The very elemental 2012 NBA finals tip off tonight between the Heat and Thunder, and while we don’t know which way Captain Planet’s going with this one, I did think everybody outside of South Beach was on board with cheering for Oklahoma City. Probably more accurately, I thought everybody was on board with rooting against LeBron James & co.
Now that King James is (again, admittedly) on the verge of winning his first NBA championship, the internet’s writing hands are rushing to join his camp. Whether they really are tired of harping on James for The Decision, the pep rally, and his promise of eight championships in Miami or they’re just following the old, adhere to one view for a long time and then publicly and suddenly change positions to get attention model, or maybe they see that James’ time is here and they want to be on the right side of history, everybody’s suddenly all-in on LeBron James.
How to accomplish this switch? Remind everybody saying OKC “did it the right way” that OKC did it the wrong way first, by ripping the franchise out of Seattle. Dave Zirin at The Nation leads it off, explaining that “how we choose to see the Heat and Thunder is a litmus test . . . that reveals how the sports radio obsession with villainizing twenty-first-century athletes blinds us to the swelling number of villains who inhabit the owner’s box.” You must take a stand, and you must choose between two perceived evils. He concludes:
If the Thunder win the 2012 title, the Clay Bennett/David Stern approach will be lionized throughout pro sports. The theft of the Sonics will be justified and cities involved in stadium negotiations will be threatened with being “the next Seattle” if they don’t acquiesce to the whims of the sporting 1 percent. A championship for the Thunder would be a victory for holding up cities for public money. It would be a victory for ripping out the hearts of loyal sports towns. It would be a victory for greed, collusion and a corporate crime that remains unprosecuted.
Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon don’t deserve anyone’s cheers. I don’t just want the Thunder to lose. I want LeBron James to make them wish they’d never left the Emerald City. That is why no matter how much you dislike the ill-fitting “Dream Team” in South Beach, or swoon at the sight of Kevin Durant, anyone who cares about the relationship of teams to their cities and decries the way pro sports is used as an instrument of corporate looting should know who to root for and whom to root against. Without equivocation, all true NBA fans, in the name of Slick Watts, should sound three words this championship season: “Let’s go Heat.”
Elsewhere, it hardly feels surprising that there would be somebody at The Classical repping hard for Seattle. and Jeremy Repanich jumps on the train, but even he, “someone who lived and died with, and later worked for, the Seattle SuperSonics,” can’t summon the anger necessary to turn around the prevailing winds, rambling his way to a state of nostalgic acceptance of the new status quo:
As the seconds ticked away, the dread slowly seeped in. The Thunder were going to win the Western Conference Finals. Really, it felt a fait accompli early in the third quarter when OKC erased an 18-point deficit with stunning ease. During the time between that surge and the final round of mid-court high-fives and trophy dandling, my Twitter feed started filling up with disbelief from fellow Seattleites. San Antonio’s three-pointers rimmed out and fell short, despite my best psychic efforts. Kendrick Perkins slammed home the points that sealed it; Kevin Durant hugged his parents with 14 seconds still on the clock. I looked down at my phone and saw I had an email from a friend, someone not prone to profanity. It read, in its entirety, “FUCK.”
So OKC fans got to feel what I felt when the Sonics beat the Jazz back in ’96 to claim the West and I can’t begrudge them their happiness. Certainly, I’ve tried. But what did they do wrong? Sure, there were a few loudmouths who were horrible asses about the move, who didn’t think about or try to understand what had happened in Seattle before they opened their loud mouths, the better to let some ignorant-ass anti-Seattle bile escape. But, also, we were calling them inbred, backwater hicks; they had a reason to be upset. We shouldn’t have said that shit, because it’s unfair and unkind, because it made us look petty and because it was petty. All OKC fans ever did was pack their building when Hurricane Katrina made the New Orleans Hornets the OKC Hornets. They brought so much enthusiasm that the NBA had to look long and hard at bringing a franchise to that particular smaller market. As far as I know, they didn’t have to be told to “fan up” and to get in their seats at a reasonable time to spare themselves embarrassment. They embraced this team even when P.J. Carlesimo was the coach. Think about that.
So when I sat there and watched the team and the coach and the owner celebrate, something weird happened. After Clay mercifully shuffled his hammy girth out of the frame and the camera focused in on Durant talking about the team, I smiled. I caught myself and wondered why. It’s because I LIKE this team. Not the owners (let’s not even get into Aubrey McClendon’s questionable character) or the league that disingenously fast-tracked their move out of Seattle, but the guys themselves, the ones who are endlessly endearing and brilliantly fun to watch. The bitterness is difficult to stave off, though. The rational part of my brain tells me that in different circumstances I wouldn’t be celebrating a Seattle win at that moment. The emotional part of me just wishes that we Seattleites had the chance to experience it—in our town, and at a distance closer than arm’s length.
How to double down on this trend? “Dissent with the dissenter”! Kate Perkins, also for The Classical, takes aim at Zirin’s stepping out (quoted above):
But simply flipping the script can’t be the answer, or at least seems like a bit of easy contrarianism unworthy of Zirin. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh aren’t playing Clay Bennett, Aubrey McClendon and David Stern. They’re playing Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Rooting for the players of one team to win an ideological battle, however righteous, against the owners of another doesn’t add up.
From that reasonable critique, Perkins naturally and rapidly melts into sociological inconclusiveness, concluding as follows:
I submit that rooting against a team because you despise the dirty dealings of the franchise implies the false belief that a series or game loss would somehow directly impact the ethics and politics of the way its owners do business. That’s not how change happens, at least not in sports, at least not today. Rooting against the Thunder or Miami in the NBA Finals might be in principle a stand against the business. It isn’t an effective vote against their owners.
That’s to be expected, though. What’s also to be expected is Clay Travis’ membership among this sensationalist crowd:
I’m rooting for LeBron James.
There, I said it.
I’m part of a small minority of newfound LeBron fans, but my legions should be growing.
Of course he is. Always a trend-setter. Always striking out on his own. Such an independent thinker.
The point is not to FJM these articles or even to argue that we a) shouldn’t drop the unimaginative anti-LeBron drumbeat or b) should forget that Seattle lost its NBA team. It’s really to make a record of the moment when, whether due to fatigue, revived memory, closer examination, or self-interest, the anti-LeBron James trope first began to wane.
Although maybe this really is all about Seattle after all: