Sooners swooning for Sonics
Seattle Times staff columnist
Before I had a chance to explain, Eric Gaddis dropped the phone.
I listened over the open line as he became a modern-day Paul Revere in his Oklahoma City barber shop: "The Sonics are coming! The Seattle Sonics!" When he came back on, he wanted to hear it again. So I told him: A group of Oklahoma City investors had bought the team for $350 million, and if things don't work out in Seattle, well ...
"Are you serious?"
As serious as Sonics boss Howard Schultz, who we now know was not bluffing when he warned the city the team might leave town if it didn't get all that free taxpayer money for a new and improved KeyArena.
Talk about a fast break.
On Tuesday, City Hall woke to the news — the Sonics and the Storm (What?) have been sold to a group just dying for a big-league team. Think Sacramento, but with a Rodgers & Hammerstein soundtrack.
The truth is, Mayor Greg Nickels tried to make a deal with the Sonics, but I guess Hizzoner had bigger fish to fry. The viaduct is falling apart. Schools are being shuttered. And the 520 bridge is one good storm from floating away.
Hard as it sounds, maybe the Sonics were just too late to the party. The rest of us are tapped out when it comes to paying for playgrounds for the rich guys.
From what folks there told me Tuesday, Oklahoma City is thrilled — thrilled! — to have an NBA team on its way.
In 2005, 24 percent of Seattle folks polled by Scarborough Research said they were "somewhat or very" interested in NBA basketball.
In Oklahoma City, 18 percent said the same thing — and they didn't even have a team.
That changed, of course, when the New Orleans Hornets were resettled at Oklahoma City's Ford Center not long after Hurricane Katrina.
Gaddis, the barber, has been a Hornets season-ticket holder since they got to town. And he wasn't alone. Oklahoma City was sixth in the league for attendance, he said; home games routinely sold out.
It took no time for him to riff on the Sonics, too.
"Never should have gotten rid of Vin Baker," he said. "And after Payton left, they kind of failed."
What else does Oklahoma City see in the Sonics that Seattle just can't anymore?
Well, until a couple of years ago, "downtown was pretty rundown," said Ed Eischen, owner of Eischen's, Oklahoma's oldest bar. "Nobody would go down there."
The area has been transformed into Bricktown, with a canal, restaurants, the Ford Center and a new field for the Oklahoma RedHawks minor-league baseball team.
"These people who put the money up for the Sonics, they're not taking a chance," Eischen said. "With the reaction to the Hornets last year, it's a sure thing that they will draw a crowd."
And somewhere in it will be Eric Gaddis, now desperate to get off the phone with me.
"We need to sit around and have a man-law conference about the Sonics and their performance," he said, "and what we're going to do when they get here."
Seattle Times researcher Gene Balk contributed to this column.
Nicole Brodeur's column appears Wednesday and Sunday.
Reach her at 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
She'll really miss the Storm.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company