SEATTLE – Three years have gone by, and for some fans, it’s been painful.
“I didn’t want to come. I’d get too emotional,” says Tony Callero. But after his wife bought the tickets, he took his three sons, to see some former stars. “Unfortunately, the only way we can see them now is go to a baseball game.”
The Mariners hosted a “Sonics Celebration Night” at Safeco Field on Friday, and invited more than a dozen former players and coaches, including Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. It included a pre-game ceremony, where the former athletes walked a yellow carpet, and were introduced to a crowd with fans wearing green and gold.
“I want to move back here,” said Gary Payton, affectionately known by fans as “The Glove”, “I will always have passion for Seattle. If it wasn’t for this city, Gary Payton wouldn’t have been created.”
Payton says tonight’s event was just the start of his reconnection with the community. The point guard has mentioned leading a charity game, and has been mentioned by others a headliner in an organized effort to build an arena. Payton says he wants to start small. “We’re thinking about bringing a couple camps here. I want to get back in this community, and give back to the people here because they gave so much to me.”
His running mate in the mid-90’s Shawn Kemp, has already moved back to the Seattle area. He hoped the M’s event would help him convince others to do this same.
“Hopefully, something like this, the talk of the Sonics can be created, rejuvenated,” said Kemp. “We have to come together to make enough attention and noise to bring the Sonics back.”
“We’re building a foundation together,” said Kemp.
“We just have to find the right chemistry, the right formula,” says former coach George Karl, now leading the Denver Nuggets. “This year we played Oklahoma City in the playoffs. I love their team, but I kind hated they weren’t in Seattle.”
Karl added: “My daughter lives in Olympia, I have two grandchildren here. It feels like home.”
Gus Williams played point guard for the franchise in the 70’s, and lives now in New York. He acknowledged how strange it was to see the city without a team. “It’s very weird, but (this) can get a lot of people talking about it.”
Former All-Star and Sonics great Tom Chambers added, “It’s absolutely weird not to have a franchise in Seattle. It’s a great city.”
Since the franchise left, there has been little support for a new NBA team or arena. Earlier this year, the NHL’s deputy commissioner told KING5 of a group interested in bringing a hockey team to Seattle. Sources say Chicago businessman Don Levin was in Bellevue to seek support for a privately financed arena to house an NHL and NBA Franchise, but this week he told KING5 “I’m not building an arena.”
“It’s on the tip of everybody’s tongue, it’s just a matter of getting the right people involved,” says former Sonics forward Michael Cage, who now lives in Southern California. Cage met his wife in Seattle, and his daughter plans on attending the University of Washington. “It can start tonight. There are a lot of good men in the room.”
Callero, that heartbroken fan, hopes the link to the past, will be a bridge to the future.
“Some smart businessman is going to recognize. I believe it’s going to happen.”
He then looks at his boys, aged, 9, 13, and 15.
“I hope they are younger than I am today when that happens.”