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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sherman Alexie On and Off the Court

posted by on June 19 at 13:44 PM

I was going to be a little hard on Sherman Alexie (which I was a while back when he gave a dopey antiwar speech). I thought his testimony today came across a little naive, a little entitled, a little “spoiled-rich-kid”: He gave an account of how the new ownership mistreated season-ticket holders this year, citing a curt letter he got about next year and about the time he and his sons went to the locker room this season, something season-ticket holders get to do on occasion, and they weren’t treated right. “And that’s my sons’ favorite thing every year,” he complained.

I guess if Jack Nicholson or Spike Lee testified at a trial about the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks respectively, it’d come across the same way.

But whatever with me: Alexie held a press conference afterward where he made a great case. I even teared up when he told a story about his father. (He teared up too, I think.)


First of all, though, he responded to Bennett’s attorney Brad Keller’s gotcha argument. In the courtroom, Keller had pointed out that Alexie had written (in The Stranger) that he would still be a fan if the team moved to Oklahoma City.

Keller was clever enough to point out that Alexie’s father—who Alexie regularly and poignantly brings up as the guiding force for his own love of the NBA—remained a huge Los Angeles Lakers fan even though the Lakers originally played in Minneapolis in the ’50s (ever wonder why a team from L.A. is called the Lakers?), which is when Alexie’s father first became a fan.

I asked him about this in the press conference: Didn’t Keller make a good point? Alexie could (and probably would) still be a big fan. What’s the big deal?

Alexie said he’d wish he’d gotten to address that in court: “My father didn’t live in Minneapolis,” he said.

He was also more candid in the press conference than he was in the courtroom, reemphasizing a point he had tried to make at the trial: “For a city where black culture is not celebrated or even acknowledged… there are more black people at KeyArena [for a Sonics game] than for any other public event in Seattle.”

In the press conference, Alexie finally acknowledged his affluence, but he used it to reframe his position as “the spokesman” for “all fans” (something he said was “lighter” than his more regular position as a spokesman for “all Native Americans”) by explaining that he grew up poor, yet here he was with season tickets. That rags-to-riches imagery is what the NBA is all about, he said.

He then told a touching story about the time he brought his sick father to a game. As they approached Alexie’s sixth-row seats, his frail father seemed awed. He was quiet as they sat down, but eventually turned to Alexie and said simply, “These are great seats.”

Alexie explained: “It was the acknowledgment of an incredible journey. He and my mother had enabled this to happen. [Every time I’m at a game now], I sit in the arena with my father’s ghost. No matter who’s in the seat next to [my family], my father is sitting between us.”

Alexie also stuck to his faggy Stranger testimony (the TV news will call it “colorful” I imagine.) He repeated his whole thing about the Greek gods. He said, “LeBron James, sure it’s being a little homoerotic, but that’s great, serious abs!”

Ultimately, though, what sticks with me is something Alexie said in his courtroom testimony. He referred to KeyArena as “the gym” (as in “when you’re sitting in the gym watching the game.”) The gym?

Here’s where Alexie is both beautiful and naive. He still thinks of the NBA as something that’s played in a gym. It’s the Minneapolis Lakers. Funny: The whole reason Bennett wants to take the Sonics to Oklahoma City is because KeyArena isn’t up to NBA arena standards. He needs clubs and restaurants, retail stores, media dining areas, more courtside suites, family lounges.

Bennett wants a yuppie entertainment plaza, a mall with a basketball court. Alexie thinks he’s in a gym.

I’m not saying Alexie’s fantasy is a bad thing (and I’ve criticized the NBA/Bennett Model over and over in The Stranger and on Slog), but Alexie’s idealism is running up against the reality of the league. And that seems to sum up the standoff between Seattle and its I-91s (74 percent voted no money for corporate sports) vs. the NBA and its yuppie suites.

And in that sense, if the city loses this case and the Sonics leave because we’re not up to NBA standards, well, the NBA loses because they’re not up to ours.

RSS icon Comments


I honestly thought that Sherman Alexie was a spoof pen name (a la Nancy Dru) until all of this business.

Posted by Non | June 19, 2008 1:53 PM

what the fuck is a court side suite?

