The gold tab will feature an image of the Larry O'Brien Trophy along with a number denoting how many times the team has claimed it. Teams with one title have the trophy image sans number. This one is on the back of a Pistons jersey. Mandatory Credit: Ben

The Gold Tab Debate: The Thunder Are Not The Sonics

Back on June 16th, Fansided affiliate Sports Illustrated broke the news of the NBA’s decision to feature gold tabs on the back of jerseys for every team that has ever won an NBA Championship. It was an excellent article featuring numerous photos that I would highly recommend. Even the feature photo for this article was pulled from that one.

The NBA didn’t take into account that this decision would create a dilemma for three NBA franchises in particular: The Sacramento Kings’ lone NBA Championship came in 1951 when they were the Rochester Royals. The Atlanta Hawks’ came in 1958 when they were located in St. Louis. And, as I’m sure we are all aware, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s lone title was won in 1979 when they were still known as the Seattle Supersonics.

It was easy for the Hawks to opt for the tag, as they simply switched cities without even bothering to switch names. They consider 1950’s St. Louis to be part of the franchise’s history, which makes perfect sense to me. And since there really isn’t much animosity from St. Louis residents towards the franchise anymore, I see no reason for them to get up in arms about their gold tag, as most residents are simply not old enough to remember the Hawks packing up and leaving town in 1968. And the ones that are have moved on a long time ago, as so much time has passed since then that they don’t have any animosity left to direct towards it, as I’m sure a lot of life has happened to them since then.

Now, while not exactly sure why the Kings opted for their gold tag, I have a theory: Not only are Kings and Royals similar names, but they might have even opted to go with the gold tag to denote the 2002 NBA Championship they feel that former NBA official Tim Donaghy admittedly screwed them out of when he intentionally called the 2002 Western Conference Finals in favor of the Lakers. They could also be doing it to pay homage to their old franchise, as Sacramento was on the verge of losing the Kings, potentially to Seattle even, up until the near-end of 2013.

The Thunder’s situation was unique in the fact that not only had they been the Seattle Supersonics until the end of the ’07-’08 season, they didn’t necessarily leave Seattle on the best of terms when they finally departed for OKC. The Thunder have only called Oklahoma City home for the past six seasons, so I think it goes without saying that the wounds are still fresh among the NBA fans in the city of Seattle.

Grantland editor-in-chief and ESPN personality, Bill Simmons had been very critical in the past about how the NBA, the Schultz ownership group, and the Bennett ownership group handled the Sonics during the sale and the aftermath. He still refers to them as either the “Zombie Sonics”, or “The Team That Shall Not Be Named”, although he felt he owed our city an apology for coming across as he hated Oklahoma City, when it’s really just the Bennett ownership group that he takes issue with to this day. As a result, he wrote an apology of sorts to the city that was actually quite popular amongst its residency.

He even wrote in the article about how Oklahoma City residents themselves would have preferred an expansion team as opposed to an existing franchise, and now even the people of Seattle tend to reserve their hatred for the ownership group itself. Seattle citizens know that the fans in Oklahoma City are simply doing what any basketball fans would do if their city suddenly acquired a professional team, supporting them to the fullest, and treating them as family. They don’t hold that against the city itself so much anymore. They reserve their hatred for the franchise itself, and the people who own it. And once you get the full story on the Schultz-Bennett deal, you honestly can’t blame them for feeling so hostile about it.

And for as long as the NBA has been floating around rumors of resurrecting the Sonics in Seattle, I’ve been waiting for it with bated breath. Because let’s face it; the Thunder vs. the Sonics would be an instant bad blood rivalry with two highly interested and devoted fan bases. I could see both the drama and the television ratings for a season series between the two going through the roof.

This is why, 5 days after the initial gold tag announcement was made, the Thunder ownership group broke the news to The Oklahoman through the NBA’s Vice President of Outfitting, Christopher Arena, that they were deciding against the gold tag on the backs of the Thunder jerseys for the 2014-2015 NBA season. As far as they, the residents of OKC, and the residents of Seattle see it, the Thunder are not, nor will they ever be the Sonics again. The Larry O’Brien trophy awarded in 1979 was awarded to the Seattle Supersonics, not the Oklahoma City Thunder. As Arena himself put it,

“As of right now, they are not wearing it … They actually would have had to have told us that some time ago, and that was their choice. We have several teams who have a lineage that exists prior to the city that they’re in … Some teams embrace that past, some teams don’t. Whether it’s because of ownership changes or perhaps the lineage is too great of a distance or the team nickname changed or whatever it may be, that’s their decision.”

As far as everyone views it, the Thunder are a 6-year-old NBA franchise searching for its first-ever NBA Championship, and the Thunder themselves wouldn’t have it any other way.

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