Mariners honor SuperSonics stars

SEATTLE -- Seattle brought its basketball players back together Friday -- on the baseball field.

The Mariners honored the history of the SuperSonics before their game against Tampa Bay. They gathered many of the Sonics' greatest names, including Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens, George Karl, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Tom Chambers, Hersey Hawkins, Slick Watts, Dale Ellis, Jack Sikma, Spencer Haywood, Fred Brown, Gus Williams, Nate McMillan, Michael Cage and James Donaldson.

The Sonics played in Seattle for 41 years before owner Clay Bennett, who purchased the team in 2006, moved them to his hometown of Oklahoma City a year later, leaving the 14th-largest TV market for the 45th.

"We didn't deserve to lose a team. We lost a team," said former Sonics forward Detlef Schrempf, originally from Germany but who played his high school and college ball in Washington. "We're a major city in the U.S. We should have a franchise. You shouldn't lose it, not the way we did."

The former Sonics appreciated the gesture by the Mariners.

"Athletes recognize one another. It's nice the Mariners did this," said Wilkens, who led the team to the city's only championship, the 1979 NBA title. "I'm a Mariners fan, I'm a baseball fan. I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. with the Dodgers. So I go way back to Jackie Robinson.

"But I've lived here 41 years. I've watched (basketball) grow. They've always had pretty good basketball here, Seattle U. Washington, Gonzaga, Washington State. Then things picked up because kids were seeing Sonics players and were motivated to stay with it."

Among those kids from the state were Schrempf, Donaldson, Doug Christie, John Stockton, George Irving, Jamal Crawford, James Edwards, and more recently, Jason Terry, Brandon Roy, Nate Robinson, Spencer Hawes, Jon Brockman, Aaron Brooks, Martell Webster, Marcus Williams and Rodney Stuckey.

"You have pride that you have a team, but when all of that went down it broke my heart," said Hawkins, who was part of the team that played the Bulls in the 1996 NBA Finals. "It was disheartening in the fact that the fans were left out in the cold."

"Hopefully, we'll get a team back because this city definitely deserves a team, with all tradition and history the Sonics have," he added.

That has been the mission for Payton, perhaps the franchise's greatest player. He is trying to muster up support from local leaders to build a new arena.

"We're not able to talk about a team coming back here yet because the five-year deal is not over yet. That was part of the deal when Clay Bennett took the team," Payton said. "When that happens then you can go to (commissioner) David Stern and say, 'Look, this is what we have.' We need to get an arena here first.

"We all know that this is a great city, a beautiful city, but NBA is about show. You got to show them. The history is rich here. The team was here for a long time. Then we broke it. We just gave the team away. This city needs basketball."

As for the Mariners being the ones to bring the Sonics back for one night, Payton said: "It's weird, but it's great. They want a team back here, too. They know how much the Seattle SuperSonics meant to this city."