WHAT A NIGHT AT THE KEY

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When former Seattle Supersonic Kevin Durant came out wearing a Shawn Kemp jersey during starting line-up announcements, the Key Arena crowd nearly lost its collective mind. Durant won the NBA Rookie of the Year award in his only season with the Sonics, before the Puget Sound’s beloved team was ripped away from us and sent packing to Oklahoma City. It was apparent that Durant still holds a lot of love for his original fans. Photo by Rocky Ross

On April 13, 2008, the Seattle Supersonics defeated the Dallas Mavericks by a score of 99-95 at Seattle’s Key Arena. For the die-hard Sonics fans in attendance, it would prove to be the final home game for the NBA franchise in the Emerald City. The game went down on a Sunday, but it might as well have been Friday the 13th.

It was easily the darkest day in Puget Sound sports history, and the pain has lingered for the Sonics faithful for 10 and a half years now.

When the Golden State Warriors announced that they would be bringing one of their pre-season games to Seattle, it had a two-fold response. On one hand, fans were rightly excited to see an NBA game tip-off in our neighborhood once again. On the other hand, it cast a spotlight on just how fresh and deep the wounds still are for area basketball fans.

My knee-jerk reaction was to scoff at the announcement. I was (and am) still furious with the NBA, and throwing us a little bone up here felt like more of an insult than any sort of gift. However, as the date approached, my hard feelings began to soften and my interest in the game began to grow. I went from a downright boycott to figuring out how I was going to get myself and Tacoma Weekly photographer Rocky Ross into this game on Friday, Oct. 5.

By game day, I was just about as excited as I could be for an NBA game between two teams that I don’t really care for. The fact that Kevin Durant would be making his return to Seattle was the cherry on top of this sundae. He played his final home game as a rookie for the Sonics on that fateful day in 2008, and had never returned. Now we were going to have him all to ourselves for one night.

I was hoping for a little magic from the game. Instead, it was an emotional roller coaster that left me nearly exhausted and wanting more.

The event was a who’s who of Seattle sports royalty. A host of former Sonics were in attendance, as well as players from the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Storm and Seattle Reign. I didn’t catch any Seattle Mariners in attendance, but considering their heartbreaking, second-half slide out of the playoffs, the fans probably didn’t need that sort of reminder on this momentous occasion.

When the starting line-ups were announced for the “visiting” Sacramento Kings, the crowd was polite, but a collective yawn was on the tip of their lips. Things began to get a little more exciting when the “home team” Golden State Warriors were announced. Former Washington State Cougar Klay Thompson received a huge pop from the Key Arena crowd. However, all eyes were focused on the end of the Warriors’ bench.

The last Seattle Sonic left playing in the NBA didn’t let the fans down. Durant strode out onto the floor when his name was announced, wearing a Shawn Kemp jersey. You could barely hear yourself think in the arena. It was deafening. I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that hit me. My eyes teared up and all I could do was smile and shake my head.

The all-star then took to the microphone and let the crowd know how he felt about them, and that they deserved to have a team return to Seattle. The “Super… Sonics” chants throughout the arena sent chills down my spine. It was a feeling I hadn’t experienced in well over a decade. I forgot how much I missed it.

Wearing green and gold sneakers, Durant had a slow start in the game. It wasn’t until the second quarter when he really started to heat up, on his way to finishing with 26 points for the game. Thompson, on the other hand, came out swinging from the opening tip, dropping a bevy of three-pointers from a variety of points beyond the arch. With each swish, the crowd got louder and louder. The former Cougar finished with a game-high 30 points, as the Warriors rolled to a 122-94 victory.

On a night where it felt a bit like the old days, it was the old timers that ended up scoring the final big cheer of the night. During a break in play in the third quarter, three finely dressed gentlemen strolled out to the center of the court. One of them, was carrying an NBA championship trophy that looked an awful lot like something our Sonics won back in 1979.

In fact, it was former head coach Lenny Wilkens carrying the trophy, and he was joined by none other than “Downtown” Freddie Brown and big man Jack Sikma. The Key Arena crowd just about lost it at this point. Frankly, I just about lost it as well. This was the sort of reminder of just how awesome our team was, and just how awesome it was to be a Seattle Supersonics fan.

With a new Key Arena remodel on the way, I’m fairly certain that it’s more of a matter of when, and not if, the Sonics will be returning to the Emerald City. It’s high time that we put this Puget Sound tragedy six feet under and bring our Sonics back.

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