It seems hard to believe that it’s been 11 years since Kemp made his rookie debut for the Sonics after being picked in the first round of the 1989 NBA draft. Kemp, a schoolboy sensation from Elkahart, Ind., originally opted to play college basketball at Kentucky, but eventually withdrew from school and opted for the pros. He was 19 years old when he first suited up for the Sonics.
Six seasons later, Kemp was a four-time All-Star and a starting forward in the NBA Finals. His tenure in Seattle ended unhappily in the 1997 offseason when Kemp made it known he wanted out. He was subsequently traded to Cleveland in a three-team deal that netted Vin Baker for the Sonics.
After three seasons in Cleveland, Kemp was swapped to the Blazers last summer in another three-team deal.
Gary Payton is the only player still with the team who was a Kemp teammate in 1997, his last with the Sonics. “Me and Gary still remain friends,” Kemp said. “But (coming back to Seattle) really doesn’t affect me that much.
“It’s not as big a deal as it probably was the first couple (of seasons). I really don’t think that much about it. It’s amazing to me, this long afterwards, that I still receive so much attention. It just lets you know what you did, but at the same time it’s been so long it still surprises me.”
When Kemp entered Saturday’s contest for the first time, he was booed loudly, which he had anticipated before the game. “With Portland being so close (to Seattle), it’s a rivalry game so you expect the boos,” he said. “That’s just part of it.”
Though he no longer has a home in Seattle, Kemp still has friends in the area and occasionally comes to visit in the offseason. “My connections here still remain strong with the friends I have,” he said.
Barry “is getting better,” Sonics coach Paul Westphal said, but still will not be joining the team for the two-game Florida leg of a five-game East Coast road trip that opens Monday in Orlando. The hope is that Barry, who will stay back in Seattle for further treatment, can join the team midway through the road swing, perhaps Thursday in Charlotte, Westphal said.
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