Editor's Note: The Diss is proud to present a special Sunday discussion (on a Tuesday, we know. It's not important). In this edition, The Diss interviews Ali Khaki. Ali grew up in the Seattle area as a Sonics fan, but unlike Jason, did not maintain an allegiance with the franchise when it moved to Oklahoma City. We discuss the hows and whys of this situation, and the memories of the team's departure. Ali is a med student at UC San Diego, and lives with his wife in San Diego, California.
So tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up on the East Side in Sammamish and was an avid sports fan for most of my childhood. Growing up, my family were first generation Americans so I had to teach myself the major American sports. This was done largely by playing them in leagues as a kid, reading the newspaper and listening to or watching games.
Any team or sport you preferred?
I followed everything that was Seattle sports (and continue to, even though I've been living away from the Northwest for the last eight and a half years) but my passion and love was mostly the Sonics and the Mariners (football took much longer for me to learn since I never played this sport -- my parents thought it was nonsense and dangerous). For a good part of growing up, we didn't have cable and so I would listen to games (both baseball and basketball) on the radio and study the box scores in The Seattle Times the next day.
Did you prefer baseball over basketball? Vice versa?
I remember thinking basketball was the best sport to follow because it was the easiest to learn, and on average games were on every other day so this allowed me one day to listen to (and later watch once we had cable) the game and the following day read the Times recap and perspectives.
Are you still a basketball fan?
Am I still a basketball fan? That's a complicated question. I have been really turned off by the business of basketball, moreso than the other major sports in this country. When the Sonics left, I completely stopped following the NBA. But then I moved to San Diego in 2009. Living in So Cal, people are obsessed with the Lakers, so I get great joy from watching the playoffs and rooting against them.
Lakers hatred: the great peacemaker.
My hatred for the Lakers re-lit a bit of interest. But after this recent labor stoppage, we'll see if that flame recovers again. The only basketball news I get now are the headlines on ESPN.com and this blog.
Ali, you're too kind. So obviously you're a Sonics fan. When did that start? Can you pinpoint a moment?
I remember the horrific Dikembe Mutombo 1994 playoffs. I think I was playing a little league baseball game when Game 5 went down. That's probably my first Sonics memory.
Not a great memory.
Well, that's my first memory. I was quite young at the time so I'm not sure if I was a a true fan yet. I think my fandom started a year or two later, around the 1994-1995 or 1995-1996 seasons. I went to my first game during the 1995 season in the Tacoma Dome since the Coliseum was undergoing renovation to become the Key. Attending a game might have really kicked off the fandom; my dad got me and him courtside seats so we were like one or two rows behind the press table. That was awesome.
Do you have a favorite Sonic of all time? If so, who and why?
I think I loved most, if not all, of the late 90s Sonics, so it's tough to pick one. If I had to pick one, it would be between Gary Payton, Sam Perkins and Nate McMillan.
Well, that's picking three.
Fine. Nate Mac, just because he is the face of the Sonics for me in so many ways. I loved how we brought him back to coach and all.
What was the greatest moment of your Sonics fanhood?
Sort of mentioned one great moment earlier, what with the courtside game I got to go to as a kid. Either that, or the 1996 NBA finals. Those were pretty awesome. I watched every one of those games religiously. I really believe we could have taken those Bulls. But [sighs], it wasn't our year.
Some of this gets hazy for me because when I moved away, I lost touch of my Sonics in the early 2000s. Partly due to being busy with college and partly because they weren't very good and they had changed so much from the teams of the 1990s that I loved.
In other words, it was hard to identify with them.
Yeah. I didn't have the same affinity for the players. So that's for my own personal fandom.
What about the front office?
Well, as for the organization more largely, I think it might have started to go wrong when they renovated the Coliseum to build the Key. They failed to make the renovations adequate enough to bring the building into the 21st century. I mean, the renovations were done in the mid 1990s and ten years later they wanted a new stadium. To me, that says they, as an organization, screwed up, and wanted to be bailed out.
So there's a lot of culprits there. Whose fault is it the Sonics are gone? Could the blame be spread around?
I put most of the blame on ownership. I'm not sure if it lies solely with Schultz or Bennett or Stern, maybe they can spread it around. But I think ownership is entirely responsible. They failed to make sound business decisions and then expected the city to bail them out. They may have been a bit unlucky, I guess, but that doesn't excuse their lack of responsibility.
How do you figure they were unlucky?
Well, the Key was built before the new wave of high revenue stadiums appeared in South Downtown, and then Clay Bennett and the NBA made their arena demand right after the city had dished out money for Safeco and Qwest, or whatever it's called.
CenturyLink. Or, the "Clink."
Maybe I'll get used to it. But anyways, it's all about the business decisions. The Key Arena renovation was a failure, ownership didn't take credit for this failure, and failed to provide a good product on the court.
