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Originally published October 8, 2009 at 6:02 PM | Page modified October 8, 2009 at 10:31 PM

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Steve Kelley

Film finally gives Sonics fans a chance to mourn

There hasn't been a chance to celebrate the 41 years and the exceptional moments or jeer the names of the men who allowed Seattle's NBA team to leave town.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Before he knew he was going to make a documentary, Jason Reid was there.

He was at Boeing Field filming the Sonics getting off the plane from what might be their final road basketball game. He was at the Save Our Sonics rallies, filming the speeches and the cheers. And he was at the trial where the city was fighting to hold the franchise to the final two years of its KeyArena lease.

In the courtroom, he stared at team owner Clay Bennett and at Bennett's attorney Brad Keller and felt the surrealism of the scene. When the city caved in to the NBA, he suffered along with the rest of the region's NBA fans.

Now documentary makers Reid, Adam Brown and Darren Lund are giving Sonics fans the opportunity to come together and laugh, boo, cheer and cry over the loss of their NBA team.

Finally, they are giving us a place to grieve together.

Ever since Seattle mayor Greg Nickels, members of the City Council and others from his staff gathered with those incongruous smiles on their faces to tell us they had surrendered to the NBA and were allowing the move of the Sonics to Oklahoma City, this city's basketball fans never have had a chance to say a collective goodbye.

The Thunder already has played a season and still there hasn't been an opportunity for those of us left behind to come together and mourn the Sonics' loss.

There hasn't been that chance to celebrate the 41 years and the exceptional moments. There hasn't been that one place to gather and jeer the names of those who allowed this to happen, from Nickels to former owner Howard Schultz, from Bennett to NBA commissioner David Stern.

But beginning tonight and Saturday night, Seattle will have that opportunity. Before they release their documentary "Sonicsgate" free on the Internet, the people behind the movie are offering two public screenings.

Tonight's sold-out show will be screened at SIFF Cinema. The movie will be shown again Saturday night at Pacific Place. Some tickets still remain for Saturday. Both screenings begin at 8 p.m.

This is the chance we've needed to discuss what happened and what went wrong in the final whirlwind season of 2007-08.

"I still love the NBA, but now I think we've lost our innocence," Brown said. "We want the NBA back. That's the ultimate goal. We love the NBA, but now we've seen the marionette strings and the league doesn't have that magical glow as much.

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"Now, instead of talking about point guards and players' plus-minus, instead of talking about the next Sonics season, we're talking about specific performance leases and NBA revenue models."

Their film pieces together the entire story of the loss of the Sonics. It chronicles the team's meandering path from its birth in 1967 until its death in 2008. It's the first time the whole story has been told in one place.

This is a visceral movie. It was a project of love and hate.

"Part of this movie is holding people accountable and part of it is getting momentum for a new team," producer Brown said. "But a huge part of it is also paying tribute and almost kind of getting some closure by having the story all in one place from start to finish.

"If Stern had his way, this story would be swept under the rug and people can think that maybe some day Seattle will get another team. But we just needed to make sure that this story was told and the truth was out there for everyone."

The theme is familiar. The little guy gets run over by the man, or in this case, the men.

"In this case, they get screwed over and over and over again," Brown said.

The makers of this documentary are hard-core NBA fans. They used to gather at Reid's home in Georgetown, drink beer, eat pizza and watch Sonics broadcasts. They grew up with Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, George Karl and Kevin Calabro.

They felt this movie as much as they made it.

"This story just kept getting sadder and sadder," Brown said.

This isn't some get-rich-quick scheme of a few local documentarists. They aren't picking over the dead remains of the Sonics in the pursuit of a buck.

Brown said "99 percent" of this project is altruistic. He said the moviemaking process, for him, was "cathartic."

"We could put it up [on the Web] and charge 99 cents, or $1.99 and people would possibly pay for it," producer-director Reid said, "but that means we're probably going to get like one-twentieth of the amount of people to see it.

"What would be the point of that? Just so we could make a buck or two? Our whole purpose is to get the story out so that everybody in the country and the world can see what happened here. We want to get the story out there. Get it told."

These guys feel as if there already is too much greed in the Sonics' saga. They don't want to add to this money grab.

"We're doing this for the right reasons," editor Lund said. "For the passion, for the history, for the story. We're putting it out there and saying, 'Yeah, it's not always about money.' It can't always be about money."

When people leave the theater tonight, they won't feel buoyed. They won't feel as if a new team is waiting around the corner. This film is about loss, and watching it is about grieving that loss.

"It's kind of a downer," Brown said.

The kind of downer, every Sonics fan, every fan of the NBA needs to see.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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