Monday, February 20, 2012

Sunday Discussion: An Interview with Jason Angeles, Seattle's only Oklahoma City Thunder Fan.

Editor's Note: When the SuperSonics left Seattle in 2008, most fans crawled into their holes, and began a long hibernation, awaiting the return of professional basketball to the city.  However, Jason Angeles bravely waited out the winter, and now is one of the city's only Thunder fans.  As such, he's enjoyed the team's rise to eliteness, even as the rest of the city remains shocked, saddened and angered by the circumstances that surrounded the franchise's move.  With news of an imminent arena deal in Seattle -- and, presumably, a return for NBA basketball -- it felt fitting to interview Jason, the city's only living Thunder fan, here on The Diss.  In addition to the Sonics and Thunder, this interview touches on the importance of loyalty, supporting winning and losing teams, and the designation of Seattle sports fans as "fair weathered."  Let's get to it.

Jason.  How are you?

I'm good.  Thanks.

A few questions, hopefully they don't offend.

Just don't use the word "chink".

I'll try.  So, when did you first start to pay attention to basketball?

Oh, it was the 80s.  I watched a lot of basketball with my dad.  Watched Larry and Magic, that whole rivalry.  The finals.  I went to my first Sonics game in '83. Maybe it was '84.  I remember Gus Williams and Lenny Wilkens, the coach.

So obviously, you're a Sonics fan.  When'd that start?

So I was a little kid, and I liked them then, but then I got out of basketball, and didn't really care until 1992, when George Karl came in midseason and rescued the Sonics.  He brought them all the way back to the playoffs, where they beat the Warriors.  Sorry.

It's okay.  Lots of people beat the Warriors.

So yeah.  It was Kemp's second year, and the Payton-Kemp show started to dazzle, and yeah, it caught my attention.  I started playing more basketball then when the Sonics started winning.

That's awesome.

Yeah.  That's when I started liking it.  When they had X (Xavier McDaniel), I didn't really care.  I didn't pay attention.  It was the early 1990s, for sure.

So you mention Payton and Kemp.  Would you say those guys are your favorite Sonics players?  Do you have a favorite Sonic of all time?

It's Gary Payton.

Say more.

What, about Payton?

Yeah.  What makes him your favorite player?

He was awesome!  He made the team winners.  He was the guy.  The catalyst.  He had the attitude, the snarl.  He wasn't the biggest guy, but he had the spin move, he played monster D.  He was confident and arrogant in all the right ways.

And here in Seattle, in the post-Sonics era, he's been one of the biggest supporters for bringing a team back.

Yeah, he genuinely loved playing in Seattle, and he seemed like a super chill guy.  He was a superstar in our town.  I mean, next to Ken Griffey Jr., he was the biggest star in Seattle.

Well, much like Griffey, Seattle didn't exactly treat him the best, and Payton didn't get to end his career as a Sonic.  Have thoughts about that?

Yeah, Payton was pissed.  I remember when he got traded to Milwaukee for Ray Allen, what was it, the 2003 season?

Yeah, something like that.  I was in high school.  Maybe 2002.

But actually that was a good trade.  I remember Payton calling out (former Sonics owner) Howard Schultz after that, saying: "he doesn't know anything about basketball."  He got traded in his 999th fucking game, you know?

One game before 1,000, Schultz trades him.

Yeah.  Ridiculousness.

What was the happiest moment for you as a fan, before the Sonics left seattle?

My favorite moment was freshman year at Evergreen, '96, watching them play the Bulls in the NBA finals.  We all cared and watched it.  They won two games, and beat the 72-10 Bulls twice in the playoffs.  I remember Nate McMillan leading the way one game, scoring like 25 points and 10 assists.

Yet most of the national narrative of that Sonics team focuses on the Finals.  Most people forget that the Sonics had a crazy playoff run that year.  They had a few 7 games series, right?

