"As for Maidenhead, the conga (which was amusing) aside, quite a strange bunch really – some the oddest chants I've ever heard at a football match" ~ localboy86, Amber Planet forum, 26th April 2015

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Requiem for a team: "We could say 'I love you' because we were talking about Magic Johnson"

My recent visit to Seattle was the middle part of a three city North American tour which also took in Boston and, latterly, Vancouver. I found all of them very much to my liking, although Seattle probably ranks as the favourite for both me and the wife ... and I can't really explain why. It was pouring with rain on our first day, but come the end of our four night stay the city had got under our skin; it had a vibe, an edge, that neither the equally (or perhaps more) spectacularly scenic and laid-back Vancouver, nor the (relatively) historic and sports-mad Boston, could match.

Like it or not, Oasis were the UK's defining band of the 90s. I loved em. Still do. My favourite Oasis song? Tough one. Very tough. The top five would certainly change from day-to-day. If pushed, though, I nearly always go for 'Supersonic' as my No 1. This perhaps explains why, despite not having enjoyed playing basketball at school (not least because I was rubbish at it!) and having little or no sustained interest in the NBA, I had a definite soft spot for the Seattle Supersonics.

As such, whilst browsing in the Emerald City's famous Pike Place Market, I felt compelled to buy, when I saw it, a $3 fridge magnet from one of the stalls -

I was aware that the Supersonics had been re-located to Oklahoma City and re-named the Thunder (currently one of the best teams in the NBA, incidentally) but my new-found love of Seattle and it's partially public-funded football stadium - and the fridge magnet - prompted me to do some in-depth research into how and why this move came to fruition. I stumbled across the the following documentary and watched it in full - 

Although it is perhaps over-long and (understandably) lacks the streamlined editing of the excellent ESPN 30 for 30 films, I would certainly recommend people watch it, regardless of whether they are fans of US sports (generally) or basketball (specifically). It's an interesting, poignant and sadly-predictable story involving too-clever-by-half lawyers, self-serving politicians and unscrupulous mega-rich businessmen, all successfully (to varying degrees) navigating the murky waters of big business (capitalism, if you will).

The fans? Who cares about the fans??

I love US sports - particularly the NFL - and, while alien concepts such as salary caps and a lack of relegation I can just about get my head around, the issue of 'franchise' re-location has always grated somewhat. This film sheds some light on how things work.

More pertinently, regarding this blog, certain parts of the documentary really resonated for me as a football fan (generally) and as a Maidenhead United fan (specifically). 

Barry Ackerley, for example, was seemingly a popular, low-profile owner who sold up after becoming "tired" of running the club. He was followed by Howard Schultz, a smooth-talking salesman who cocked things up with poor personnel decisions, then sold the club down the swanny and irreconcilably damaged his reputation in the process. Next came Clayton 'married into money' Bennett, who was strongly suspected - rightly or wrongly - of having a vested interest upon taking ownership.

Sound familiar?

Some quotes really jumped out at me (especially those below, in bold, from the noted Native American writer Sherman Alexie; replace basketball with football and Magic Johnson with, say, Didier Drogba or Mustafa Tiryaki, and he could be talking for me) -

13:49 "They gave him the money, he took the money. I would've took (sic) it too"

14:24 "I wasn't upset about us losing. I was upset about us breaking the team up"

18:13 "He tried to run a basketball team like his coffee business"

19:06 "One of the things that all pro sports owners fail to realise is what an incredible energy suck owning a sports franchise is. When you come into the sports arena, you get criticised .. .and he was a successful businessman ... I think the bloom came off"

42:55 "We were for more important things than using taxpayers dollars to fund a stadium for an enterprise that was not only private but ... paying millions of dollars ... if they were paying that kind of money for their employees, obviously they didn't need taxpayers dollars"

49:58 "Key Arena, if (you) really take a look at it ... there's literally not many NBA arenas that are located in a neighbourhood"

53:29 "In order to get fans to pay these premium dollars (for stadium redevelopment) you've gotta have some kind of a goal. You've gotta have hope. There was no hope"

53:47 "The moves that were being made ... that last season they were just atrocious. It just seemed like it was all part of a plan to make people not interested ... to make people not attend games"

"Players were off-limits to a great degree ... they were completely kept at arms length"

"Everything was so controlled. It was all to kind of turn us off ... their whole game plan was to ... create as much ill-will in the process as they could"

1:30:31 "First and foremost it (basketball) is really about my relationship with my father. My father was a huge professional basketball fan ... that was our primary means of communication. Emotionally. Physically. Athletically. Spiritually. Everything had to do, somewhat, with basketball. So, nearly every single conversation we ever had was related to basketball. It was our way of talking about anything ... we could say 'I love you' because we were talking about Magic Johnson"

"Most of my friendships in the city are based on basketball. Day after day, week after week, year after year; the way in which my friends and I related to each other emotionally - almost entirely - (was) through basketball. Everything we cared about, everything we loved, everything we did, was filtered through the lens of basketball"

1:39:55 "The Mayor said for so long that 'This is not about money. This is NOT about money'. And he said it time and time again. 'This is not about money'. But at the end, it was about money"

Sadly, it's always about money.

R.I.P. Seattle Supersonics.

R.I.P. Maidenhead United FC, members club.

Further GMOSC reading, re. Seattle, here.

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