The quick backstory:
The NBA is placing a golden stripe on the back of jerseys this season to honor teams with championship lineage. Seventeen teams have won titles, but only 16 are taking part because the Thunder have elected not to place the commemorative bar on their uniforms, for obvious reasons.
The SuperSonics won a title in 1979, something of which the Thunder legally can lay claim to having purchased the team’s history and negotiating the retention of it despite the relocation to Oklahoma City. But in the same way you won’t see any 1979 title banner hanging from the rafters of Chesapeake Energy Arena, nor will you see the gold band on OKC jerseys this season. Via NewsOK.com:
Christopher Arena — the NBA’s vice president of outfitting, identity and equipment — told The Oklahoman in a phone interview Monday the Thunder will not honor the Seattle SuperSonics’ 1979 NBA title with the league’s new championship tags.
“As of right now, they are not wearing it,” Arena said. “They actually would have had to have told us that some time ago, and that was their choice. We have several teams who have a lineage that exists prior to the city that they’re in …Some teams embrace that past, some teams don’t. Whether it’s because of ownership changes or perhaps the lineage is too great of a distance or the team nickname changed or whatever it may be, that’s their decision.”
Other teams that have relocated with championships will wear the patch though, like the Kings and Hawks. Of course those relocations happened in 1968 and 1985, respectively, and didn’t carry with them near the profile or controversy. Regardless, this thing has become a whole Thing, with discussion abounding about what the Thunder should or shouldn’t do.
This is one of those situations where you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. For example, Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie says this:
Meanwhile, the owners of the Oklahoma City Thunder also value money over aesthetics, and James Harden, making that clear as day when they lied to fans of the team when it played out of Seattle, and left to set up shop in Oklahoma City as soon as former commissioner David Stern deemed it NBA-legal. Many of those fans in Seattle celebrated the NBA champion that played in Washington during the 1978-79 season, but the Thunder won’t be celebrating that team’s title run with a gold patch.
Just to rub it in a little bit, I suppose.
There is likely a rather vocal subset of Seattle SuperSonics fans that would want nothing to do with the team’s lone Finals win being celebrated on OKC jerseys, but that’s not the point in this instance. The least the Thunder’s owners could do is throw a bone to the community that it lied to prior to failing to make an honest attempt to keep the team in Seattle.
The team has apparently decided not to. In the NBA’s latest and crassest attempt to cram more money into its coffers, the Oklahoma City Thunder still managed to come off as the crassest of all. Well done, gentlemen.
Oh. Okay then.
Of course, had the Thunder placed that patch on the back, you already know what the response would’ve been. How dare they celebrate something they didn’t win. There was no way for the Thunder to win this thing. So their choice was just to remain (kind of) consistent when it comes to handling the awkward Sonics history.
I have two thoughts on this:
1) I’m glad they aren’t including the gold tab. Ownership has mostly tried to turn the Thunder’s birth more into an expansion rather than relocation, and celebrating a championship that Oklahomans have absolutely zero connection to seems disingenuous and really, disrespectful. Thunder fans want their own championship to celebrate. Nobody is living vicariously through that 1979 title.
2) However, on the flip side, what was the point of fighting to retain the history of the team, which including the 1979 title, if you aren’t going to use it? In the settlement with Seattle, the Thunder left the colors and name “SuperSonics” with the city, but agreed to “share” the history of the franchise with a future Seattle team. What was the point of doing that exactly?
The team does still recognize franchise records and stats, though, for whatever reason. Like when Kevin Durant scores 94 points in a game next season, it’ll break Fred Brown’s team record of 58 set in 1974. Any time there’s a win streak or some kind of factual thing that comes up, it’s always tied to the Sonics. I don’t know why the team insists on doing this. If you go to Wikipedia’s “Thunder accomplishments and records” page, it’s separate. Maybe is the assumption that eventually Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant will all own all the team records anyway, so they’re just letting it all play out on its own.
But all in all, this is really about the Thunder remaining mostly consistent. If you look at shirts around Oklahoma City, you won’t find a single one that says “est. 1967.” In fact, I’ve actually seen some that say “est. 2008.” Thunder ownership regards the team as its own Oklahoma City entity and has done its best to distance from the Seattle history. So why change course now and flaunt that gold patch that no Thunder fan feels a connection to?
Thunder ownership has taken a “if we don’t talk about it maybe it’ll go away” approach with the history of the franchise, and in a lot of ways, it’s worked. At least in Oklahoma. Time isn’t necessarily healing the wounds of the ugly relocation, but it is at least making some forget about it. Or probably, grow tired of bringing it up at every opportunity.
But when something like this gold patch thing comes up, it just presents one of those chances to rehash and replay what went down in 2008. It’s just a natural cycle of emotional history playing out. The origin of the Thunder’s existence isn’t ever going to go away. Nor should it. Just like ownership wanted to retain that history of the franchise, with that comes the baggage of a nasty relocation battle that they happened to win. But it’s their prerogative in how they want to handle said history. And in most cases, they handle it by pretending it doesn’t exist.