My first day in Seattle during the summer of 1997 illustrated how far I had come from New York City, not just geographically but culturally: I stood at a crosswalk, among a group of pedestrians. Although the red light flashed “Don’t Walk," no vehicles were in sight. So I stepped forward to cross the street. The crowd, however, inexplicably stood still — almost as if people were participating in the Mannequin Challenge. Or was there a trap floor in the middle of the street that everyone knew about except for me? I certainly intended to avoid being the first victim. So I intuitively stepped back into the pack, wondering what the hell was going on? When I visited the Seattle Times headquarters a couple hours later, my editor -- amused by my big-city ignorance -- explained my Twilight Zone experience: Seattle aggressively prosecuted jaywalkers — its mayor once famously received a ticket. Another regional idiosyncrasy involved the rarity of umbrella use by residents despite Seattle’s reputation for rain. Unlike New York’s torrents, the Emerald City delivers a light if frequent drizzle. Regardless of such quirks, as an NBA junkie who used to play hoops several hours per day, I lived my dream by covering the Sonics: During the NBA’s 82-game season, I sat court side, close enough to see sweat glistening from Gary Payton’s bald head; slept at fancy team hotels such as the Ritz Carlton; and ate three, hearty meals per day on the company’s dime. I held no complaints about the peripatetic travel that sometimes caused me to momentarily forget what city I was in after waking up in my hotel room. But I knew exactly where I was for my first trip back home in late 1997: The Sonics faced the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. (Photograph below.) I stayed at the Essex House, among the nation's swankiest hotels, and crossed paths with a woman who I ended up dating in a long-distance relationship. Since I traveled so frequently, she often met me at East Coast cities. To invoke the league’s slogan from back then: “NBA Action. It’s fantastic!”
Among the highlights in my career were two writing awards from the National Basketball Writers Association, which oversaw an annual competition that delivered cash prizes. I earned a national award in the 2002 contest for best feature of the season. Three years earlier, I had won an award for best game story: on dunking legend Shawn Kemp's first game against the Sonics -- an emotion-filled affair -- after a blockbuster trade the previous year. Below is a partial image of the article -- 'Worse night' -- published on January 9, 1998. The plaques for both awards proudly hang in my apartment.
In early 2001, the Sonics made big news when Starbucks chief Howard Schultz purchased the franchise, becoming the third owner in its history. My article, published on January 12, 2001, made the front page of the Seattle Times: "Sonics sale a 'dream' deal for Schultz." I would stay at the paper for only one more season, lured by the Washington Post. My friends threw me a going-away party, which my mom flew from New York City to attend. The happy get-together, captured in a photograph, crystallized how much I would miss the most enjoyable stint of my career.