As the dust settles on this past Celtics season, and likely on the era of the new-look Big 3, Bay State hoops fans seem likely to put their rooting muster behind the NBA’s newest franchise: the Oklahoma City Thunder. After all, OKC is centered by former Celtic Kendrick Perkins, and perennial league scoring leader and MVP candidate Kevin Durant is as under the radar a superstar as is possible in this age of 24-hour ESPN coverage, the very opposite of LeBron (“The Decision”) James.
To be honest, watching Game 7 of the Celtics-Heat series, I didn’t know what I wanted more: a Celtics win, or a Heat loss. Like many NBA fans, especially those in these parts, I pretty much abhor the Heat, and don’t like LeBron’s game at all (as I’ve noted previously).
But when considering the prestige that comes with winning a championship, I must look beyond the hoops hardcourt, and to the men (and I’m pretty sure they’re all men) writing the checks. Which is an unfortunate reminder that the only thing more ruinous to the NBA than it’s absolutely atrocious, awful officiating is its owners.
It’s easy (unless you live in Washington state) to forget that not so long ago (in fact at the beginning of the 5-year and counting? – hope hope – run with the Big 3 the Celtics have just enjoyed), immediate-impact draft pick Kevin Durant was playing for the Seattle Supersonics, and the Thunder franchise was just a twinkling in the eyes of Oklahoma billionaires Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon.
But something not-so-funny happend on the way from the Pacific Northwest to Middle America. Folks in Seattle refused to allocate their tax dollars to pay for a new basketball gym, and NBA Commissioner David Stern helped engineer the team’s move to OKC with the hope of boosting his league’s red state appeal.
“[The Supersonics] were a beloved team in a basketball town,” Dave Zirin writes at The Nation. “They loved their team but refused to pay for a new taxpayer funded $300 million arena. Seattle’s citizens voted down referendums, organized meetings and held rallies with the goal of keeping the team housed in a perfectly good building called the KeyArena.” (A building that continues to serve Seattle’s WNBA franchise the Storm just fine.)
But the powers at work were too great. Supersonics owner and Starbucks founder Howard Schultz sold Seattle’s franchise to McClendon and Bennett and – no shocker here – the newly minted owners moved the team to their home state of Oklahoma. Which fit in perfectly with Stern’s plan to re-brand his majority African-American league in an image less-threatening to today's sought after fan.
In the early 1980s, Commissioner Stern marketed the then-struggling NBA with an urban image that allowed his league to ride the birth of hip-hop out of sports mediocrity. Stars like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan led the way to the league's golden age, when the NBA was arguably the most popular sports league in America. Recently, however, the appropriately named Commissioner Stern seems to be looking at his league through the eyes of Dr. Frankenstein, wondering how he can reign in his monstrous creation.
Several years ago, the Commissioner hired Matthew Dowd, former public relations specialist for the Bush Administration, to give the NBA more "red state appeal." Soon after, Stern instituted a corporate dress code for all players sitting on the bench, explaining, "We want our players to look like the fans buying tickets to the games."
Fast forward to 2012, and we have Trayvon Martin being killed because of ill-logic that is eerily reflective of Stern's NBA dress code (as I've stated before), and the Franchise Formerly Known As The Supersonics on the brink of becoming the league's next dynasty.
“Stern is a political liberal who has sat on the board of the NAACP. Bennett and McLendon are big Republican moneymen whose hobby is funding anti-gay referendums,” continues Zirin. “Yet these three men are united in their addiction to our tax dollars.”
In a perfect world, the Supersonics would have been bought by the good people of Seattle, today the team would be run by its fans in the manner of the NFL’s most notable franchise the Green Bay Packers, and I’d be rooting for Durant, Harden’s beard, Perk and company with a clear sports conscious. But of course, it’s not a perfect world. Not even under the glittering lights and primetime cameras of the NBA Finals. (Perhaps, especially there.)
Still, I just can’t bring myself to actually root for the Miami Heat.
So what's a Bay State born and bred hoops junkie and citizen skeptical of big money prestige to do? Looks like it’s time to re-open my copy of the epic-length Infinite Jest and try to read another hundred pages or so.