By Joe Kaiser
Saturday, February 8th, 2003
What has happened to the NBA? It's a question that many fans have asked
themselves in recent years. It's hard to put a finger on it, but over the
last decade, something has changed. And it's changed for the worse.
There is no better example of this than where I live, in Seattle.
Ten years ago at this time in 1993, the NBA ruled this city. The Seattle
Coliseum was packed every night. Tickets were near impossible to come by.
Local rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot sat courtside during every game. Second-year
coach George Karl was the darling of the city.
On the court, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp were the future. Still
in their early 20s, it seemed the duo would be together forever. Seattle
embraced them. The experience of veterans Derrick McKey, Ricky
Pierce, Eddie Johnson, and Sam Perkins meshed perfectly
with the youth of Payton, Kemp, Dana Barros, and Vincent Askew.
Everyone in the Pacific Northwest loved this team.
The Phoenix Suns were the Sonics' biggest rival by a landslide. Sir
Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle, and Kevin Johnson were
three of the least=liked people in the minds of nearly every Seattle sports
The Sonics began putting games on pay-per-view, and the city responded by
buying the product night in and night out. We're talking about paying $20
for a regular season game against a team like the Orlando Magic in
I remember this craze like it was yesterday. I recall being in seventh grade,
having to miss game three of the Western Conference Finals, Sonics versus
Suns, because of a choir concert. One of my friends brought a Walkman, and
in between songs relayed the scores to everyone else. It was nuts.
That year, I painted my shoes green and gold, printed up Sonics schedules
on my computer, and handed them out to everyone at my school. Up on the wall
in my room at home, my dad helped me paint a huge Sonics logo.
It was simply a magical time.
Since then, much has changed. The logo remains on my wall, but barely. My
family now wants to paint over it and make it a more attractive "guest room."
The symbolism of that is striking to me.
Seattle sports fans have drastically changed their preferences over the past
10 years. Nowadays, the Sonics are the fourth sports team in town. The
Mariners, who won the hearts of the city with their amazing playoff
run in 1995, are the No. 1 ticket in town by a landslide. The University
of Washington football team and Seattle Seahawks of the NFL are
second and third, respectively.
Then come the Sonics.
It isn't that there is nothing to be excited about on the 2002-03 Sonics
roster. There is a lot of talent on this team. Gary Payton is playing the
best ball of his career at age 34. Youngsters Rashard Lewis, Desmond
Mason, and Vladamir Radmanovic all have all-star potential. Brent
Barry is one of the league's most exciting role players.
But something has changed.
For whatever reason, the magic is gone. Key Arena, which was built in 1995
right where the Seattle Coliseum was, is lucky to get a sellout these days.
They house is only packed for games against premier teams -- the
Kings, Lakers, and Mavericks of the world. Against the
cellar-dwellers of the league, it isn't unusual to see 3,000-4,000 empty
Here in 2003, the idea of pay-per-view to watch regular season Sonics games
is comical. Few people are interested enough to even watch games on cable.
The worst part of it all is that many of those same people who bled Sonics'
green and yellow a decade ago now couldn't name a single player on the team.
What's wrong with the NBA?
Look no further than the example in Seattle.