Yeah.  A really crazy one against Utah.  And, throughout the nineties, they were the winningest basketball team in the Western Conference.  Maybe even the NBA.  So they were always winning games.  And I would watch them on TV, you know?  They were always on.  That's what I miss the most about not having an NBA team; not having a game on local television.

Yeah.  Yeah, that sucks.

It's like, fuck.  I didn't actually go to a lot of games in the nineties, because I was poor, and honestly, I didn't have a lot of friends who liked basketball.  I'm, like, the only guy in my group of friends who cares the way I do.

So while you were growing up, were there not a lot of people who liked basketball around you?

Well, I didn't have a lot of friends who were, like, sports people.  They were music people, theater folk, nerds.  And most girls don't like basketball.

I think you're meeting the wrong girls.

Yeah.  I was deprived.


So unfortunately we must turn to more somber subjects, like the departure of the Sonics...

Yeah, that was beyond my control.  Hey, I tried.  I said: "I don't like this."

Yeah, and they heard you loud and clear.  So in your opinion, when did things start to go wrong?  Can you pinpoint a move?  A period of time?  A particular player?  Some folks point to the McIllvain signing.  You could argue Kemp's trade made a difference.  A lot of people will say that it's based on factors not related to the court, like Schultz buying and-slash-or selling the team...

Well, Schultz selling the team was the first indication, at least to me, that the Sonics were gonna leave.  It made front page news in the Seattle Times, saying: "Oklahoma City Investment Group Buys Sonics."  Basically saying the Sonics were going to OKC in a matter of time.  Which was right, they were correct.  And I remember seeing that headline and saying, "oh shit, that could happen."  And you know it did.

So they stayed for, what, two seasons?

Only one.


And I believed that it wasn't gonna happen, that we were gonna find a way to do it, and keep them.  We were gonna find a loophole and keep them here.

But is that the same as the moment things started going wrong?

That's the time I knew they were gonna leave town.  When things went wrong...well, they were one of the worst teams in the NBA in the aughts, right?

Yeah, except for a 50 win season in 2003, I think.

Yeah, they went to the second round of the playoffs, and lost to the Spurs.  That was awesome, actually.

They upset the Kings, I think.  Sixth seed, something like that.

Yeah, that was fun.  I wasn't a big fan then, but it was huge, it was when I moved back to Seattle.  But mostly the Sonics sucked.  They continued to suck after that season, and they continued to suck season after season after that.  They had Ray, and Rashard, and a bunch of nobodys.  Just a bunch of hacks.

So what are your memories of the 2007-2008 season?  Just to jog your memory, that was the Sonics last season in Seattle.

Well, they had Kevin Durant.  I saw him play.  I went to one game.  They lost, they got blown out by the Timberwolves, if you can believe that.  But that was fun, actually, I still enjoyed it.  What'd they win, like 20 games that season?

About.  20 or 21.

I don't remember a lot.  I just remember all the speculation that it was going to be their last season.  And you know, I think the fans were hopeful up until the day the team played their first game in Oklahoma City. Then it was it, you know?

That was officially it.

When they unveiled the jerseys, I was like, "there's still hope, there's still hope."  Then they played in OKC, and I was like, "oh, crap."  So I didn't follow the Thunder that first season because they were crap and I was mad.  But then Durant started getting good and I was like, "Ohh!  There's Durant!  That's the Sonics.  There's Collison, too."  And I just love basketball, so when they became a fun team to watch, all of a sudden they just became the Sonics to me [laughs].

When the product became good, in other words.

Yeah.  And they were good because of the deals they made when they were still in Seattle, you know?

Well, that's an interesting long view of it.  So, it's interesting to me that you say they became the Sonics again when the product was good. There's a saying about Seattle sports fans...

Don't say it.

Well, true or not, there's a sentiment that Seattle sports fans are fair-weather fans.

God I don't like that.

Well it's the sentiment that they only like their teams when they're good.  Right now the Mariners are bad, and their games are among the worst attended in all of the MLB.  The Seahawks attendance has been dwindling the last few years as well.  Have any thoughts on that?

