BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 10/31/2012

Thiel: Sports world moves on; Seattle in neutral

The Sounders have yet to score on their playoff foes, despite playing three matches. Seahawks and Huskies are 4-4. Will somebody please bust a move around here?

Lenny Wilkens, basketball April, 1984

Not since Lenny Wilkens had all of his dark hair has Seattle seen a major pro sports championship. / DR Collection

The Sounders are entering the playoffs against a team that they have failed to score upon in 270-plus minutes of action over three games.

I realize it’s soccer, where it seems sometimes that generations can be born and die off between goals. But the dearth is not from incompetence, because the Sounders and Real Salt Lake are quality MLS teams. Still, when a 1-0 win by RSL is followed by consecutive 0-0 draws, it is either a massive case of sporting constipation,  or  . . .

Is it Seattle?

The Seahawks and the Washington Huskies are each 4-4 in the middle of their seasons. With the win over Oregon State Saturday, coach Steve Sarkisian’s record at Washington is 23-23. The Seahawks have been 7-9 in each of the first two seasons of Pete Carroll’s tenure, so he’s now 18-22.

I’d like to drag the Mariners into this, but at 75-87 the past season, they are still waiting to qualify for admission to the Mossy Mall of Mediocrity. The other teams are at least muddling more rapidly.

I realize these records are coincidence, that nothing really connects the enterprises except an area code. At least, I think it’s coincidence. But it has been a long freakin’ time since any one of them has busted a move toward championship accomplishment. The one that did, we gave away for $45 million.

Tie together all these neutral marks and Seattle is the Switzerland of sports.

Let’s not forget the most successful team over the last decade hereabouts — the Washington Huskies men’s basketball team. What happened to them last spring? They won the Pac-12 regular-season championship, yet failed to be invited to the NCAA tournament, which is at 68 teams and about two years away from inviting Jupiter and Saturn. To the NCAA selection committee, the Huskies had all the cachet of a damp spot on the basement floor.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a benefit for the A-Plus Youth Program, one of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s favorite charities. Chris Hansen’s new best buddy and arena-investment partner invited Hansen and a lot of hoops glitterati to the SoDo event, including Lenny Wilkens and, surprisingly enough, Magic Johnson.

I was tempted to tell Ballmer that the final owner of the Sonics, Howard Schultz, also invited the former Lakers great to town, and that precedent may make Johnson’s return a tad awkward. Schultz’s desire was to make sure everyone saw him sitting court-side at KeyArena next to Johnson, just to make sure there was no doubt about Schultz’s coolness.

But we don’t have to worry about that unpleasant scene — no Sonics. But hey, Hansen is the new local hoops hero, and Ballmer’s pal. So I decided to shut up and enjoy Johnson.

He said during a press chat all the predictable good things about Ballmer wanting to help get an NBA team back to Seattle. Standing next to a smiling Wilkens, he drifted into a reverie about his playing days against the Sonics, saying he recalled all “those tough battles against coach Wilkens.”

And indeed they were epic spectacles, sweaty Sunday playoff afternoons with Magic and Kareem against Sikma, Gus, D.J. and  . . . wait a minute.

In his rookie season, Johnson’s Lakers, in the Western Conference finals, dethroned the defending NBA champion Sonics, coached by Wilkens . . . 32 YEARS AGO!

Any longtime Seattle sports fan understand it’s been awhile. But seeing Wilkens and Johnson standing there together, listening to Johnson talk about old times . . .  well, I was dumbstruck.

We all have moments where the passage of time hits us like an ice pick between the eyebrows. But shaking hands with the icons of yore had a way of bringing home the dearth of big-time sports championships for this marketplace that added some rust to the ice pick.

It’s not as if the ensuing years were bereft of achievements, enjoyment, thrills, spectacles and drama, so it hasn’t been uniformly bleak — and yes, football fans, I remember the 1991 top-ranked Huskies. What I also remember was an opinion poll, not a championship-game win.

It’s not as if the forward gears can’t be engaged, starting as soon as this weekend with the Sounders, Huskies and Seahawks.

But at the the moment, stuck in neutral while pulling out the ice pick,  it’s just . . . meh.

Score a goal, Sounders. Blow us away.


YourThoughts

  • Jamo57

    Exactly, Art.

    This is the town where players are carried off the field on the shoulders of their teammates for coming in 3rd in the AL West! And then the local sports channel rebroadcasts the game over the winter as a ‘classic’.

    And highlights of ‘the double’ are played nightly on the jumbotron 17 years later, celebrating getting out of the first round of the playoffs!

    Or the local AD creates a national championship for the football team in 1960 because one poll (out of Chicago I believe) voted the Huskies #1. Unfortunately he was fired before the 1984 team could be enshrined as well.

    I have no doubt Seattle fans are the greatest in the country. We are the loudest and turn out in the greatest number, while having received so little in return over the years (beyond leading the nation in ownership blackmail attempts and being political soccerballs). I’m surprised we don’t hang ‘participation banners’ in the rafters here.

    This column has inspired me to wear my ‘Seattle Metropolitans, 1917 Stanley Cup Champions’ shirt today. (Yes I own one, and the actual engraving on the Cup recording the historical fact is my avatar photo).

    Detroit, Chicago fans I don’t want to hear how downtrodden you are. You have no idea.

