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Best Seat in the House

Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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June 16, 2008 11:55 PM

Sonics: Just Like Ol' Times.

Posted by Rod Mar

Back in 1995, Sonics fans called their parties "The Rally in the Alley" -- those raucous, alcohol-fueled rallies that preceded (and followed) Sonics playoff games during their run to the NBA Finals.

In 2008, the Rally in the Alley was actually held in front of the U.S. Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle. No alcohol before this rally, as fans were already drunk on a cocktail comprised of love for their basketball team and hatred of Clay Bennett, the Oklahoman who bought the team and plans to move it to his home city.

Back in the '90's, Sonics fans chanted "LAKERS SUCK! LAKERS SUCK!" until the nearby Space Needle shivered.

In 2008, they yell just as loudly, "BENNETT SUCKS! BENNETT SUCKS!".

What a difference a decade makes.

The big trial between the City of Seattle and Bennett's ownership group started on Monday at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle.

As I work the night shift and was scheduled to shoot the Mariners game, shooting the rally in front of the courthouse fit right into my schedule.

By the time I arrived, a large throng had already gathered/ Some were lining the sidewalks and getting drivers to honk their horns in support. As 4pm and the end of the court day neared, the fans gathered along the main walkway leading from the street to the front of the courthouse. They were waiting for those involved in the trial to exit, particularly Mr. Bennett (one of our fine photographers, Thomas James Hurst, had photographed Bennett entering court already that morning).

My news sense told me that there was NO WAY that Bennett was going to walk down that path, even with it cordoned off. Safety always rules, and any federal security agency would have ushered him out another way, which is what they did.

But that didn't stop the fans from yelling, chanting, swearing like baseball managers, and carrying on like it was a playoff game (as if any one could even remember the last time the Sonics were in the playoffs...).

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 500, 1/300th sec.,f3.5 + fill flash)

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 153mm, ISO 400, 1/250th sec.,f3.2)

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 70mm, ISO 500, 1/250th sec.,f3.2)

Local Seattle product and current NBA player Spencer Hawes showed up wearing a throwback Gary Payton jersey and some sunglasses he apparently stole from Paris Hilton:

Waiting for folks to exit was intersting. As court recessed for the day, various people wandered out. Everyone was looking for Clay Bennett, but they every person who passed by was whispered about, "Who's that? Who's he? Is that one of Bennett's lawyers?"

Here's a small sampling. This dude and his buddy ran the gauntlet, getting some love from the crowd.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 17mm, ISO 500, 1/320th sec.,f4.0)

I ran up and started popping flashes into this guy's face and people thought he actually was somebody (well, his wife thinks he's somebody, anyway) but it was ESPN.COM's Jim Caple:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 19mm, ISO 500, 1/300th sec.,f3.5 + fill flash)

Then David Letterman Greg Narver, a city attorney exited and waved, getting himself some applause.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 500, 1/300th sec.,f3.5 + fill flash)

When Times reporter Jim Bruner exited, I playfully made a couple of frames. A fan said, "he's nobody!". I turned and told the guy, "well, that NOBODY is the reporter who uncovered all the emails between Bennett and his co-horts", and when the guy realized I was serious, he yelled, "THAT'S THE GUY WHO FOUND THE EMAILS!" and cheers followed Bruner down the walkway.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 500, 1/300th sec.,f5.0 + fill flash)

After it was announced that Bennett had already exited and the subsequent booing stopped, speakers took to a mic and announced that ex-Sonics Gary Payton and Xavier McDaniel were on the way.

McDaniel called Payton his "little bro" and I managed to make frame despite being squished by the crowd.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 500, 1/300th sec.,f4.0 + fill flash)

Both spoke, Payton after climbing atop a newspaper box and it was hard to make out what they were saying through the tiny sound system. A friend said he thought it was weird that Payton talked about himself most of the time, and that he wanted to have his jersey hang in the rafters of the SEATTLE Sonics.

But heck, that's what the crowd wanted to hear from him, and I think they were basically amazed he'd show up to support his former franchise. I know I was. Schultz basically ran Payton out of town.

Bottom line, Payton showed up and supported the city which is more than you can say for former Sonic legends Jack Sikma, Detlef Schrempf, John Johnson, Nate McMillan, Slick Watts, and Fred Brown, right?

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