The way Ray Allen saw it, the signs were evident. The Seattle Supersonics would eventually change names, change logos, and change cities, but while he was still there, Allen could sense they were changing directions from the time they changed ownership.
Howard Schultz, of Starbucks riches, had owned the Sonics since 2001, buying the franchise for $200 million. But over the next five years, his relationship with fans and players would sour, the infatuation he had with running a sports franchise would wane to the point that he’d slouch in his courtside seat. By the spring of 2006 he put a $400 million price tag on the team.
Allen was a relatively quiet observer.
“You could tell that they were doing a lot of budget-cutting,” Allen said. “They were taking a lot of short cuts. The way the team, under the Howard Schultz ownership, the way they ran the team, it was sub-par to what most NBA teams had been running.”
The face of the franchise for more than four seasons, Allen voiced his opinions within the organization.
“A lot of people in the organization were mad at me because I did,” Allen said. “But I was speaking the truth. They were doing what they could to try to shore up the costs and try to make as much money as they can when they sold the team. They made a great deal of money on it.”
Schultz sold the team to Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett in 2006 for $350 million. Bennett initially quelled perceptions that he had intentions of moving the team to his hometown but ultimately made the move in 2008, amid an ugly dispute with the City of Seattle. Allen was long gone by then, traded to the Celtics in 2007 for the draft pick that would become Jeff Green, one of the pieces (along with that year’s No. 2 draft pick Kevin Durant) that’s made the Oklahoma City Thunder the league’s youngest and arguably most exciting team.
Allen says he hasn’t been back to Seattle much since. There are a handful of Sonics holdovers still employed by the Thunder. But he doesn’t associate himself with that franchise.
“If the name were the same or the colors were the same you would notice it,” Allen said. “but for the most part you could see they’ve done a good job trying to cut all the ties from the Seattle team.”
Having won a championship the year after being traded to Boston, Allen doesn’t second guess much, even if the possibility of playing with Durant seemed intriguing at the time.
“There are so many what if scenarios,” Allen said. “Who knows? I have a championship. That’s something that can never be taken away from me.”
In their second season since the move, the Thunder are already a playoff team with a cornerstone player in Durant, and perfect complements in Green, James Harden, Thabo Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook.
The city of Seattle has been stuck with all the losses, a hole where 41 years of basketball tradition once was. A weight room conversation with Brian Scalabrine, who spends much of his offseason time in Seattle, led Allen and several other NBA names to begin organizing an all-star game to be played in the area, ideally at Key Arena.
“Going into that building, people have such great memories being in that building,” Allen said. “You talk about playing at the University of Washington but Key Arena is the building that you want people to be able to walk back in and say we’re going to a basketball game.
“They deserve to see some basketball via a charity game and try and get that luster back that was lost. The NBA community misses having a team there, so at some point hopefully they’ll get a team back.”