You remember that first glance at the lady of your dreams. How your skin tingled; your eyes got wide; and your whole body came alive. Then came the time, energy, emotion, and money invested in each other as well as letting the barriers down. And that first kiss… WOW!
It was like that for me in 1987 when the Hornets
came to Charlotte and entered the NBA. I have played basketball through middle school, high school, and college. I loved not only playing the game but also watching. Watching high school basketball can be fun in a car-crash-sort-of-way, and college can be even better. But nothing, and I mean nothing, is like the NBA.
Guards screaming down the court destined to crash into the basket support slam on the brakes and launch ICBM range jump shots that settle in the basket with the softness of my wife’s skin. The giants crash together like elephants attacking and defending the basket. They roar like lions fighting for rebounds. Rumbling down the floor, these behemoths can literally destroy a basket and each other, yet can glide past each other with deftness and grace. And the elite. Oh God, the elite! LeBron, Michael, Magic
, Dr. J, and so many more. I weep when I remember so many great plays made by memorable players. How did Michael make that layup switching the ball from his right to his left hand double pumping along the way? And how long were Dr. J’s arms when he swooped under the basket from right to left flicking the ball effortless and ever-so-softly into the basket on the other side of the rim? Every time I tried that maneuver, the ball clanged off the bottom of the rim and I fell flat on my face.
So when George Shinn convinced the NBA that Charlotte was the newest place to set up home, I was there. Even though my wife and I were newly in business and barely making it, we signed up for 2 tickets in the nosebleed section. Front row, section 210 at the corner of the floor opposite the team bench. I brought my binoculars to see the detail. I didn’t care. This was the NBA and I was a charter season ticket holder!
As a team, we sucked. All expansion teams do. Yet Dell Curry could bomb them in from the seat next to me. And Kelly Tripucka and every player gave their all. Muggsy was so fast that he left skid marks on the floor burning rubber on the fast breaks. Year-after-year Charlotte set attendance records as every game was sold out.
You see, The Hornets were Charlotte’s first love. And we were faithfully showing up game after game after game. Buying tickets, food, parking, programs, jerseys, and all the items that drive the coffers of an NBA team. And when Alonzo hit that jumper from the top of the key, we beat the Celtics. My God, the Charlotte Hornets beat the Boston Celtics
in a playoff series! Who would have ever thought that was possible. Who cares! We reveled in the joy of that glorious success.
Then came reality. The arena that Charlotte had built outside the town out by the airport was not producing enough money. Sound familiar Kings
’ fans? Truthfully, the economics of the NBA was changing in the late 1990’s. And George wanted a brand spanking new arena downtown with all the modern amenities that would increase the revenue for the team. Seems George had fallen on hard times financially. George and the Charlotte City Council talked and talked and talked, but nothing got done.
Then came the betrayal. George sinned, big-time. The details don’t matter. What mattered is that a deteriorating relationship turned sour in a hurry. Charlotte considers itself the buckle of the Bible Belt and George had sinned. Negotiations on a new arena stopped dead. And George panicked. He brought in another owner to be the front guy for the negotiations. I’ll never understand why some owners think City Councils and the fans are stupid. We may be Southerners and rednecks, but we weren’t born yesterday. And Charlotte said no. Not only no, but "HELL NO!" We were more concerned with our dignity than keeping our first love – the team.
And the divorce became final. George hustled the Hornets down to the Big Easy where they have languished ever since. And the NBA told Charlotte to build a new arena downtown and a new team will come. Charlotte built the arena and the Bobcats
came. Did we deserve it? No, but the NBA did it anyway.
The Charlotte City Council was happy, the NBA was happy, and Bob Johnson – our new owner was happy. Problem solved right? Umm, not so fast. In all their economic and political calculations, the powers that be forgot about us – the NBA fans in Charlotte. We were not happy. The NBA gave us a new owner who wasn’t from Charlotte; rarely showed up there; and made it known he didn’t give a rip about the town. This same owner proceeded to run the team just like every other business he ran, on the cheap more concerned about making a profit than winning.
And our response was simple and to the point. We didn’t show up. Now there are hardcore NBA fans in Charlotte and every town and they will always come. So the new Charlotte arena has played to half-full to three-quarters full games. That’s not enough.
The buzz was gone. The thrill had died. And our first love had abandoned us. And nothing could ever undo that fact. New players came and went. Games were won and lost. Michael Jordan – a North Carolina native - was recruited to add to the ownership group. Having the greatest player in NBA history would solve the problems right? Of course, why didn’t we think of that? All the fans come to watch ownership walk around once every few weeks. Get real.
Just like Charlotte, Seattle lost their first love. Through their own choices, like Charlotte, they got divorced and the team skipped town to Oklahoma City. Now OKC has that first love and the Sonics fans sit home alone. Yet, when the time came for the fans and the City Council to step up and get things done to keep the team, they turned away, just like Charlotte did. Did Charlotte deserve that 2nd team? No they did not, nor have they supported it. Does Seattle deserve a 2nd team? No they do not. Neither Charlotte nor Seattle did what it took to keep their first love.
Here’s another reality. Sacramento has their first love – the Kings. The Sacramento City Council has consistently shown they are committed to keeping that first love – regardless of their personal feelings toward the owner. In this major way, the City Council has shown themselves to be better than that of Charlotte and Seattle. The fans have faithfully shown that first love year after year after year. Through good times and bad they have stayed and cheered and supported the Kings with their time, effort, emotion, and money. Hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars.
What is happening between Seattle and Sacramento reminds me of a story involving David of Biblical fame. To paraphrase, this story occurs when David has become a rich and famous king. In this story, David is home from the wars and sees the beautiful Bathsheba bathing naked on the roof of her home. David becomes infatuated with Bathsheba and has her brought into his home. There David gets her pregnant. In the meantime, David tries to cover things up. Failing that, he arranges for Bathsheba’s faithful warrior husband – Uriah the Hittite - to be killed in the war. That minor detail out of the way, David marries Bathsheba and all is seemingly well.
Not so fast. The prophet Nathan strolls into the David’s throne room one day to tell the King his own story. Nathan tells David about a rich man who has countless sheep and goats and cattle and riches of every kind. This rich man has more than he can ever need or want. Then this rich man decides to throw a party for his friends. Instead of taking one of his own sheep to serve for the meal, the rich man sees the sheep of a neighbor. This neighbor has one little sheep. And it isn’t even a sheep but a young lamb. This neighbor feeds the sheep by hand, brushes it, carries it around with him, keeps it in his home. The neighbor just loves his sheep and is content with it. The rich man doesn’t care. He reaches out, takes the sheep, and laughingly serves it to his friends. All the while, the neighbor weeps great and bitter tears for he has done no wrong. Yet the only thing of great value he had and loved has been stolen from him.
As Nathan finishes the story, King David leaps to his feet in indignation demanding justice. Nathan calmly looks at David and says, "You are that man."
And so it is with mighty Seattle. They have all that a city could ever want and dream. Instead of taking care of their own, mighty and rich Seattle covets the single lamb of Sacramento. This lamb has been loved and cared for and doted upon by all, yet rich Seattle doesn’t care. They are not content with what they have and seek to steal what does not belong to them.
What do these two stories have in common? When you love what you have and take care of it like it is your first and only love, no one has the right to take it from you. Keep the Kings in Sacramento with their first love – the fans.
(This is a FanPost from a member of the Sactown Royalty community. The views expressed come from the member, and not Sactown Royalty staff.)