separate occasions 23 years apart. At least so far.
Greg Oden is still young at 22 years old, and certainly has a great chance to rebound in his young career. And with Durant averaging 30 points a night down in Oklahoma City, the Blazers would hate to think they drafted the wrong guy. But I'm sure that thought has crossed some of their minds of every front-office guy in Portland.
Well, not nearly as much as it has the fans' mind, that is.
Still, both teams are considered to be contenders in the NBA's Western Conference. And by the way, being a contender in the Western Conference means that you have a team that wouldn't get swept by the Lakers in the playoffs. Portland's front office is nervous about Oden, but in recent years it has drafted one of the deepest squads in the league (even if the Blazers inexplicably fired GM Kevin Pritchard after last season).
Brandon Roy was the NBA's Rookie of the Year in 2006-07 and is a perennial All-Star, but still the Blazers still can't quite get over the hump. And now, Roy's knee problem has caused the guard to question his own athleticism and durability for the rest of his career. He's only 26 years of age, so this is not something you want to hear, especially with Oden sitting on the bench in street clothes.
Meanwhile, the Thunder is rolling down in Oklahoma City. An upstart team featuring arguably the game's most exciting young nucleus in Durant and Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City has become one of the loudest places to play in the league (I'm betting fans would have filled Key Arena, too, if they got to watch these guys).
The Thunder surprised many teams during last season's run to the playoffs and brought a lot of new fans with them on the bandwagon. Hell, even a few disenfranchised Sonics fans probably called them their favorite. Maybe it gave them a chance to cheer for something, or at least an excuse to wear a Seattle jersey in Oklahoma City.
So to you Sonics fanatics, this is not meant to rub it in. For now, it gives the NBA fans of Juneau something to root for, at least until Carlos Boozer returns to the court in Chicago. And while the Seahawks currently hold first place in the (yawn) exciting NFC West, the basketball season is in full swing. Isn't there any consolation in the fact this young Thunder team is succeeding, even if it's from afar?
Maybe not. Maybe the damage done is irreparable, and that's fully understandable. But still, at least it's better than watching the Mariners, right?
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