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SportsMondayTuesday: The Thunder Are Villainous Too

You'll be rooting for the Thunder, right? Or should we say against the Heat?

When the NBA finals begin this evening at 8 p.m. on ABC, the vast majority of the viewing audience tuning in from outside of South Florida will be pulling for the exciting, precocious team representing one of the smallest municipalities in the country to have a major pro team.

And they will be rooting against LeBron "The Decision" James.

The most impressive thing about the Thunder has to be their collective age. None of the members of Oklahoma City's big three plus one - Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka - has yet celebrtated his 24th birthday.

The least impressive thing about James - the thing that isn't quite infuriating any more but is still plenty irritating - was the way he toyed with Cleveland before tossing it in the garbage on his way to Miami as a free agent the year before last. In this day and age so many fans across the country could envision the stars of their teams eventually doing that to their hometowns. They felt Cleveland's pain . . . intensely.

But let's be clear that there are also plenty of reasons to root against the upstarts from down south. First and foremost is the fact that they should still be the Seattle SuperSonics. (Uber-sports commentator Bill Simmons calls the Thunder the Zombie Sonics).

There are several villains in this story. Commissioner David Stern couldn't help get the team out of Seattle fast enough after it became clear that the city was going to balk at committing hundreds of millions of public dollars to either the building a new home or renovating the old one, especially because a huge amount had been spent on a rehabilitation of Seattle's Key Arena just 12 years prior.

Sonics Owner Howard Schultz, the Starbucks mogul, was even worse. He sold out his hometown team when the public funds weren't forthcoming fast enough. He transitioned the team to an ownership group headed by Clay Bennett when everyone knew that Bennett was based in Oklahoma City and would eventually move the team there. Stern's NBA quickly approved the sale.

Oklahoma City had hosted the New Orleans Hornets in the season after Hurricane Katrina. During that season big crowds came out and, more importantly to the league, big sponsors paid big bucks just to be associated with the team. The story at the time was that where some NBA teams were struggling to sign on even one or two million-dollar-per season (or thereabouts) sponsors, Oklahoma City had a handful.

Sure enough, when Bennett's cursory efforts to get his own big public outlay of funds to boost the profits of the large private venture known as an NBA team predictably failed again in Seattle, Bennett called the moving vans. Soon Seattle fans found themselves without a team despite having supported the Sonics religiously up until Schultz started getting squirrelly in the 2000'.

Clearly the men who made that happen don't deserve a championship. Then again, as Clint Eastwood's Will Munny so memorably said to Gene Hackman's Sheriff Little Bill Daggett in Unforgiven right after Hackman's corrupt character told him he didn't deserve to be shot: "'Deserve's got nothin' to do with it." Then Clint blew him away with a shotgun.

Cub Grub
The Cubs' signing of Cuban outfield prospect Jorge Soler for a reported $30 million was an especially good sign in one way in particular. It was an indication that the team will continue to exploit its primary advantage over most of its National League rivals. And that advantage is not the scouting, drafting and developing abilities of Theo and his crew.

That advantage is the huge amount of revenue that continues to pour in even in this brutal season that found the team standing at 20-40 heading into this week's action. The Cubs need to go ahead and outspend most of their rivals because they can, and the Soler signing was a good first sign that they intend to do so.


Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.

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