    • Michael Kaiser

      Very well said. But I will diverge with regard to whether we have the “greatest” and “loudest” fans. At a few events for a while–in the big picture–fans really get emotionally and proactively involved. Otherwise, we truly are the passive-aggressive capital of the world, and that seeps into every aspect of our community, including the fact that we, as a community, will get upset just enough to get a team thinking about at least playing .500 ball, but beyond that there are few voices calling for excellence, especially sustained. Art has taken a good stab at addressing the fact there is an underlying psyche to our community that, among other things, contributes to no real pressure for sports teams to succeed here. We need a publication with Art, TJ Simers, and the Times’ Mariners blog guy. Rudman used to offend people, but he is on another plane now, which is fine, the area needs a more pure intellectual-type as well with regard to sports coverage.

      • Jamo57

        You may be right on your analysis of our community psyche. I was chatting with a client a few months ago and he summed it up by saying we are simply ‘too nice’ and don’t put pressure on the franchises.

        As to the passive-aggressive description, I see it a little differently. I am repeating a post I made to a recent column by Art re: Howard and the Ms, by saying I look at myself as having become somewhat of an emotional ‘free agent’ relative to our sports teams.

        We’ve had each of our franchise blackmail us by threatening to move, moving temporarilly, or outright departing. And we went through so many of our superstars wanting to leave just when they were hitting their peaks (back when we had superstars). So if they can be free agents, why can’t I?

        Or to put it in a way Howard Lincoln can understand, ‘It’s strictly business’.

        • art thiel

          My experience in visiting many other markets with downtrodden teams suggests your free agency notion for fans is increasingly widespread. I tend to look at it as a function of high ticket prices, parking, gear and cable fees burning up tolerance.

      • art thiel

        Regarding sports, Michael, I’m not sure it’s passive-aggressive as much as a less-connected feeling to team spectator sports relative to big markets in the East/Midwest and college towns in the south. I’ve always said that many people in the area already had free-time passions in the outdoors and recreation sports long before spectator sports arrived. The groups are not mutually exclusive, but with multiple choices of activities for the recreational/sports dollars, the intensity and the breadth of passion for team sports isn’t the same in other places were the teams are the things.

        • Michael Kaiser

          That is the same thing my Dad says. Yes, you are right, we do have beautiful outdoorsy weather–from Mid-July to Mid-September.

    • art thiel

      Jamo, well said. I raise a glass to you and the Seattle Mets, which assuredly will prompt a turnaround.

  • Jamo57

    Exactly, Art.

    This is the town where players are carried off the field on the shoulders of their teammates for coming in 3rd in the AL West! And then the local sports channel rebroadcasts the game over the winter as a ‘classic’.

    And highlights of ‘the double’ are played nightly on the jumbotron 17 years later, celebrating getting out of the first round of the playoffs!

    Or the local AD creates a national championship for the football team in 1960 because one poll (out of Chicago I believe) voted the Huskies #1. Unfortunately he was fired before the 1984 team could be enshrined as well.

    I have no doubt Seattle fans are the greatest in the country. We are the loudest and turn out in the greatest number, while having received so little in return over the years (beyond leading the nation in ownership blackmail attempts and being political soccerballs). I’m surprised we don’t hang ‘participation banners’ in the rafters here.

    This column has inspired me to wear my ‘Seattle Metropolitans, 1917 Stanley Cup Champions’ shirt today. (Yes I own one, and the actual engraving on the Cup recording the historical fact is my avatar photo).

    Detroit, Chicago fans I don’t want to hear how downtrodden you are. You have no idea.

    • Michael Kaiser

      Very well said. But I will diverge with regard to whether we have the “greatest” and “loudest” fans. At a few events for a while–in the big picture–fans really get emotionally and proactively involved. Otherwise, we truly are the passive-aggressive capital of the world, and that seeps into every aspect of our community, including the fact that we, as a community, will get upset just enough to get a team thinking about at least playing .500 ball, but beyond that there are few voices calling for excellence, especially sustained. Art has taken a good stab at addressing the fact there is an underlying psyche to our community that, among other things, contributes to no real pressure for sports teams to succeed here. We need a publication with Art, TJ Simers, and the Times’ Mariners blog guy. Rudman used to offend people, but he is on another plane now, which is fine, the area needs a more pure intellectual-type as well with regard to sports coverage.

  • jafabian

    The Storm won a couple championships but I’m not sure the WNBA counts as a “major pro sport.” I am a bit…puzzled…that Romar hasn’t reached at least the Elite Eight with the teams he’s had but that’s a discussion for another time.

    Seattle fans are hungry for a winner that’s comparable to the Yankees, Patriots and Lakers. So hungry they’ll talked about reaching the ALCS with great affection or how reaching the AFC Championship in ’83 was about as good as winning the Super Bowl. But Seattle sports have yet to have that architect behind those teams stay long enough to make that happen. Thought Pat Gillick would be that for the M’s but management didn’t see eye to eye with him and he left, eventually going to the Phillies. Heard good things about Sam Presti when he joined the Sonics but that didn’t happen either. To be fair, Wally Walker before him had a good run but either he and Coach Karl imploded or the team ran into Jordan and Barkley in the playoffs. (got robbed in that playoff with Phoenix though) The Seahawks were always their own worst foe, except for when Vinny Testaverde did a goal line plunge for the Jets.

    Always wondered if Lenny stuck with DJ and Gus didn’t hold out would the Sonics have bounced back? The following season they would have EASILY been the best in the West. All in all, I think Seattle fans deserve better. The GM’s and Athletic Directors involved need to quit having a “day by day” approach and look at the bigger picture.