The Oklahoma City Thunder are in the 2011 Western Conference Finals. A first for the franchise in Oklahoma but not for in its overall history.
For those who do not know, the Thunder used to be known as the Seattle Supersonics and when the franchise was in Seattle, it made three appearances in the Western Conference Finals and won the West in 1978, 1979, and 1996. The franchise even won the NBA Finals in 1979.
All this was done while the franchise was in Seattle.
Leading the charge back in the 90's when the team was still in Seattle, was Shawn Kemp. Say what you will about his off the court issues, when Kemp was on the court, he was a fierce, explosive, player who was dangerous on the fast break. Ask former NBA player Alton Lister.
He was aweing fans with crowd-pleasing dunks on the court before Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin was doing it.
The move from Seattle to Oklahoma City was not without its controversy. From David Stern, the city of Seattle, to Thunder owner Clay Bennett, it was a controversial move that still evokes intense emotion from Seattle fans who still feel they were robbed an NBA franchise and hold the Sonics in their heart until this day.
However, the Thunder, in an attempt to bridge the divide between the franchise's chapters, invited Kemp to sit front row for a Thunder playoff game but Kemp refused without any hesitation:
"I was invited to the last game when they played against in Denver to sit in the front row. I can’t do it.”
"It’s loyalty man. The people here, I don’t think it would be too smooth for the people around here to look up one day and see me sitting in the front row of the Oklahoma Thunder. The people back here deserve basketball, and it was taken and robbed from the people in this area. So my loyalty remains in this area and these people until they get a team back. I won’t be sitting in anyone’s front row until the Sonics are back in action.”
And for those fans who still hold the Sonics in their hearts, it gets worse. The Thunder hang banners the franchise earned while in Seattle. Some of those banners were earned when Kemp wore the green and gold and to him, it's something that hits him personally:
“It’s really different for me because I know they have the banners of some of the accomplishments here in this city hanging up there, and it’s very awkward for me to look at that stuff knowing that that stuff was done in Seattle, and we’re now in the middle of Timbuktu. So it would be different. I was honored for them to call me, but at the same time my heart and my loyalty remains here in the Northwest.”
That's right. You read that correctly. Oklahoma hangs banners it has not earned while it's been in Oklahoma. Say what you will about how technically it's still the same franchise but it's not the same. Kemp and the franchise earned that while in Seattle. Not in Oklahoma City.
If an NBA franchise ever comes back to the Emerald City remains to be seen but Kemp is once again leading the charge for Seattle in an attempt to bring the NBA back to Seattle while remaining steadfast in his loyalty to Seattle:
"So you know in your heart if you’re here in Seattle and you’re asking for a team to come back, and your part of an organization that’s trying to bring a team back to the city, you don’t want to go and represent another association that’s already doing that.”
As mentioned, Kemp led the charge for the Sonics but another All-Star player once wore the green and gold uniform - Gary Payton - and Payton shares the same feelings as Kemp.
Payton also refused an invite to attend a Thunder game much to the satisfaction of Kemp, Payton refused:
“I got to tell you the funny part about it. The funny part about it is this….I didn’t get a chance to call you guys but I was like ‘man, I hope I don’t turn this game on tomorrow night and see Gary sitting in the front row’. I knew it wasn’t going to happen that way and it wasn’t."
How the Thunder became the Thunder is a blemish in the history of the NBA. It left a city and its fans without a team to cheer for, robbed them of experiencing the current Western Conference Finals, and the brilliant play of Kevin Durant and the rest of the Thunder team.
And do not forget, the Sonics drafted Kevin Durant, not the Thunder.
I highly recommend you watch the documentary "Sonicsgate" for a full perspective on how the Sonics left Seattle.
(photo: nba.com, wikipedia.org)