- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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SEATTLE -- Clay Bennett hijacked the Sonics four years ago, but emotions over the team’s transfer to Oklahoma City still cut painfully deep in this city. Word of warning: Avoid mentioning Bennett and the Thunder’s success if someone is holding scissors and a razor near you.
Barbers John Song and Rex Alcantara were cutting hair at The Roosevelt Barbershop one recent morning when they started talking about an ESPN poll that showed a majority of Seattle fans were rooting for Kevin Durant and the Thunder. A man waiting for a haircut jumped into the conversation, saying that he was a Thunder fan and wanted to know how Bennett’s action made it wrong to root for Durant to win the championship.
That was enough for Song, who pointed to the door and ordered the customer to leave. The man initially thought Song was kidding. He was not.
There’s the door. Get out. Now.
"I was just looking at this guy and listening to what was coming out of his mouth -- and he was wearing a Seahawks hat of all things," Song recalled Saturday. "And the only thing on my mind was, 'Get out. You’re not even allowed to be in our shop and have an opinion because of what you just said.'"
The man left, got his haircut at another shop and then Yelped about the incident. Identifying himself as Rich S., he gave the shop a one-star review and described what happened, writing, "And then I’m out, never to return. Because John is easily startled and butt-hurt over sports talk, how trivial and petty can a person be? You almost have to feel sorry for the guy."
Do Song or Alcantara, who owns the barbershop, regret the incident? Not one bit. "I’ll do that for the Sonics anytime," Song said, later adding, "What happened in here is just a small example of the effect of the Sonics being gone has on people."
If anything, the Yelp review helped business. Saturday afternoon Song and Alcantara were wearing black T-shirts with a "No OKC" red circle slash on the front. Someone walked in while I was interviewing Song to congratulate the shop for its stand. Three Sonics fans came in for haircuts the previous day after hearing about the incident. The customers receiving haircuts frequently nodded in agreement as Song and Alcantara explained their feelings.
"Why would anyone in Seattle want to see [Bennett] hold up a championship trophy?" Song asked. "Who cares if you like Kevin Durant? Yeah, go ahead and like Kevin Durant but you don’t want him to win a championship because that means Clay Bennett is going to get a championship."
Song likens the situation to your spouse running off with another person. "Do you want their relationship to be successful? No," he said. "No matter what, it doesn’t matter. You want their relationship to be crap."
Song was born in 1979, the year the Sonics won the NBA championship. He grew up rooting for Jack Sikma and all the players who followed. The Sonics were always an important part of his life and he assumed they would always be there for him. And then Bennett took them away. And he’s still dealing with the loss, which has been especially painful with Durant and The Team That Should Be in Seattle now playing for the NBA championship.
"That’s just another slap in the face," he said. "And just lately there’s another slap in the face because it seems like a lot of people in Seattle who decided all of a sudden, ‘Hey that’s my team. They used to be the Sonics. I like Kevin Durant. He’s still my guy -- I want them to win.’ No, you have to look at the big picture and what happened in the very beginning. You do not want them to win."
The big picture is how Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz left the fans high and dry by selling the Sonics to Bennett and Aubrey McLendon rather than seeking a local buyer. How Bennett seemingly lied about wanting to keep the team in Seattle, all the while plotting to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City. How NBA commissioner David Stern arguably facilitated the move by painting Seattle as insufficiently supportive for not approving a new $500 million arena -- $400 million from the public -- to replace the Sonics' arena that had been remodeled to the team’s specifications the decade before.
There is growing support to bring another NBA team to Seattle. Hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen is looking to build a new arena with what is a relatively low percentage of public financing. Among his partners are Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and the Nordstroms. His group held a two-hour rally for the Sonics last week that drew roughly 5,000 very enthusiastic fans to a downtown park. Andy Royer sold "Screw Clay" T-shirts for $10 out of the back of his pickup. The makers of the excellent "SonicsGate" documentary handed out DVDs of their video. Local bands played. Everyone thought about the good old days.
And if a former Sonic wasn’t on the stage, he was represented by the hundreds upon hundreds of replica jerseys worn in the crowd. Sikma. Ellis. McDaniel. Schrempf. Payton. Kemp. Allen. Collison. Durant.
"We’re not gonna do this no more," Gary Payton told the crowd. "Next time we’ll be in an arena doing what we love. Y'all deserve what you get because y'all the greatest fans there is."
People were so excited about it all that by the end, a friend said, "We are grabbing shovels and breaking ground."
I have mixed feelings about all this. I want to see another team in Seattle but I don’t want to put some other city -- Sacramento is the most likely -- through the same agony. It seems hypocritical to call out Bennett for stealing the Sonics only to turn around and grab some other city’s team.
"The thing is, if we get a team, it’s going to be somebody else’s team," Seattle author and filmmaker Sherman Alexie says in the "SonicsGate" documentary. "It’s not going to be a new franchise. To get a team, we’re going to have to break the hearts of people just like me, who will then have to go in front of cameras like this and talk about their pain. And that’s the only way we’re going to get a team."
Song and Alcantara say a crucial difference is that Seattle is being upfront about its intentions. "Clay Bennett had his agenda and he tried to hide it for a year and a half, two years. He was lying through his teeth," Song said. "That’s not us. They know what we’re doing."
Besides, they said, with the way the NBA works and with Stern saying there is no expansion on the horizon, there is no other option.
"Here’s the thing with the Kings," Song said. "I know this is going to sound pretty [obnoxious], but if somebody punches me in the face and takes something away from me, I’m kind of not going to feel bad about doing it to somebody else. It happened to me, I know what it feels like. I’m not going to be, 'Oh, I know what that feels like. I’m not going to do it to this person.' I’m probably going to do it, especially for the Sonics. That’s how important it is for them to come back."
In other words, Bennett, Schultz and Rich S. probably should go to Supercuts in the future.