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Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - Page updated at 11:00 p.m.
Sonics fans find a new outlet in Mike McGinn’s re-election campaign
By Jerry Brewer
Times staff columnist
Just three months ago, when daydreaming about the Sonics’ return felt more practical than fanciful, there was legitimate fear about what would happen if the NBA broke Seattle’s heart again.
It would be over, many thought. For good. There’s no way Sonics fans could endure a divorce and reconcile, only to be left at the altar. If the NBA didn’t right our wrong and sacrifice the Sacramento Kings to return here, Sonics fans would be worse than angry. They would be embarrassed, too. And that combination would ruin the momentum to resurrect the green and gold.
But an amazing thing happened as the worst-case scenario played out. The core of this fan base hasn’t succumbed to disappointment and frustration. Instead, resilient as ever, Sonics fans have remained committed to investor Chris Hansen’s plan to build a new arena and bring back the Sonics.
And now that there’s a lull in that quest, some fans have taken on a new project: Ensuring the maintenance of Hansen’s Sodo arena plan by supporting Mayor Mike McGinn’s bid for re-election.
Rather than feeling trampled, Sonics fans feel empowered now. Their voices were heard during the contentious arena debate last year. The result was an agreement, pending environmental review and the acquisition of the NBA team, by the city and county councils to chip in $200 million toward the building of a $490 million sports and entertainment facility. The memorandum of understanding for that plan will last five years as long as no one tinkers with it.
In this mayoral election, some influential Sonics fans want to make sure McGinn, the most consistent and vocal arena supporter, gets re-elected.
“It’s hard not to stick by a guy who stuck to his word after having to deal with all those who lied to and betrayed us when the team left five years ago,” said Jason Reid, director of the movie “Sonicsgate.”
Sonics fans will never get over the confluence of buffoonery that led to the Sonics being moved to Oklahoma City in 2008. That debacle ended with former Mayor Greg Nickels settling a KeyArena lease lawsuit and allowing Clay Bennett to move the team for $45 million. The decision symbolized a lack of political support from local and state leaders that helped usher the Sonics out after a successful 41-year Seattle run.
Then, in early 2012, Hansen surfaced with a detailed plan, and thousands have rallied behind him. The Sonics’ return has gone from a silent issue to a real possibility, and there’s a chance an NHL team could come attached.
But now that the Kings are off the table, uncertainty has been reintroduced to the mission. Still, Sonics fans persist.
They have played a role in McGinn’s re-election bid, says McGinn campaign strategist John Wyble. They have volunteered to work phone banks. They held a rally at McGinn’s house to show support, too.
Wyble estimates that about 25 percent of the phone-bank volunteering has been done by Sonics fans.
“This is the most sports fans involved in a campaign that I’ve seen,” Wyble says.
Can the sports-fan vote turn the election in McGinn’s favor? It’s a stretch to say that right now. Despite the media attention it has received, the Sodo arena and the Sonics’ possible return are secondary issues when deciding the next mayor. But in the Aug. 6 primary, which is expected to receive the typical low voter turnout for a primary, Sonics fans could make an impact if they could get a few thousand sports fans on board.
The Sodo arena issue could become more of a factor after we learn who survives the primary. The debates will become more thorough and the candidates’ platforms more defined. Regardless of which two candidates make it through, Sonics fans plan to raise their voices again.
“I was once told a long time ago that part of the reason sports fans don’t have an influence is because we don’t vote and that means politicians don’t have respect for sports fans’ interests,” longtime Sonics and arena supporter Brian Robinson said. “I think the interest is there, and so is the commitment and the savvy. At the end of the day, McGinn is the guy for us because he’s been here for us over and over again.”
But this is about more than basketball fans supporting McGinn or frowning upon mayoral candidate Peter Steinbrueck, who clearly isn’t in favor of a Sodo arena. It’s about the passion of a fan base that refuses to go away.
“It’s hard to believe it, but when I go out to advocate for the Sonics, it’s more positive and passionate now than ever before,” said Kris Brannon, the Tacoma activist known as Sonics Guy who dresses in green and gold every day.
After Seattle lost out on the Kings, Brannon thought briefly about retiring as Sonics Guy. It lasted a day or two. Then he returned to the fight.
Sonics fans always return to the fight.
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