Living

Keeping hoops dream alive in seattle

NBA franchise owner Clay Bennett got the green light to move his Seattle SuperSonics team to Oklahoma City on July 2, 2008, thanks to an 11th hour legal settlement with Seattle city government.

Eight months and 13 days later, Tacoma super-fan Kris Brannon launched a one-man crusade to save the storied franchise – because, apparently, timing really isn’t everything.

“It was something I felt strongly about,” Brannon said. “They’re our only major sports team that actually won a championship. As much as I love the Mariners, they’ve never even been to the World Series.”

Brannon’s name may not immediately ring a bell, unless you’ve seen him host standup comedy at Tacoma’s Comedy Underground, below Cans downtown nightclub. But if you’ve stood in a big Tacoma crowd this summer – say, at Art on the Ave, Ethnic Fest or Taste of Tacoma – chances are you’ve noticed him. Unless you’re blind, it’s pretty difficult not to.

Brannon, 35, is 6-foot-5, tall enough to have played for his cherished Sonics. He’s got a puffy, salt-and-pepper afro and matching mutton chop sideburns, a la NBA great Kareem Abdul Jabbar, circa 1972. And he’s often clad head to toe in bright, canary yellow Sonics gear.

The laminated “Save Our Sonics/Not About Fans” sign he waves at passers-by is just icing on the cake.

Thanks to that persistence and high visibility, he’s become something of a celebrity, akin to Seattle festival regular Dee Dee Rainbow or Lorin Sandretzky, the self-proclaimed “Seattle’s biggest sports fan,” up north.

Of course, he’s left a few people scratching their heads along the way.

Tacoma resident Blue Hampton’s reaction was typical after Brannon strolled by on a sweltering afternoon at the Tacoma Broadway farmers market, a prime location for spotting Save the Sonics Guy on Thursdays.

“You’re two years too late,” Hampton remarked, laughing. “They’re already gone.”

For the record, Brannon is eccentric but not delusional. He’s aware that the team he grew up rooting for – and that he briefly worked close to – is gone.

Brannon was an usher at the Tacoma Dome, and sometimes was stationed near team locker rooms when the Sonics played home games there in the mid-1990s.

But you could say Brannon is an extreme optimist. “The team is gone. The economy is in the dumps,” he said. “No politician wants to step up. It seems like right now people don’t know what to do. That’s why I say time is infinite.”

Regarding when Seattle could get another NBA team, he added, “It may be two years, maybe three years. But you’ve gotta start some place.”

Brannon said he gets a wide variety of reactions, from curious glances to shock from a few people who say they didn’t know the Sonics left.

“The reaction is about 90 percent positive,” Brannon said. “And any political campaign I’ve done - political sign waving or whatever – the best you can hope for is 50 percent, maybe plus one.

“A few people get really mad, like, ‘They’re gone! They’re gone!’ But that’s not the point. We can get a new team. There’s lots of things we can do.”

When curious bystanders ask exactly what, he delivers a quick spiel about boycotting Starbucks (owned by former Sonics owner Howard Schultz), contacting state legislators and voting Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels out of office.

But it all started with the Tax Day “tea party” protests on April 15 at the Capitol in Olympia.

Brannon said he and a friend attended to check out the spectacle – they didn’t want to protest President Barack Obama’s policies. But Brannon was inspired to add to it with a Sonics jersey and his sign.

Brannon stood out with his non sequitur protest, and local media took note.

“I got two mentions on conservative radio,” Brannon said. “I got one mention on (KVI-FM’s) Kirby (Wilbur) in the morning and (KTTH-FM’s David) Boze in the evening.

“So I thought, you know, considering I’m just one guy out of 5,000 and I got a lot of play, I’ll start appearing at other times. If anything, it just shows that people still care about the Sonics. ...”

The rest, as they say, is history. And people have started to jump on Brannon’s bandwagon.

“I like Kris’s crusade,” said Joe Rojas, a vendor at the Thursday Tacoma farmers market. “I mean, the reality of it is pretty grim. But I definitely miss the Sonics and miss having a basketball team in Seattle. It’s kind of a sour, sour taste they left in our mouths. But it would be good to have ‘em back, and it’s good to see this guy every Thursday at the market.”

ernest Jasmin: 253-274-7389

ernest.jasmin@thenewstribune.com

blogs.thenewstribune.com/rockcity

On the Web

See video of the Save Our Sonics guy in action and learn more about how he got started on the Tacoma Rock City blog (blogs.thenewstribune.com/rockcity)

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