Attending college in Portland, I met a fair amount of Seattleites. A common theme for Pacific Northwest students was Portland kids, being bored with Portland, went up to Seattle for college, and Seattle kids, being bored with Seattle, came down to Portland for college. As is the nature of such relationships, trash talking about our respective cities/states came out in full force.
Being the “forgotten corner” of the US (good luck to us competing with New York, Los Angeles, and Miami), we take great pride in where we are from. As is apt to occur, this pride often manifests itself through jawing about sports.
Or unfortunately, more accurately these days, it tries to manifest itself through sports.
Seattle has an NFL team, Portland does not. Owing to Pacific Northwest pride, Portland has more or less adopted the Seahawks.
With the addition of the Portland Timbers to MLS, a burgeoning rivalry with the Seattle Sounders is being fostered. Let’s be real though – while expanding, soccer is still a rather niche fandom.
College sports can’t add much to the conversation either. Of the four major universities in Oregon and Washington (UO/OSU/UW/WSU), only one (UW) is based in Portland or Seattle.
The Sonics are sorely missed.
Portland and Seattle are a mere three hours (and a prayer for no traffic) away from each other – a relatively short jaunt up or down I5. And resulting from the relative lack of professional sports options, each group of fans is crazy.
This is the foundation for a perfect rivalry. Think about the current great sports rivalries – Yankees / Red Sox, Duke/UNC, Steelers/Ravens, etc. Close proximity and passionate fan bases are essential.
You need more than just that, however. For a true rivalry, the teams must be evenly matched. That’s why for so many years the Manchester United / Manchester City “rivalry” was a joke – United was so dominantly superior that it just wasn’t a fair competition.
Fortunately, the Blazers and Sonics have been uncannily near mirror images of each other. Each franchise has one championship: Portland won in 1977, and the Sonics quickly responded by winning theirs two years later.
Both franchises experienced a resurgence in the 90s. Portland dominated the early part of the decade, making two Finals appearances in 1990 and 1992. Seattle, riding the heyday of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, responded with a dominant stretch of 55+ win seasons from 1992-1998, with the highlight being a Finals appearance in 1996. Finally, Portland closed the decade with a memorable romp to the 2000 Western Conference Finals.
After another brief lull for the franchises, the ping pong balls saw fit to reignite the rivalry by granting Portland and Seattle the first two picks in the 2007 Draft; a draft that conveniently featured two transcendent talents (…..). All of the Northwest was ready to watch Kevin Durant and Greg Oden square off for Western Conference supremacy over the next decade.
The rest is history. Portland was robbed of Oden, and even more cruelly, Seattle was robbed of the Sonics. The rivalry that was, and could have been, had died.
This is why when talks about the Kings’ potential move from Sacramento to Seattle began to percolate, I immediately perked up. Let’s be clear: having an NBA team in Seattle again would be great not just for Seattle, but for the entire region. These fans each get behind their team. That rivalry still simmers beneath the surface, and both franchises could feed off of it.
This has been evidenced be the above mentioned Timbers/Sounders rivalry. Despite the Timbers being complete newcomers to MLS, and soccer being a less popular sport, I was pleasantly surprised to see my Facebook home page filled with unprintable barbs lobbed between fans of the two teams before every game they played against each other. It warmed my heart. I can only imagine what would happen if Seattle ever returned to the NBA.
The basketball side of me would be ecstatic if this move went through and the rivalry was rekindled. The human side of me, though, would have issues. Namely, I don’t know if I could ever bring myself to root for Sacramento to be robbed of their team.
Befriending several Seattle sports fans, I was initially shocked at just how hurt they were regarding the Sonics. The pain is still fresh, and it runs deep. I think the general public’s perception of the move was softened by both how successful and likable the franchise has been in Oklahoma City. On the other hand, to the fans in Seattle, the move is an open wound still festering.
For this reason, I personally have trouble condoning the Kings being forcibly wrenched from Sacramento. That fan base has been loyal – far more loyal than they could have been considering how poorly the franchise has been managed. It would truly be a shame. At the same time, it must be noted that the fans’ patience finally began to wane, as the Kings were dead last in attendance this season.
If the move does take place, though, the Portland basketball side of me will properly mourn Sacramento for a week, and then gleefully switch into make-fun-of-Seattle mode. I wouldn’t complain, but I cannot actively root for this pain to be foisted upon another NBA franchise.
If it does not happen (which is now looking more likely), I genuinely wish the Kings the best, and hope that they can turn things around now that the Maloofs are out of the picture. There would still be a basketball sized hole in Seattle, though, and I would vehemently root for any solution that fills it. Perhaps an expansion team…?