Here's hoping the Sonics stay put

Significant moments from your childhood have a way of becoming embedded in your brain, keeping alive the kid in you even as you pluck out gray hairs and complain about a bad back.

Here is a flashback that stays a part of me, more than a quarter-century after the fact. To get the full effect, speak these words out loud in The Voice of that little man who lived inside my AM transistor radio when I was a kid, Bob Blackburn:

"Three, two, one and the SuperSonics win their first-ever NBA championship! The ball sails high in the air!"

I know the championship call word for word because, well, I own a copy of the commemorative record album "Sonic Boom," which I bought at JC Penney after that glorious 1978-79 season.

The moments and memories go back further than 1979. Playing one-on-one with my friend Jack — me as Dick "Duck" Snyder, him as "Leapin' Lee" Winfield. Going to 7-Eleven to buy a Slurpee sold in a collector cup featuring a Sonic. ("Kennedy McIntosh? What do you mean you are out of Spencer Haywood?")

I remember feeling hopeful when the Sonics signed Jim McDaniels and Tom Burleson, two skinny giants who were supposed to take us to great heights. I felt sad on the day we traded Lenny Wilkens. I called for the head of Tom Nissalke and endured the disappointment of the Bill Russell coaching era. I suffered through John Hummer taking shots from the free-throw line.

This essay is dedicated to Seattle natives just geeky enough to be able to pull the name Bob Rule out of thin air, let alone Joe Hassett or Joby Wright. It also is meant for that sack of coffee beans, Howard Schultz, as well as those carpetbagger Okies who expect us to believe their intentions are pure.

Don't steal our Sonics! Don't take away my youth!

Full disclosure: Since moving back to Seattle in 2000 after a decade away, I have attended, er, um, three Sonics games at KeyArena — a playoff game in 2002, a freebie from Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen and one to see Shaq.

I guess I'm supposed to be like those other local wags you know, the ones who moved here from the Midwest and say the Sonics are no longer relevant in my so-very-adult life, so good riddance and don't let the door hit your fat wallets on the way out.

Except I care.

I shouldn't, I know. I'm a fairly intelligent guy — a newspaper reporter, even — so I realize that when Mr. Latte Pants and his pals asked for a massive public subsidy to finance a better arena because their team is losing money, then turned around and sold the team for $150 million more than they paid for it just five years ago, they played us all as fools. Part of me says, "Go ahead and move the team to Okie City. It's past time for a city to take a stand against greedy sports owners."

Then my heart takes over.

Look, there is just something about the Sonics. Something about being a Seattle kid whose life revolved around the Sonics, the Huskies and the hydros. Something about June 1, 1979.

I watched the clinching game at home on the RCA color console with the walnut cabinet, then jumped in a car with my sister and her friend Carolyn and headed to Pioneer Square where traffic lined up on First Avenue, celebrants jumping on the hoods of cars and screaming "Go Sonics!" and "We're Number One!"

Yes! Finally!

I was in 10th grade.

The Sonics will celebrate their 40th year this season. I'll be 43. I'm no kid anymore. Just ask my bad back.

I barely follow the NBA these days, preferring to devote my emotions to college hoops. I couldn't tell you what division the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets play in, or name a single player for the Boston Celtics outside of Paul Pierce. I have never watched LeBron James play a game, only highlights on TV.

Explain to me, then, why I got all giddy two years ago when the Sonics made that improbable run? And why did I pretend like I didn't care, all but hiding out alone in my house to watch each playoff game? (My friends only would have made fun of me.)

Here's what I can figure out: I wasn't getting misty over the success of that particular group of players, but rather the triumph of the Green & Gold. Ray, Rashard and Co. were adding to the familial legacy of Jack, DJ, the Wizard, Lonnie, JJ, Downtown and the Chairman of the Boards. And sure, why not? The Reign Man, the Glove and the rest of that 1996 bunch, too.

Maybe I'm an old softie (emphasis on "old"), but I think anyone who even suggests that losing the Sonics would have scant cultural effect on this city is someone who fails to understand Seattle's history and the Sonics' place in it.

So, contrary to all those grumps and pseudo-intellectuals who say Seattle will be better off without the NBA and, yes, contrary to my own better judgment — I'm holding onto hope that our Sonics will remain Our Sonics.

As Dick Motta once said: "The opera isn't over 'til the fat lady sings."

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or seskenazi@seattletimes.com