Yeah, that's...yeah, I mean, that could be accurate.  I guess you could call me a fair weather fan.  I didn't stop liking sports, but you know, I just found other things to pay attention to.  So yeah, okay, there's some truth to that.

So say that the Thunder were bad right now and never developed into an elite team in the West.  Would they still be the Sonics, or would they be the Thunder to you?

Uh.  Good point.  I'd probably be a Blazers fan.  Probably.

So you'd just go for the regional association.

Yeah.  And I was [a fan of the blazers] for the first season after the Sonics.


Yeah.  They had Brandon Roy.  I mean, I like winners.

That's fair.  So back to the Sonics.  In your opinion, whose fault is it that the Sonics left?  And to be clear, you have a lot of culprits to choose from.  You've got David Stern, Howard Schultz, Clay Bennett, House Speaker Frank Chopp, the Citizens for More Important Things.

Fuck those guys.

Yeah, well you could even talk about the voters and consumers of the state of Washington, who neither voted for a new tax to fund an arena, nor showed up to the games in order to make the franchise financially viable.

Well it all started with Howard Schultz.  He gave up on the team.  They were "hemorrhaging money." Like he didn't have the money.  He agreed to take Bennett's money.  He could've waited for the local guy to buy it, but no.

Steve Ballmer was mentioned back then, but hasn't really been mentioned in recent stuff about a team coming here.

But still. The second he sold it to OKC, I knew we were doomed.

So for you, it's Howard Schultz.  Above fans, above politicians.

Yeah, we still had the hardcore fans.  But Seattle was a bad place for a new arena, at the time.  We were still paying off Qwest and Safeco, and suddenly, they wanted $500 million for a third?  Those are mega-fucking-arenas.  It was like, no way.

And to be clear, the Mariners only stayed because that arena was built for them, correct?

Correct.  They were gonna go to Florida, Tampa, somewhere.  It took a miracle season, the 1995 postseason magic of Griffey and Edgar Martinez to save the Mariners.  They's why the called Safeco "The House That Griffey Built."

And by contrast, the Sonics last season of basketball featured on the worst teams in the NBA, that clearly had a talented player for the future, but none of those old Sonics are on the current Thunder now, but they didn't have that magical season that the Mariners had which saved baseball in Seattle.

Yeah, there was nothing they could've done.  But it was all Schultz.  He's the guy who was like, "Oh, I don't wanna lose $400 million a year."  Pretty sure that's pocket change for him.

Well, he's worth a billion.  So maybe not pocket change.

Eh, he could handle it.  Rich asshole.


Do you feel the fans did everything they could to save the team?

There was a big "Save Our Sonics" effort.  I don't think there was anything they could have done to save the team.  [Clay Bennett] had David Stern in his pocket, an arena built already.  I

And basketball had already been successful in Oklahoma City, when the Hornets were there for a season-and-a-half after Katrina.

Well, I mean....there was a lot of hope, I felt like.  People thought like me, I didn't know how it was a good idea to move the NBA out of the biggest market in the Pacific Northwest, to one of the smallest markets in the entire NBA.

Sacramento is a smaller market, I believe.  Charlotte's probably there, too.  But yeah, OKC is a fraction of the market Seattle is.

And how is that smart?  But, as soon as I found out that that wasn't going to be the issue, rather, that, you know, "this is the owner of the team, and he's got David Stern's blessing."  As soon as he got that blessing, you know, it was over.  There wasn't anything anyone could've done, probably.

So do you think that's where the anger, specifically directed at David Stern, comes from here in Seattle?  That close relationship with Clay Bennett?

Yeah.  The fact he let it happen.  It was a done deal.  So as far as the "Save Our S**onics" folks?  Yeah, that wasn't gonna change anything.  Politicians?  Probably not.  The lease lawsuit seemed legit, I guess, but the bottom line was that Clay Bennett owned the team, and he could do whatever he wanted with it.


Shit happens.  Especially when David Stern is your buddy.  "Take one of the biggest markets on the West Coast, and put it in one of the smallest markets in the Midwest.  I think that's a good idea."

