Sonics fan gets chance to talk
By Gene Johnson
SEATTLE ó U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman has freely acknowledged she doesnít follow basketball.
But she got a glimpse into the world of wounded Seattle SuperSonics fans Thursday, courtesy of author, poet, humorist and season ticket-holder Sherman Alexie. The city called him to describe the teamís importance to the community, or at least to Sherman Alexie ó and that he did, gushingly.
iI want two more years of the great gods,î he pleaded during the federal trial to determine whether the SuperSonics can move to Oklahoma City or must honor the remaining two years of their KeyArena lease.
Sonics owner Clay Bennett is trying to relocate the team to his hometown. The city of Seattle has sued to force Bennettís ownership group, the Professional Basketball Club, to play the next two seasons at KeyArena, the NBAís smallest venue, as the teamís lease requires.
Courts are often reluctant to force parties to fulfill contract obligations against their will; instead, they require monetary damages to be paid to the injured party. But in this case, the lease says either side may ispecifically enforceî its terms, and the city argues that the team provides intangible benefits, such as civic pride, that canít be calculated or paid off as damages.
Alexie, who won a National Book Award last year and wrote the screenplay for the 1999 movie iSmoke Signals,î frequently turns to basketball and its importance to American Indian reservation life as a theme in his writing, and he offered a unique perspective on the iintangible benefitsî the Sonics bring to Seattle.
Before trial, the Sonics tried to exclude him from the witness list, arguing he had nothing relevant to say. The team argues fans arenít a party to the lease, so theyíre not legally entitled to consideration.
Alexie told of how isolated and alone he often feels as an American Indian in an overwhelmingly white city, and how that vanishes when he sees the melting pot of fans and players at KeyArena, and he credited basketball for improving his relationship with his father.
The NBA, he said, is a icelebration of povertyî ó and he wasnít talking about the $60 million the Sonics expect to lose if forced to stay in Seattle for two more seasons. Professional basketball represents the hopes of poor kids, he explained.
He got so wound up explaining that ithe great thing about basketball is theyíre barely wearing any clothesî and discussing the icurrent mythologyî of the sport that the judge asked him to slow down for the court reporter.
iSorry, judge,î Alexie said.
He went on to talk about how things have changed for season-ticket holders since Bennettís Professional Basketball Club bought the team for $350 million in 2006: There were no banners in the playersí parking lot, where such fans can park. There was no free popcorn or cucumber sandwiches inside. The new personnel didnít know who he was.
Add a final insult: Alexie got a letter saying that because of the possible relocation, the Sonics wouldnít be selling season-tickets for next year. The letter began, iDear Fan,î instead of iDear Sherman Alexie.î
But Alexie said if the Sonics are leaving, what he really wants is two more years to say goodbye.
The litany won the wounded superfan a sincere apology.
iThank you for your support. Itís very much appreciated,î team lawyer Brad Keller began his cross-examination. iIím sorry the locker guy didnít know who you are. Iím sorry there wasnít any popcorn.î
Thursday marked the fourth day of the six-day trial, and the city rested its case shortly after Alexieís testimony. If Pechman rules the Sonics can leave, a separate trial will be held to determine damages the team must pay for breaking the lease.