SEATTLE – The best thing about the Sonics’ home opener: the concession prices.
They turned back the clock to 1975.
You could get a slice of pizza for $1.75, a beer for $1.50, a hotdog for $1.
The style of play was also a throwback – to the ABA.
That is, no defense.
The only thing missing was a multi-colored ball.
The starting point guards got into a “can you top this?” contest in the first quarter.
And the Sonics’ playmaker did. Gary Payton, making his first eight shots, outscored Nick Van Exel 18-14 in the opening 12 minutes.
The Sonics had 42 points after one quarter, which was six more than they had after two quarters the night before.
What a difference 24 hours makes.
The Sonics won the home opener, of course. The opponent was Denver and the Nuggets don’t win here. Haven’t since February of 1993. But then, the Nuggets haven’t won much anywhere else since ‘93, either.
Payton wasn’t about to let what happened Tuesday happen again Wednesday.
The Sonics had started slowly against Vancouver and paid with a 94-88 loss in the season opener.
There would be no ignition misfirings against the Nuggets. Payton made sure of it.
In the first three minutes, he scored six points and had back-to-back steals, powering the Sonics to a 12-7 lead.
He was vintage Payton from then on. By the end of the night, he had 35 points – or one for every minute he played – 10 assists and four rebounds. He missed only three of 16 shots.
The hair he grew over the summer obviously hasn’t hurt him. “I feel real, real young right now,” Payton said. “It’s the first time in about 11 years that I’ve been feeling real, real good. A lot of people always talk about you getting old, but I think when you get old, you get better ‘cause you get wiser and start making better decisions.”
The Sonics’ starting unit was quite a bit different from the one that opened the season a year ago.
The two players the fans were most curious to see were the old center and the young guard.
The old center, of course, is Patrick Ewing, and he gave a workmanlike performance: 11 points, eight rebounds.
What he also did was give the fans their first real look at a genuine center in a Sonic uniform in a long time.
The youngster is the rookie Desmond Mason, the Sonics’ first-round draft choice this year.
He had struggled the night before against the Grizzlies and he continued to have problems against the Nuggets.
He didn’t score a point in 20 minutes, but he did show some gumption by wrestling down six rebounds. You know you have something when a guy is willing to go in and do the dirty work.
Twice in the first half, he saved the ball from going out of bounds, bouncing it off Denver players to give the Sonics possession. The scoring will come. The work ethic is there. And, obviously, so is the talent.
Mason says the biggest adjustment he has to make is to the hectic NBA schedule.
“In college, we played a game every three or four days,” he said. “Here we play last night and now we have to come back and play tonight and Saturday, then we go on the road. You have to get your rest and eat the right foods or you’re not going to be able to hold up.”
He maintains he won’t have a problem with that. “I try to get at least eight hours of sleep a night and eat three meals a day,” he said. “I like to eat full, healthy meals with lots of proteins and carbs because that’s going to be what keeps me going.”
He won’t be taking all of his meals in restaurants when he’s home. The man is a cook.
“My specialty?” he said. “Anything Southern.”
Just the other day, he made a pot of chili from his grandmother’s recipe.
If anyone knows of a good Southern style restaurant, he’d like to hear from them. “I’m starting to get fond of the chowder and salmon,” he said. “That’s good stuff. But nothing at all like Southern food.”
Mason is living the dream of every school kid who ever hoisted a basketball. “I’m playing with some of the greatest players ever to play the game,” he said as he sat in the locker room before the game.
His favorite team? Well, believe it or not, he watched the Sonics as often as he could when he was a kid growing up in Texas.
His favorite player? “A lot of people think it’s just because I’m here,” he said, “but Shawn Kemp was one of my favorite players. I had his jersey and cards and blankets and all kinds of stuff.”
He liked the way Kemp dunked and sometimes hung from the basket.
That was a much slimmer Kemp than the one who now suits up for Portland, Mason was reminded.
“People change,” he said.
Just as Mason will change.
He will get better and better and better.
A player to look forward to.
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