5,000+ put a Sonic Boom on Occidental Square
On a star-studded June afternoon with former Sonics legends rubbing elbows with rock gods, the crowd rallying in support of a new arena and NBA team at Occidental Park cheered loudest for Michael Cage’s jehri curl. Fan favorite and rarely used benchwarmer Steve Scheffler was the second biggest response during roll call.
What made the Sonics franchise different was the celebration of it’s quirkiness. Fans embraced the characters, the disco-era uniforms, the headbands and colorful play-by-play broadcasts. Founded in 1967 as a relatively young team by comparison, that didn’t stop the Sonics from amassing a unique history.
It’s that history and the nostalgia that lingered after the vanishing act, especially with the success of our roster in Oklahoma City, that made for a special occasion. The dynamic duo of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp took the stage together to a sea of outstretched arms that resembled a music festival mainstage. T-shirts were thrown to the crowd and those on stage began to compete to see who could toss one the farthest. Even Duff McKagan formerly of Guns n’ Roses tried his hand at hurling the promo items.
Rainier Beach High and UW alum Nate Robinson gave his usual dose of comedy mentioning that he played for Gary Payton’s AAU team as a teenager. “I’m not saying these guys are old, but…” Robinson said referring to Payton and Kemp.
Enterprising youngsters hocked their old Sonics jerseys on coat-hangers, post-grunge Seattle rock band “Presidents of the United States” opened for “Blue Scholars” a rap duo with a much younger following. To 4E’s dismay Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Not In Our House” wasn’t played a single time. But that’s our only gripe.
“Go new arena, go new arena, go…”
– Blue Scholars call-and-response with the Sonics fans
Kevin Calabro, the team’s iconic voice along with his predecessor Bob Blackburn, was on-hand and he is admired in a way that is on par with the star players. Calabro is known for his nicknames and his personal touch is woven into the fabric of the team. He dropped some signature tag lines like “Big Paper Daddy” to wild ovations. We remembered his magic carpet rides and all the good gollying of poor old Ms. Molly.
Keeping the Sonics weird is as important as resurrecting them. It’s the identity of a region, which was imprinted on a team. Even the name “Sonics” has two strange origins. One was capitalizing on the popularity of Tacoma garage rock super group “the Sonics” who were HUGE when the team was established.
The other was the Boeing Supersonic Transport (SST). This was a Concord-style jet that was ultra-futuristic and so expensive it never was released to market. In a strange way this “Curse of the SST” may have doomed our franchise to heart-wrenching relocation from the beginning. As a Seattle’s sports fan we’re used to those kinds of ironies.
To those who feel were are speaking witchcraft and superstitious nonsense consider this about the name “Sonics.” It was conjured in an era when a public contest was held to get the people’s feedback on what they thought would be good options. The Puget Sound submitted 25,000 recommendations and it was a local school teacher named Howard E. Schmidt and his son Brent who won. We visually branded the team with a series of quirky logos that became beloved over time.
That was until Howard Schultz bought the team, and hired local firm Hornall Anderson to completely “modernize” the brand identity. So while we want a team back as much as anyone, we feel it’s important that the personality comes back with it. Yuppie-friendly ambiance in a new stadium must not make the basketball experience like watching a Mariners game at Safeco Field. The park is beautiful but it’s a business/social space with small pockets of fandemonium.
The weirdness of the Kingdome, and the drippiness of Michael Cage’s jehri curl needs to be baked in to the plan to bring the NBA back. Non negotiable.