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Why SuperSonics fans are mad at ‘NBA 2K’ and why the game had no choice

Seattle basketball fans don’t want to see their legends in Thunder uniforms, even in a video game. But that’s ultimately how the NBA sees it.

Seattle SuperSonics v Denver Nuggets Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

For the game franchise’s newest iteration, NBA 2K is including all-time rosters for all 30 current teams. You might be able to imagine what has ensued: mad fans. Trust me, if you ever create lists for all 30 teams, one fan base will yell at you about it.

Trail Blazers fans can’t believe Rasheed Wallace got left off, while Mavericks fans are mad Tyson Chandler was topped by Shawn Bradley for starting center. But that pales to the backlash from Oklahoma City fans. Or, more specifically, Seattle SuperSonics fans, which is precisely the problem.

Let’s start with the angry fans:

See? There’s more of that if you dig deeper, and you can understand where they’re coming from.

Why fans are mad

The SuperSonics didn’t move amicably from Seattle. The team’s majority owner was Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, and after failing to convince the city of Seattle for public funding of a new arena, he sold the team to Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett. While Bennett and his group initially suggested they might keep the SuperSonics in Seattle, he announced his intentions to move the team just 15 months later after the purchase.

It was contentious, and SuperSonics fans still haven’t come to peace with the abrupt “stealing” of their franchise, as they saw it. As part of the relocation, it was determined that the Thunder would keep the SuperSonics franchise history, although the name would remain in Seattle should the NBA return to the city at some point. (By all indications, it might be happening sooner than you think.)

NBA 2K’s Oklahoma City roster includes Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, James Harden, and 11 players who exclusively played in Seattle. For SuperSonics fans, despite the two teams technically sharing history, they’re mad that their beloved favorites are now being appropriated into Thunder team culture and will even wear Oklahoma City jerseys in the new game. For Thunder fans, most of these players are ones they never even watched.

Why 2K had to do this

While the outrage is understandable, you have to understand 2K’s side of the story, too. Once deciding to make an all-time team for all 30 teams, there was no option to just ignore one that had a weird backstory. If the team was created only out of Oklahoma City players, it would have 1) left out several superstars of the past eras and 2) led to a miserable all-time team.

We tried to imagine what Oklahoma City — and just the Thunder, not Seattle — would look like if you created an all-time team.

PG: Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher?
SG: James Harden, Dion Waiters, Victor Oladipo
SF: Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefolosha, Andre Roberson
PF: Serge Ibaka, Jeff Green, Nick Collison
C: Steven Adams, Kendrick Perkins, Nenad Krstic

That would be a good team, but as an all-time lineup, it’s miserable. Fisher and Roberson? Perkins and Krstic? Yeesh, those players are barely memorable at all.

The second-newest team, the Charlotte Hornets (after rejoining the league as the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004), at least has the old Hornets history (1988-2002) to draw upon. Other teams have bad lineups compared to, say, the Lakers or the Celtics, but no team is anywhere close to that miserable 15-man unit.

It’s not ideal, and Sonics fans still are allowed to be rightfully upset about the way their franchise was taken away from that city. But the league officially looks at those two franchises as sharing the same history, and 2K had to do the same. (If 2K did separate teams, it would likely be the NBA frowning at the decision.) It’s simply redirected anger from a bad situation.