When Pearl Jam famously quit doing music videos in the early 90's, group co-founder and bassist Jeff Ament said, "Ten years from now, I don't want people to remember our songs as videos." Videos and memories may soon be all that's left of Ament's beloved Sonics. Here, he talks with us about hoops—before PJ, the band was briefly called Mookie Blaylock—memories, the ultimate rock star starting five, and what could be the last days of the Sonics.
MAG: You've been a season ticket holder for the Sonics for a long time. How does it feel to know that this Sunday could have been the last Sonics game in Seattle?
AMENT: It's sad...and I've only put in half the time that a lot of the Sonic fans have, but I've been a life long NBA fan and after this debacle, I'm kinda' over the whole league. I told Brent Barry that when he's retired, I'm moving on to full time NCAA and high school ball.
The politics of this are a mess, but it seems clear Seattle is capable of supporting pro teams; they just built two new stadiums. Knowing what we know now, on principle, should they ever support a Bennett-owned team?
No. In fact, if the deal goes through, I would bet that a lot of Sonic fans will pay very little attention to the NBA. I'm not sure what sort of spit-swapping was going on between (Clay) Bennett and (David) Stern, but the whole thing stinks of conspiracy. I know it happens everyday, but I can't believe these sorts of deals are allowed to happen in this country.
The fact that the Key Arena is the main issue is a joke. They just completely remodeled the place in 1995. Have any of these critics been to the Palace in Auburn Hills, or Oakland Arena, or Continental Arena...New Orleans, Charlotte, the Target Center, the Bradley Center or Arco? All are worse than the Key...and the new arenas like Staples, Boston and MCI Center have such mellow slope in the seating that unless you're in the first 20 rows, you might as well be at home. I mean, they're great if you like hanging out at the mall, but does it capture the energy of a live sporting event? I think not. I know this because we've either played in these arenas or I've watched hoops in all of them.
Your favorite memory of basketball in Seattle?
Western Conference Finals, Game 7, Utah Jazz at the Key Arena, 1996. Shawn Kemp was the best player in the league and G.P. was coming into his own. After a few years of Stockton and Malone serving the Sonics on a regular basis, we finally did it. My brother and I got so excited, we jumped over press row and ended up out on the court celebrating with the players. I remember Frank Brickowski screaming and jumping up and down like a little kid...and then, we got escorted off the court.
You've played for a long time—High school, college at Montana, right on through today. If you could put together a team of people in your profession, who do you take as your five?
I'd start with Ed (Vedder), who hates losing at least as much as me...Flea and Ben Harper would round out the guards...we grab Ice Cube, and then Steve Gorman from the Black Crowes...we'd be short but scrappy. Obama kinda' qualifies as a rock star, so we'd bring him along too, for diplomatic situations and his sweet stroke.
How will this all end with the Sonics, and if they go, who is learning a lesson? Is anything gained?
Professional sports has been heading this direction for a long time. When NBA added the "Entertainment," I knew it was doomed. Are you kidding me? A great energetic sport like basketball doesn't need the light show, video games, advertising and music blaring from the scoreboard.
We'll see how it all turns out after a couple years of recession. There are gonna' be a lot more empty seats. It might be a great time for Seattle to get out of the business, but I'm still gonna' be sad about it for a long time.
The Sonics are dead. Long live the Supersonics.