SEATTLE (AP) — An NBA preseason game may not seem like a benchmark moment, even in a basketball-hungry city like Seattle, but Jamal Crawford believes there's value even in an exhibition.
"It reignites a whole new generation of kids who need to see this," said Crawford, a Seattle native who has been a basketball ambassador for the city through a 20-year NBA career and now with a pro-am that brings in NBA players every summer. "They need to be able to dream and know that it's real."
The NBA makes its latest brief return to the Emerald City on Monday night when the Los Angeles Clippers face the Portland Trail Blazers. The matchup will be the first NBA contest here since 2018, when the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings played a preseason game that was the last sporting event inside KeyArena before it was gutted and rebuilt into the gleaming Climate Pledge Arena.
A sell-out crowd turned out for that NBA game, the first one in Seattle since the beloved SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008 after 41 years in the Pacific Northwest.
"The Sonics haven't been a team since I've been in the NBA. So just to go play in Seattle is cool," Blazers star Damian Lillard said. "We played in Vancouver a few years back. I think like two or three years ago, we had a preseason game at the (Memorial) Coliseum. So every time we get to do something like that, I always enjoy it because I wondered what was it like when it was a real thing, when the games were played in these different arenas. So I am excited to play in Seattle."
Someday, possibly soon, the expectations are that Seattle will reclaim its place as an NBA town.
Speculation is nonstop about when the NBA will choose to expand. Thanks to the resolution of its arena situation, Seattle seems likely to be at the forefront of those expansion talks, with Las Vegas likely right behind it.
But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been noncommittal about a possible expansion timeline, and it seems likely those talks won't pick up steam until the league deals with the new collective bargaining agreement and television deals that are on the horizon.
The community's commitment has never been in question. The appetite of Seattle fans hasn't waned in the years since the Sonics left and as the region became a hotbed for NBA talent, whether it was Crawford continuing to carry the banner for the city, to Zach Lavine of Renton, Washington, to this year's No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, another Seattle native.
As if any reinforcement was needed, the summer provided a perfect example as fans camped overnight outside Crawford's summer league venue for the chance to get inside and watch LeBron James make his first basketball visit to the city in more than a decade.
"Anyone that knows Seattle knows what a great basketball city we are," Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said this summer when the preseason game was announced.
The idea for having the Blazers and Clippers meet in Seattle was the result of a brainstorm between Blazers coach Chauncey Billups and Clippers coach Ty Lue. The two close friends wanted their teams to meet in the preseason and Lue noted the owners for both teams are Seattle based: Steve Ballmer of the Clippers and Jody Allen for the Blazers.
"I haven't been back since I played there in 2008, I think it was. So just to be able to go back there and you know, Mr. Ballmer and kind of see his offices and how he lives, and (Chauncey) to get a chance to see his owner, and then to be with my best friend, I thought it would be a great common ground," Lue said.
AP Sports Writers Beth Harris and Anne M. Peterson contributed to this report.