Posted by jim | June 19, 2008 2:00 PM

@2 good question.

Look, want a good b-ball game? Go watch a college team - but don't pretend the Sonics have it.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 19, 2008 2:03 PM

Calling Alexie a spoiled rich kid is a I'll bet he grew up poorer than anyone else who's ever written for the Stranger, and by a wide margin.

Posted by Fnarf | June 19, 2008 2:19 PM

I'd heard that Josh Feit got fired ...

Posted by Bub | June 19, 2008 2:27 PM

Josh...I think you're illustrating how and why this trial has derailed. In one of your early posts about the trial, you stated that you think we all secretly want the Sonics to stay.

We don't.

You're writing and the city is presenting this trial from your perspective. But, as I look at the city, as I interpret the results from the vote, we DON'T care about the sonics.

I like the Sherman Alexie had a nice moment with his father. But that moment could have come in the mountains, on a ferry boat, walking the grounds of the Seattle Center, etc. etc. etc. We don't need the NBA to have moments with our fathers, and it disturbs me that the City is making such an argument.

I don't want Seattle to beg for the Sonics. I want Seattle to recoup its money from the sweet-heart deal we gave the NBA, on on which they are defaulting. And then? I want to say a final goodbye to the Sonics and move on with our lives.

Listen, I get that you like basketball, and you have a nostalgic vision of what it once was. But, we don't all share that vision with you, and in fact, I sense that the vast majority of Seattleites just want us to move on.

Posted by Timothy | June 19, 2008 2:29 PM

"The whole reason Bennett wants to take the Sonics to Oklahoma City is because KeyArena isn’t up to NBA arena standards."?

No, that's the FAKE reason. He wants to bring home an NBA team for OKC - it's hometown pride & ego.

Posted by max solomon | June 19, 2008 2:39 PM

Exactly @7...this whole charade is cracking me up. We're all supposed to pretend that we don't know exactly what is going on in this trial. If the Judge buys any of Bennett's blather, my faith in our justice system will take a serious beating.

Posted by Timothy | June 19, 2008 2:58 PM

Would it be out of the question to just give Oklahoma the Mariners instead?

Posted by Lens1 | June 19, 2008 3:01 PM

u nailed it FNARF. mo fos raised in the middle class be hating on alexie cuz he is making some cash off his writing, and they're not.

i might be wrong, but i doubt feit ever went to bed hungry.

besides, alexie's sonics death watch is much more enjoyable than all of these feit rants.

Posted by SeMe | June 19, 2008 3:02 PM

oh, look, it's super-indian.

Posted by scary tyler moore | June 19, 2008 3:02 PM

this group circle jerk by local reporters all over this trial is mind numbing.

We don't care. I didn't even read your post. Just went straight to the comments.

Posted by jonie | June 19, 2008 3:03 PM

Since when did Sherman Alexie lose his Injun hair for that dorky cut?

Posted by The CHZA | June 19, 2008 3:32 PM

The only thing we in Seattle want is for the Sonics to realize the party for them leaving ended years ago ...

How late do we have to stay up with the lights off and our PJs on before they get the HINT?

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 19, 2008 3:56 PM

There's nothing wrong with old-fashioned idealism.

Posted by laterite | June 19, 2008 3:59 PM

Yo Will in Seattle,

You keep on diggin' yo' butch ball in your seat in the lower bowl at the Key dis summer, but keep yo hands on the seat in front of ya.

Y'all is crazy.

Posted by Shaniqua | June 19, 2008 4:06 PM

Well, the last time I saw the Sonics play at the Key, it totally smelled like a gym... I kinda dug it, actually....

And Josh, great closing line!! For reals, yo!

Posted by merry | June 19, 2008 4:54 PM

I've been a personal friend of Sherman's for a long time, and I do have to agree, he has begun (as in, for the past 5+ years) exuding a spoiled rich kid vibe. And, well, that's because he's kind of turned into one.

And he cut his hair years ago, when his father died.

Dude, Sherman, if you read these things about you and see this, give Pauli and I a call sometime. We miss you.)

Posted by morgi | June 19, 2008 11:08 PM

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