Well, I mean, media markets are an interesting thing, right?  The [Vancouver] Grizzlies were in the third biggest media market in Canada, and moved to one of the smallest media markets in the South, and are exponentially more successful than they ever were in British Columbia.

But what'd they get, six years in Vancouver?

Yeah, something like that.

Well, that's not enough time.

No, not really.

Especially for an expansion team.  Yeah, I'd rather see Seattle get an expansion team, rather than take someone else's team.


Well, let's wait on that for a minute, and move on to the Thunder, and specifically the transition period between the end of Sonics basketball and your beginning as a Thunder fan.  Now, you may be the only Thunder fan in Seattle...

Yeah.  That's...that's okay.

Has it been hard remaining loyal?, I mean, I don't see it as "remaining loyal."  I love basketball, and I'm happy...well, I root for the underdog, and when we lost to the Lakers [in 2010] in the first round...they went 50-32, made the playoffs, played the Lakers hella close, showed a lot of progress.  So...okay.  Yeah, I dunno.

Well, you said that you were a Blazers fan, at least initially.

Well, I was out of the NBA, in general.  But, I would root for the Blazers.  They were fun TV to watch.  That year, I mostly moved on to other things.

So when did you become a Thunder fan?

Well, when Durant started torching for 30, 35 every game, and when they began to gel.

So much like your Sonics fanhood, when they became good, you became a fan.

Yeah.  I'm a fair-weather fan in that I like to watch a winning team.

So what's interesting to me is that -- 

I mean, I don't like to watch a poorly put-together team, you know?  I mean, I still followed the box scores when the Sonics were crap.  I still had hope.  It wasn't like I wasn't a Sonics fan anymore.  But, I dunno.  I wasn't rushing home to see their games.  Now, I do that for Thunder games, because they're winning and they're fun to watch.


I mean, that's just human nature.

Well, you've said before that you see the Thunder as the Sonics, just in Oklahoma City.

Well, I said that to defend my fandom of the Thunder.

And you've said to me that guys like Durant, and Collison, who are the only two remaining Sonics on the Thunder's roster, are "Sonics for life."

Well, Seattle did draft Russell Westbrook.

That's true.  Seattle did draft Westbrook.  But you've said that those guys are "Sonics for life."  Why do you think they're...

Well, they were drafted by the Sonics.

So why aren't there more Thunder fans in Seattle?  Or, conversely, why is there only one of you?

Well, I hope I'm not the only person.

I can say with some certainty that you're one of the only people here in Seattle who still support these guys in OKC.

I just...I don't hang on to the anger.  I'm over it, I guess.  Instead of getting angry, I don't know, I wanna support them.  I want them to be successful.

So why are so many people here, like, "fuck the Thunder"?  They don't watch Collison, they don't watch Durant, they don't watch Westbrook, they don't see them as the Sonics like you do.  I mean, how are you able to able to suspend reality, and still see green and yellow where there is clearly blue and orange?

All right, I'll say this: maybe I was a bigger Sonics fan than them.  Maybe it's like, just because those guys left doesn't mean that they're not good people, that they're suddenly different people; that all of a sudden it's their fault, and that they turned their backs on Seattle. I mean, they're just employees working, and their corporation relocated to a different city.

That's an interesting way to look at it.

Lot's of people leave Seattle for different  jobs. It doesn't mean that they hate Seattle, or are disloyal to Seattle. People get opportunities all over the country and they just have to go with it. Oftentimes it's out of control. You just hope that people support you back home.

So what made the Sonics different in that regard?

Well, even when they sucked that first season I was never like, "I hate OKC." I basically stopped watching basketball, but I was never like, "fuck OKC." And when they started winning I started liking the team again, exactly like when I started liking the Sonics again.

And that's interesting because that fits the profile of the stereotypical Seattle sports fan except that in this case, the Seattle team isn't in Seattle anymore.

