Six years after the Seattle SuperSonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder, hard feelings between the two fan bases aren't the only issue that lives on.
So do decisions regarding exactly how far the Thunder organization should distance itself from Seattle history.
The latest example?
The NBA’s addition of a gold tab on the back of team’s jerseys representing championships. The news broke this week after a leaked PDF of a 2014-15 Adidas merchandiser catalog surfaced online.
The catalog, along with other leaked photos, shows a small gold tag on the back collar of jerseys. The tab features a depiction of the Larry O’Brien Trophy, along with a notation of how many times the franchise has won the NBA Finals.
Catalog photos show Thunder jerseys appearing without the tab, despite the fact the Sonics won a title in 1979.
However, a Thunder spokesman has not confirmed whether the Thunder will or won’t wear the tab. The Thunder does have rights to Seattle’s history and records, though the organization doesn’t typically take advantage of it as part of branding a new identity.
The Atlanta Hawks franchise won a title in 1957-58 as the St Louis Hawks, and the Sacramento Kings won in 1950-51 as the Rochester Royals. Both team’s jerseys do feature the tab in catalog photos.
In the case of the Thunder, a small story has sparked a sizable debate, even if it is one-sided. In a NewsOK.com poll, 4,120 people (90.33 percent) voted “no” to Oklahoma City recognizing the title on their jerseys. 441 people (9.67 percent) voted “yes.”
The story drew 84 comments as of 3 p.m. Friday.
“Why would you celebrate a team that won a championship in another city?” AJ Schofield said. “I don’t believe you have the championship banner hanging in Chesapeake Energy Arena, so why put the tab on the jersey?”
“Why would we want to?” Philip Burchett said. “It was such an ugly situation. The Thunder has completely distanced themselves from anything even remotely associated with the Sonics.”
OKC-Seattle debate aside, the small change is bringing up plenty of other storylines.
First, what is the point of the jersey change?
“It’s obviously intended to boost retail sales,” said Paul Lukas, who writes the “Uni Watch” column for ESPN.com. “If you look at this tone-on-tone representation of the O’Brien Trophy and the numerical designation that shows if you’ve won the championship four times or one time or whatever it may be, you can’t see that (on) TV unless there’s a really close up of somebody’s back.
“The only way you can see that is if you’re in person holding the jersey. It’s another way to offer a bell and whistle to fans who buy jerseys, and if you already own a jersey, well, now it’s not up to date anymore.”
The addition also comes with interesting timing. In this year’s FIFA World Cup, teams had stars on their jerseys representing World Cup titles. For instance, five-time champ Brazil had five stars on its jerseys.
“I don’t think the NBA was responding to that, because this kind of thing was in the works I’m sure long before the World Cup started,” Lukas said. “I think it’s just a coincidence of the timing.”
Photos also show the NBA logo moved to the back of jerseys, just below the collar. Previously, the NBA logo was on the upper left on the front of jerseys. Lukas said it might be the NBA’s way of clearing space for the eventual possibility of the NBA using corporate sponsor patches on jerseys.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in March he expects that to happen within the next five years.
But despite becoming a popular discussion point this week, Lukas said the addition of championship tabs is a small issue in the big picture.
“It’s interesting and we’re talking about it now, and we should be talking about it now,” Lukas said. “But it’s not going to going to go down as a major development in uniform history or NBA history.”
But with pride and history in the balance for fans in Oklahoma City and Seattle, the Thunder’s decision regarding the championship tab does matter, and it is a big deal.