What role did the fans have in the departure of the Sonics?
None. I don't think it was the fans fault, really.
I mean, it's the fans who have to show up for a team to be financially viable, and then in the voting booth when it comes time to commit public money for a facility upgrade. Sonics fans left their team hanging, in that regard.
You know, okay, so we as a city didn't want to pay for a new stadium. Can you blame us? I don't think a team deserves public money every ten years for a new stadium. And on the heels of Safeco and Qwest, no less. Furthermore, if you look at attendance numbers, the Sonics were down a bit (about 10%) with their poor teams in the early 2000s, but the numbers were actually better in 04-05 (97% capacity) and 05-06 (95% capacity) before falling off a bit in 06-07. Regardless, these numbers were still pretty stable. It wasn't like the last year in 07-08, but by that time the team was basically out the door already. Can you blame the fans at that point for losing interest?
Well, yeah, I could. But perhaps we'll save that for another day.
What are your opinion on the Thunder? Do you have any affinity towards that franchise?
I really want to like the Thunder. But I can't. I really hate the Thunder because my loyalty is to my city first. It's actually really bad, I think the first year the Thunder were in OKC, I heard about some sort of performer that nearly drowned in a half time show magic trick or something and I felt vindicated. In hindsight, that was a really terrible thought.
I forgive you. Well, that's interesting. In my previous interview about the Sonics, my buddy Jason asserted that former Sonics fans who dislike the Thunder as a team are being shortsighted, as the players had no decision to leave Seattle, nor did they really change as people when they switched jobs. He argued that former Sonics fans ought to support the Thunder in Oklahoma City in the same way one supports a friend or loved one working or going to grad school in another city (or country). I thought that argument had merit. Do you?
Sure, the argument has some merit, but here's where it falls apart for me. The Sonics that left, never really won the hearts of Seattleites. I mean, we earned those players for OKC by dealing with some abysmal seasons, but we never connected with those guys.
Well, Jason did, but only when they started playing well.
I think using Jason's logic, Sonics fans should be Celtics fans more than Thunder fans because I'm sure more of us have a connection to Ray Allen than any of the Thunder, with maybe the exception of Nick Collison. Or Luke Ridnour, if he's still with them.
Just showing how clueless I have become about basketball and the Thunder, here.
So did you just not relate to Durant because of his temporary nature?
I mean, I remember I was in a bowling alley when I found out the Sonics won the 2-pic in the lottery and were guaranteed Durant or Oden. I screamed like a girl, I went crazy, it was pretty embarrassing. But I never got to develop a strong connection to Durant because he (and everyone else) left after like one year.
Well, have hope, as an arena is reportedly on its way to Seattle. What does that mean to you?
Very little. Honestly, right now, I'm so turned off from basketball. Even if we get a team back, it's going to take me some time for me to heal from these wounds. But when I read those stories, I smiled a bit, I think it would be exciting to be back.
Is it a good idea for Seattle?
My big thing is the public funding. I just cannot justify throwing money at something to make NBA owners richer when they have no respect or loyalty towards fans. They expect our loyalty but fail to offer us any of their own.
What team do you want? The Kings are now off the table, leaving the Hornets, or (perhaps, in the future) the Bobcats.
So basically the old or new Hornets? Charlotte must really suck as an NBA town, they love their college hoops too much. I don't know anything about either team so no preference there. I think it would be cool if we could get the Grizzlies, I heard somewhere that they may be a move candidate.
Michael Heisley owns the team from Chicago, and says the team is for sale to a Memphis-based buyer. It's a really big longshot. He's always said he wants to keep the team in Memphis if at all possible.
Well, at least they have a NW connection. Then again, there is also my internal struggle of, "do I want to treat other fans the way I've been treated?" Especially when I'm so scarred, who knows if I'll recover to ever love professional basketball again to the degree I did in the 90s.
Settle the debate: Seattle sports fans are fair weather fans. True or false?
I think the answer is very gray. On the one hand I think the fans are incredibly loyal. They rarely ever get on players and are very supportive. But if the product sucks (which is something we're used to), attendance will drop. I sort of equate it to church attendance in Washington state.
You do, do you?
Hear this out. Washington state has some of the worst church attendance in the country. I don't think we are any less religious than other moderately liberal states, but I just think there is so much to do in the NW that people just find better ways to spend time.
So talk to me about the process it will take to get a team back here. It is a certainty that getting a team here will involve ripping the hearts out from fans in a different city.
I'm torn. I'm so scarred that I'm not sure it's worth hurting other when I'm already so turned off. But I'm sure many in Seattle would probably feel differently, and would get over any guilt felt by taking another city's team.
And what year do you think that'll happen?
Nice. Thanks, Ali.