If you don't want to read the Question and Answer, just skip to the 5th paragraph. Surprisingly, it looks like the Thomas era is still not grounds for getting an early start on becoming a Brooklyn/New York Nets fan.
Very surprised by this, but on a related note I think its important to think about what's going on in Seattle and ask yourself would you rather deal with Dolan, or have no team at all???? Hopefully Walsh really does have full autonomy so that we don't have to think about this sort of thing.
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Q: What are the rules governing free-agent fans? Most of my fellow Sonics buddies will be taking their loyalties to the Blazers, but I say that's bandwagon hopping, what with the prospect of them being really good next season. What guidelines should a free-agent fan use when selecting a new team?
-- Jonathan C., Walla Walla, Wash.
SG: Tragically, I've been getting this question dozens of times per week from the Seattle, New York and Milwaukee areas. We covered the finding-a-new-team rules in 2002 during my "20 Rules of Being a True Fan" opus (scroll down to No. 19), but that column desperately needs to be updated (and even partially rewritten to reflect the fact I eventually violated two of those rules after the Red Sox and Patriots became more successful than I ever imagined). Regardless, I'd say three rules from Section 19 could be applied to the current Sonics-Bucks-Knicks situation. Here are those excerpts again:
"Once you choose a team, you're stuck with that team for the rest of your life ... unless one of the following conditions applies:
"Your team moves to another city. All bets are off when that happens. In fact, if you decided to turn off that sport entirely, nobody would blame you."
That rule still applies for Sonics fans. If they move to Oklahoma City, they cease being the Sonics anymore and you should wash your hands of them and wait for your inevitable new arena and expansion team five years from now. (In other words, you'd become an NBA widow for a few years, then you'd remarry the new team.) What I don't understand is how any Sonics fan could ever fathom switching to the Blazers when it would be a complete violation of a 41-year rivalry and every great Sonic who killed himself trying to beat Portland over that time. No Red Sox fan would ever switch to the Yankees; no UCLA fan would ever switch to USC; no UNC fan would ever switch to Duke. If you're a Sonics fan and you'd seriously consider a Portland switch, you're effectively saying, "The last 41 years meant nothing and neither did that rivalry."
"You grew up in a city that didn't field a team for a specific sport -- so you picked a random team -- and then either (A) your city landed a team or (B) you moved to a city that fielded a team for that specific sport."
We watched this happen most recently in Washington, where so many Orioles fans in the extended D.C. area jumped at the chance to extricate themselves from the Angelos era and happily switched to the hometown Nats. Any Knicks fan in the Tri-State area could make a flimsy argument for switching to the Nets right now for two reasons: Jimmy Dolan and Isiah Thomas have destroyed even the rudimentary boundaries of a franchise/fan relationship, and the Nets are moving to Brooklyn in three years and possibly (OK, probably) ushering in the LeBron era to boot.
Here's my verdict: Unless you're living in Brooklyn, you can't switch to the Nets when they arrive. You can't. There's no question Dolan has been a 250-car highway crash for most of this decade, but it's not like he hasn't been spending money ... he has just been running his team like a complete moron. If he'd been running the team like a complete moron for 15 or 20 years, then I concede the seeds of a potential switch. But he's only been in "complete moron" mode for a few years, and besides, they can deny it all they want now, but when Dolan hired Isiah and the Knicks immediately destroyed their cap space in 2004 with the Stephon Marbury trade, every Knicks fan on the planet was chugging the Jimmy Dolan Kool-Aid (maybe the second worst Kool-Aid ever made other than the fabled Jim Jones Kool-Aid) and believing the Knicks were relevant again. So you can't just jump ship because of a tough stretch, just like you wouldn't disown a son or daughter if they were going through a rough patch.
(Of course, this "rough patch" would be the equivalent of your teenaged daughter running away to the West Coast, developing a coke problem and eventually filming "No Country For Horny Old Men" for Vivid Video before you hunt her down with a private detective like George C. Scott in "Hardcore" and bring her back home ... but still, it's a rough patch and that's it. Let's revisit this one if the Knicks are still floundering in 2014.)
The owner of your favorite team treated his fans so egregiously over the years that you couldn't take it anymore -- you would rather not follow them at all than support a franchise with this owner in charge. Just for the record, I reached this point with the Boston Bruins about six years ago. When it happens, you have two options: You can either renounce that team and pick someone else, or you can pretend they're dead, like you're a grieving widow. That's what I do. I'm an NHL widow. I don't even want to date another team.
Bucks fans are nearing this point because they're so frustrated with 20 years of forgettable, irrelevant teams (save for the 2001 playoff run) and the lack of accountability of owner Herb Kohl (who has a rare talent for hiring horrible GMs and horrible coaches). Clearly, something needs to happen for them -- for God's sake, when your team has a home game when they re-retire Brian Winters' number at halftime (this actually happened), you know something has gone terribly, terribly wrong. Bucks fans also have an ace in the hole that many other NBA fans don't have -- they can divert their basketball attention to two perennially successful college teams (Marquette and Wisconsin) and maybe even switch NBA allegiances to the Bulls, who only play 90 minutes away and were never considered a "rival" of the Bucks, anyway.
I can't render a verdict here because it's one of those "every fan makes his or her own decision" situations, but I can tell you this: I never regretted jettisoning the Bruins from my life, partially because the NHL changed so much as a product from the rough-and-tumble game I loved as a kid, and partially because our owner cost us a Stanley Cup somewhere between 1988 and 1993 with an unforgivably low budget that was completely out of whack with the rabid fan base for the Bruins at the time. This was a guy who drove off Dave Poulin -- the heart and soul of those early-'90s teams, as well as the best checking center we had -- over a difference of something like $200,000 when Poulin wanted to stay. I just couldn't handle it. (Note: Jacobs had been infamously cutting costs since the mid-'70s, so there was no light at the end of the tunnel.) The way Jacobs ran the team actually made me feel bad about myself for caring about the Bruins; for my own sanity, I had to move on, even if it took me a few more years to completely extricate myself. Anyway, if you reached that point with the Bucks (or any other team, for that matter), then it's probably time to renounce them or find someone else.