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Stecker: Seattle needs to remind the NBA what’s missing at KeyArena preseason game — the Sonics

Former Sonics star Kevin Durant will play in the NBA's return to Seattle's KeyArena. (AP)

Ten years.

Ten years since an NBA game was last played in Seattle.

Ten years since the KeyArena crowd chanted “Save our Sonics” in an attempt to send a message to a league and ownership group that couldn’t have cared less about the fan base it was tearing its team away from.

Ten years since a vital piece of this city’s history was ripped out, given a terrible new name and color scheme and plopped down some 2,000 miles away in Oklahoma City.

And yet the wound that time was supposed to heal remains raw as ever for fans of the Seattle SuperSonics.

Seattle dearly misses its NBA team, and it has perhaps never been as apparent as it has been this week.

First of all, the NBA is returning on Friday – sort of. There will be no Sonics, no team representing Seattle, but there will be a preseason game between the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings in the final scheduled event ever at the current KeyArena. It kinda sounds like a cruel joke, like one last trolling of Seattle by the league before the building the Sonics called home undergoes a drastic renovation.

It’s not a cruel joke, though. It’s actually a bit of a love letter from Golden State president and CEO Rick Welts to the city where basketball became his life, which is why he was instrumental in bringing the game to Seattle. Waits grew up here and was a ballboy for the Sonics, and just like the rest of us, he wants the NBA to return to Seattle. So does Warriors star Kevin Durant, who played his first professional season with the Sonics and has always been vocal about his appreciation of Seattle and support of the effort to bring the NBA back – even when he was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The other thing that really drives home how missed the Sonics are, however, is what happened Monday in that same KeyArena during, of all things, a taping of WWE Raw. At one point in the show, “bad guy” wrestler Elias made a seemingly innocuous dig at the decade-long absence of the Sonics here: “It doesn’t make sense, you know. It’s like having a basketball team in Seattle.”

Taking a shot at the sports scene in a given city is a tried-and-true tactic in professional wrestling, an easy cheap shot that is guaranteed to get boos, but only for a few seconds. For example, Elias could have insinuated that the Seahawks have no chance at making the Super Bowl or pointed out how the Mariners missed the playoffs for an 18th straight year, either of which would have elicited boos for a maximum of 30 seconds. He went at the sore spot that is the Sonics, though, and was probably expecting that same 30 seconds of disdain. He didn’t get that – he ended up garnering some of the most remarkable and impressive booing you might ever hear.

I mean, the crowd booed. And it booed. And then it booed some more.

When all was said and done, there was a sustained jeer of over five minutes, which really speaks to the pent-up anger that Seattle sports fans still have over their team being ripped away from them and never replaced. Not with an expansion franchise the NBA practically owes them, and not with an existing team that was flat-out sold to would-be savior Chris Hansen, only for a move to Seattle to be blocked by the league because it had learned from the mistake it made a few years earlier in essentially letting a team be stolen – you know, from Seattle.

On Friday, Seattle has a chance to tap into that anger and use it in a productive way.

The hard part has already been done – a state of the art, NBA-ready arena will be finished at the KeyArena site in a few years. The NBA hasn’t made any indication that it will grant a new team to Seattle, though, and you have to think seeing how the crowd reacts Friday will be a factor in if the league starts kicking the tires again on expansion.

So we know the NBA will be watching, and we know it is aware there is a market starving for men’s pro basketball here – tickets to the game went fast when they went on sale in August. But while the game has drawn a crowd, it’s the NBA that will actually be the captive audience.

The way I see it, the KeyArena crowd has a golden opportunity to speed up the NBA’s expansion process. We know how loud that building can get – just listen to the crowd overtake the final Sonics game at KeyArena with “Save our Sonics” chants, or watch how the roof of the place nearly came off for introductions during the 1996 NBA Finals, or even Monday’s random outburst at the WWE show.

On Friday, tell the NBA you want the Sonics back. Cheer the game, but chant for the Sonics. Root against the Kings, because why not? They were the team Hansen nearly brought to Seattle and renamed the Sonics before the NBA intervened, after all, so they’re an easy villain in this instance.

The important thing, though, is to remind the NBA what is missing from Friday’s game, and that’s the team that brought the league’s championship to Seattle in 1979. The team that most epitomized pro sports success in Seattle during its 41 years of existence. The only Seattle team that didn’t threaten to move away at some point in the 1990s, then was stolen out from under us by a group of shady businessmen with the express written consent of the National Basketball League.

Chant for the Sonics early. Chant for the Sonics often.

Send the message that NBA basketball belongs in Seattle.

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