Venturing into unfriendly
territory - the Delta Center
By Wade Denniston
Two words: The Glove. Gary Payton's nickname due to his smothering defense placed upon opposing players. The 6-foot-4 Seattle Sonics point guard caught my attention while he was at Oregon State and I have followed him ever since.
That's right, I'm a huge Sonics fan, not a Utah Jazz fan, to which I've had endless battles over.
The most recent of these battles happened Saturday afternoon at the Delta Center, as I attended the Sonics-Jazz game and witnessed a Jazz beating I would rather forget. Luckily, I only paid $10 for my ticket, $13.25 including the Smith's Tix processing fee.
I knew how it was going to be as my brother-in-law and I ventured to the Delta Center. There would be endless comments about my team and my boy, Payton. He's not really liked in Utah, but why would he be? He's a player that likes playing where he is and doesn't demand a trade just because he can, then recall his words and practically have the whole state loving him again.
So, there we were in the 18th row of the upper level, seats four and five to be exact, waiting for the rematch between the two power teams in the Western Conference. On Tuesday, the Sonics had manhandled the Jazz in Seattle, 71-56, and I was hoping for a repeat performance.
As the Sonics were announced, we cheered wildly (I have turned my brother-in-law into a Seattle fan as well), and booed loudly when the Jazz were announced, much to the disliking of the fans around us.
This was my forth time seeing the Sonics play the Jazz and the team had a 2-1 record going into the Saturday matinee when I attended. I was adorned in my Payton jersey, one of my many Sonic hat and jacket.
Seattle jumped out to an early 4-2 lead, but that was it. Utah took control and things went downhill from there. The Jazz led by 15 at the end of the first quarter, but Seattle was able to close the gap to 10 by halftime. The Jazz continued to run away with it and ended up defeating my boys by 30, 110-80.
Payton only shot 3-of-13 from the field for seven points, but he had the flu and refused to sit out the game. What a team player he is. It reminds me of the time that Michael Jordan did the same thing in the NBA finals against the Jazz and lit them up.
Payton could never get into the game, though. Two early fouls in the first three minutes limited his defensive pressure on John Stockton and was forced to guard Jeff Hornacek.
Utah fans were enjoying it, especially the four sitting directly behind us, who hounded Payton from start to finish.
"You suck," one of them yelled.
"Wannabe Jordan," another added.
I was getting tired of the endless comments, but didn't want to be rude. Other Sonics fans weren't quite as nice, though, who also seemed tired of the endless blabber.
After the final buzzer had sounded, we were making our way down to the portal and one obnoxious Jazz fan spotted me, proudly wearing my Seattle apparel.
"Looks like the Jazz beat the Sonics," he smirked.
Obviously, I was there and just sat though the 2 1/2 hours of torture!
Upon meeting with other disgruntled Sonics fan, we discussed our misfortunes and hoped Sunday's game with the Los Angeles Lakers would be better. Jazz fans on the other hand, stared and acted like they had never seen an opposing fan in their building before.
Instead of going home right away, we made our way below the playing arena in search of the Sonics' team bus. We wandered throughout the Delta Center, but couldn't find our destination. What was amazing to me was the lack of security provided by the Delta Center.
We wandered past the locker rooms, Frank and Scott Layden's offices, but nobody said anything to us. We hopped on an elevator, which was a mistake because it took us back to the main concourse.
We finally found the team bus, but could only get us close as a cement ledge from above. The lack of a press pass limited our access.
So, there we were, waiting.
The first to come out was one of the coaches, Nate McMillain. I yelled, "Nate," and he looked up, but that was about it.
Detlef Schrempf soon came out and I yelled, "Detlef, beat the Lakers tomorrow!" He waved back and got on the bus, which I thought was neat that he acknowledged us, even after a disappointing defeat.
A security guard, who didn't like us standing where we were, yelled to us to move. We did, but were disappointed that we hadn't seen Payton yet.
We moved to where everyone else had gathered to get a glimpse of their favorites.
There were a few Sonics fans at the small gathering and I chatted with them all.
One father had brought his son from Wyoming to see the game. Too bad it wasn't a better outcome.
Another person was a foreign exchange student from Germany, birthplace of Schrempf. Seeing his first NBA game, he paid $70 for his ticket, but told me that since it was his first, he was going to make it worthwhile. Once again, too bad it wasn't a better outcome.
We stood there until the Sonics' bus passed by us. Dale Ellis, Vin Baker and Aaron Williams all waved to us as they drove by. It was a great ending for an otherwise disappointing day.
I'm already looking forward to the April 25 rematch in the Delta Center, to be played at 1:30 p.m. and seen on NBC. Next time, we decided, we're going to the airport to meet the Sonics after their victory.