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Wayback Wednesday: Less than Thunderstruck

Russell Westbrook in NBA Live 16

Welcome to Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! This is a feature where we look back on yesteryear, dig into the archives, indulge in some nostalgia, and in some cases, wonder just what we were thinking. Check in every Wednesday for features and retrospectives on old basketball video games, old NLSC editorials published as-is with added commentary, and other flashback content.

I had intended to post another video retrospective for this week’s Wayback Wednesday, as I’m really enjoying making them. However, I’d like to spend a little more time with it, as I’ve wanted to talk about this particular game in more detail for some time now, and I want my video content to continually improve. As such, I’m now looking to release the video next week; in the meantime, I’ll repeat my hint from last week’s Podcast, and say that it’s a game that has three different titles. Happy guessing!

So, for this week, I’m taking a look back at an old article that I posted back in 2008. The article – “Less than Thunderstruck” – is an opinion piece that I wrote a week after the Seattle Supersonics formally became the Oklahoma City Thunder, and unveiled their new logo. Following the article, which I’m presenting as-is, I’ll provide some commentary as we look back on that topic, all these years later.

Let’s take a look back…way back…

Less than Thunderstruck

Originally published September 8th, 2008.

It’s been a week since the Team Formerly Known as the Seattle Supersonics became the Team Currently Known as the Oklahoma City Thunder, ending speculation and confirming several leaks that had served to spoil what had become one of the worst kept secrets in the NBA. Since the official unveiling there has been plenty of chatter, most of it critical, about the choice of name and in particular, the logo.

Oklahoma City Thunder Logo

Opinion has not changed much during that time. The name and the logo are still the subject of scorn and ridicule with any one of the rumoured alternatives usually being touted as a more worthy choice. But let’s face it; no matter what moniker the team adopted upon its move, the prevailing attitude would have been that “Supersonics” remained the superior name and that the team never should have left Seattle. This was never going to be a change that people liked.

That’s one of the interesting things about the relocation and renaming of the franchise. Obviously, the Sonics faithful were always going to be alienated by Professional Basketball Club LLC’s desire to move the team and the NBA (or perhaps more commonly, David Stern) for ruling in their favour. The fact so many fans of the other 29 NBA teams have aligned themselves with those alienated Sonics fans, being likewise critical of how the team came to be moved and scornful of its new identity, is a little more surprising. After all, it’s not uncommon for fans of one team to revel in the misfortune of another, yet in this case there seems to be some shared outrage.

I believe it goes beyond a mere aversion to change, too. The Sonics are far from being the first professional sports club to move or fold so the pain of losing the hometown team is something with which many sports fans can identify or at least sympathise. Then there are those emails and the accusations that Clay Bennett and his ownership group were never serious about keeping the team in Seattle. Finally, there is the shared acknowledgement, respect and indeed reverence we have for sporting history and tradition. There may not be room for sentiment in business but for those of us without multi-million dollar investments in sports franchises there is a strong, more emotionally driven sense of what is right and wrong and such feelings would seem to be almost universal amongst sports fans.

Even putting all those notions of injustice and resulting prejudice against the change aside, the best you can say about the logo is that it’s somewhat plain. It’s a fairly clean design but it has little to do with the name “Thunder” aside from the word’s presence above the logo and on the whole, seems awfully generic. Bennett of course has spoken of it with enthusiasm and explained the symbolism of the colours but like his defense of the aforementioned emails, few are really buying it. It’s to be expected of course, no owner in their right mind would stand before their new fanbase and openly proclaim “Well, it’s not the best logo but heck, it’ll do” any more than we can expect an admission of “We did make an effort to keep the team in Seattle, but frankly it was always our desire to bring the team to Oklahoma City”. Hey, politicians and executives like Bennett are expected to put a spin on things. Honesty may be the best policy, but that doesn’t mean the truth isn’t as ugly as the lie.