It's not like I had money to buy season tickets anyways. It wasn't like I was contributing financially to the team when they were awesome. I didn't gather a bunch of friends to go to games because I didn't have those types of friends, you know?

It's interesting how your social environment has contributed to you bring able to suspend reality and see the Thunder as the Sonics. I mean, it always was just you and this team. You existed with the team and the still exists.

I mean, 99% of the team's history has played out in front of me on TV, not in person.

Yeah, and now you can still see them on TV, except less so.

And when ICE shuts down streaming sites.


So let's get hopeful here. It's looking more and more likely, especially after the arena announcement this week, that there will be professional basketball in Seattle in the near future, maybe even as soon as next season. In all likelihood, that team would be known as the Seattle SuperSonics. Now it remains to be seen whether the new Sonics will be the old Kings, the old Hornets, or the old Bobcats, but what are your early thoughts about this?

I mean...I guess I'll wait and see. Obviously it's great to have this effort so quickly after we lost the Sonics. I'd love to take my nephews to a basketball game, that'd be fun. I dunno if I want the Kings; I'm not sure I want DeMarcus Cousins [laughs]. But I mean, I'm a sports fan. I'd love it.

Indeed, you are a discerning fan. It's be great to have a team, but you don't want any old team. Like the Bobcats. Name three players on the Bobcats.

I can name three players.

Well name them.

Well there's Boris Diaw.

Yeah, fat 'ol Boris.

And there's Emeka Okafor. Wait, no, he's on the hornets.  I can do this. Uh...D.J. Augustin.

Yep, he's their starting point guard. One more.

Don't they have Kwame Brown?

Nope he's on the Warriors.

Oh. I can do this. They have that guy. What's his name?

Punt Dropkick?

Hoopy Slamdunk?

I'll help you. Kemba Walker. Bismack Biyombo.

Walker's decent, right?

Decent. But let's get back to it. That's an interesting point: the teams that are most likely to become the next Sonics aren't exactly the creme de la creme at the moment.

I'd rather have an expansion team than any of those teams.

Well that won't happen, but I understand the sentiment. There won't be expansion in the NBA. And I mean, it's not likely that there will be basketball in Seattle as early as next season, so all of these teams stand to get a nice draft pick and maybe a potential franchise player, so maybe you can fair-weather them.

Well I may be a fair-weather fan when it comes to paying attention to a team, but I'm also a sports fan. So I'll watch. I mean, in Seattle it's hard to be loyal to one team. Like, I used to be loyal to the Mariners until they passed up on Tim Lincecum. Now the Giant have benefited and now I'm a Giants fan.

And that's interesting, how you're able to make your fanhood almost trans-locational. It isn't rooted in Seattle as a place. It's more rooted in your own personal attachment to a craft.

Exactly. I'm a big Jeremy Lin fan because of what he's doing for the Asian Americans. I'm a fan of Lincecum because he's half-Filipino and they won with him. 

So hypothetical situation: when the new Sonics play the old Sonics -- that is, the Oklahoma City Thunder -- who are you rooting for?

Oh. I'll...I'll enjoy the game.

Come on. You have to pick a team.

I mean, I guess I'd be happy if the Thunder won. It'd mean more to them. 

Well that's an interesting thing, right? The old franchise coming in and playing the new franchise. I mean, there's a lot at play. The Kings have 50 years of history which pre-dates their presumed transmogrification into the Sonics. The Bobcats have less history, but there's still an association of professional basketball in Charlotte. Yet whenever the Hornets play the Bobcats in Charlotte, it doesn't seem like that big if a deal. It seems like it'll be a much bigger deal if and when the Thunder play the new Sonics in Seattle. 

I mean, it'll be a fun atmosphere. I don't know what to say about that. Maybe if and when the Sonics draft a Durant-like player that's funner to watch than Durant I'll be like, "Oh! Fuck the Thunder! I'm watching the Sonics now."

The fair weather-ness.

You know, the hotter girl comes along.

We all do like the hotter girl.  You are describing human nature.