Lost amid the grumbling and critiquing going on is the excitement of basketball fans in Oklahoma, with team officials claiming there is already a high demand for tickets. The whole affair has been portrayed as Seattle’s loss rather than Oklahoma City’s gain and that’s to be expected. That’s hardly an indictment of Oklahoma City, it’s just that injustice invites more support than good fortune. Basketball junkies in Oklahoma have a right to be excited, quibbles with the logo not withstanding. I expect the average NBA’s outrage will subside in time as attention returns to their own team’s fortunes and the usual gripes about officiating, though I expect it will continue to sting Sonics fans for a long time.

However, if and when the Seattle Supersonics are revived, you could scarcely ask for a better ready-made rivalry. We love our heroes but sports need their villains just as much as comic books, action films and professional wrestling and it’s easy to envision Clay Bennett becoming an Art Modell-like figure, if he isn’t already. Such a day may never come and if it does it may not be anytime soon, but if Seattle does become home to an NBA team once more their clashes with the Thunder will no doubt be circled on the calendar no matter what the standings, as long as Bennett is associated with them.

Having said that, I can also see the Thunder being a popular choice for Dynasty Mode games in NBA Live 09. For all the criticism, the team’s youthful roster and in particular the presence of Kevin Durant, combined with its status as more or less a “new” team despite the shared heritage with the Sonics may well prove an attractive option for the user looking to create a fictional legacy.

And, in turn, I expect there will be quite a few ex-fans taking great satisfaction in pummelling them whenever the chance arises. Unfortunately for Seattleites, it may be a while before such an event can be enjoyed outside the realm of virtual basketball.

Commentary

First of all, I’ve got to tell you how difficult it was to read that old article, and hold back on editing it in any way. My aim is to present these articles as-is, so I was able to refrain, but man…there are quite a few parts I’d like to fix up with punctuation and better wording. Hopefully it wasn’t too cumbersome for you all to read!

The Seattle Supersonics are yet to make their way back into the NBA, though as you may recall, there were serious discussions about the Sacramento Kings moving north and adopting their moniker and history. As for people’s feeling towards the Oklahoma City Thunder…well, I imagine former Sonics fans are still feeling a little bitter, and fair enough. I also remember fans – not just Sonics fans, but other NBA fans too – describing it as “justice” when they fell to the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals.

I understood where they were coming from, but at the same time, it’s a little odd. At the time, a lot of people were saying that everyone should get over The Decision and LeBron leaving Cleveland, yet the bitterness towards the Thunder was still strong. As I once mentioned in the Friday Five, that struck me as a tad hypocritical. It’s understandable that Sonics fans (especially those living in Seattle) might still be seething, but if LeBron’s loss with the Heat in the 2011 Finals was a “now you can all get over it” moment, then the same standard should apply for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s supposed penance.

Kevin Durant in NBA 2K14

In terms of the Thunder’s success, after some early struggles, they found a foothold as a perennial Playoff team in the West. In fact, before last season’s ninth place finish in the Conference, the Thunder had made five straight postseason appearances, topping the Northwest Division in four of those five years. Kevin Durant did indeed become one of the league’s top players, as did Russell Westbrook, their top selection the year they become the Thunder. And of course, they made the Finals in 2012, ultimately coming up short. Currently third in the West this season, they remain a top team when healthy.

Response to their branding hasn’t changed much, though. Their logo is still ranked as one of the league’s worst, and while most fans have grown used to their primary jerseys, their alternates have usually received scorn. In NBA 2K13, their new alternate infamously featured the misspelling of “Thudner” (though presumably, none of the jerseys that were produced in real life actually did). An artist’s oversight, subtle commentary, or a mistake born of the subconscious thought that the design landed with a thud? Perhaps a mixture of all three.

The Thunder will probably remain a controversial team for some time yet, a reminder of a team that Seattle lost, and the suspicious circumstances under which the move was orchestrated. However, since then, its young players have matured into stars, the league has a new commissioner, and the face of the NBA has continued to change. If the Sonics do someday return, one has to imagine that the rivalry will indeed flare up immediately. If that comes to pass, then perhaps both teams can debut some cool new logos.

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