So a fairly open ended question.  Talk to me about the process it'll take to bring a team back to Seattle.  Specifically, that it's a certainty that getting a team here will involve ripping the hearts out of fans in a different city.

Yeah.  I know exactly what that feels like.


And people took it a lot harder than me.  I mean, I realize now that I'm a Thunder fan for...well, I mean, when the Sonics were here, I never bled green and gold.  I was a fan of basketball.  I liked that our city had a professional team.

And you liked that your city had a good team.

Exactly.  They had every chance to keep that winning tradition.  And they fucked that up.  Just fucked it up.  Unforced turnovers.

Unforced turnovers.

And it all happened during the Schultz administration.

I mean, one of the sad truths is by all objective measures, Clay Bennett is one of the best owners in professional sports.

It helps to have David Stern in your back pocket.  But yeah, he did a really good job stealing all these awesome picks from the Sonics.

Well, he certainly didn't steal fans.

Didn't steal fans.  And that's one of the things I love about the Thunder: they have awesome fans.  I have to say: for a dinky little town, they fill that house with 18 or 20,000 people.  They love it.  That's awesome.


So, here's my last question: what will it take for you to not be a Thunder fan, and become a fan of the new Sonics?  And at that point, do the Thunder just become the Thunder, and no longer remain the Sonics?

Yeah, I mean, I'll always look fondly on the Durant-Westbrook era, a lot like I look at the Payton-Kemp era.  So, I'll always see the sky blue and orange, and remember, "oh man, I remember when Durant was tearing it up."  And that may last until Durant's 40 or something.

So it could take awhile.

Yeah, it could take awhile. Because you know, Durant and Westbrook fans are fun to watch, and I think living in OKC makes them less likely to be in the media for really stupid things.

Not many OKC players get into any trouble it seems.

Yeah, they sit around and play Halo.

Well, anything else you wanna say? Basketball, non-basketball...

I feel like I have to defend myself for being a Thunder fan. I just like sports. I like basketball, it's my favorite sport. They used to be the Sonics, now they're the Thunder. I still love them. Fair-weather? That's such a dirty word. I mean, I'll just find a reason to identify with a player, or a franchise, and they'll become my thing.  Just like that.  Go Sonics.  Go Thunder.  They're my team, and I love them.

Thank you.

Thank you. 


  1. this was great! thanks for the interview!

  2. You can expect the packed house in OKC to treat the new Sonics well, except on the court, when they visit, but what kind of reception are Clay Bennett and his entourage of fans going to receive when they fly to Seattle to see the Thunder demolish the NBA's next "stolen" franchise? How many seats will be full?

    1. I guess it depends on the year. The first year? That game will be packed. Must see TV. If the New Sonics suck for the first 6 or 7 years, like the Bobcats, or the Grizzlies? Probably not many in the seats at that point.

  3. There are more Thunder fans in Seattle than people think. The thing we learned when the Sonics left town is that cities do not own the teams, owners do. There isn't any loyalty in sports. Players are traded, or sign with new teams, coaches are constantly getting fired, and teams move. I follow the teams with my favorite players, not worrying what city they are tied to. Ray Allen, and Kevin Durant being two guys I love to watch play, I root for the Celtics, and Thunder. We now live in a digital media age, where it's very easy to stream any game you want to watch, from any location. Durant may play for the Thunder, but in my mind, he will always have a connection to Seattle. Any fan, from anywhere in the world has a right to watch him on the court, not just fans in OKC. Whether you happen to live in Seattle, or China for that matter. Life is all about being able to adapt accordingly to tough situation. While most NBA fans in seattle are miserable, i'm enjoying watching my favorite player in Durant go for a championship. Sure, I could have chosen to hate the Thunder, and NBA, but I decided to do what made me happy instead.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I agree with you. I think NBA fans have the right to vote for any aspect of the game, be that a team, a player, someone who used to play for a team, or a team that used to be in a different city. I wonder how Seattle will react if/when the Thunder win a championship.