As many of you know, my first job out of college was working in the Game Operations department of the Seattle Sonics and Seattle Storm basketball teams (literally, my dream job). Game Operations is a little heard of field outside of the sports industry. I'd been a sports fan my entire life, but before starting at the Sonics, I'd never heard of the term yet alone a department or career field. Basically, Game Operations is exactly as it sounds. It's organizing and/or executing all the game day set up, breakdown, events and logistics associated with the sporting event. It varies from team to team, but this can include the rather mundane details of making sure the scoreboard is functioning or the correct sponsor signage is hung, to the much more noticeable details of selecting the National Anthem performer or halftime entertainment or pushing the limits of reason by asking a guy in mascot costume, who can't really see or hear, to repel 60 feet from the rafters while holding giant sparklers. When it works, it's exhilarating. When it fails...you just hope it doesn't fail.
I quickly found out that this was quite possibly the funnest job one could ask for (at least for someone who enjoys sports and details and being creative and not sitting behind a desk all day). That's not to say it wasn't extremely hard work and stressful, with long hours and mediocre pay, but the adrenaline rush of a well executed game in front of a sold out arena during a playoff game, is one of the coolest feelings I've ever had.
A photo from "The Bucket" at KeyArena. I never expected to have the opportunity to experience this view one more time.
For two years at the Sonics, and then four more years at the Everett Silvertips, I got to enjoy that adrenaline rush of entertaining people repeatedly. But, eventually the long hours, nights and weekends and mediocre pay burned me out. So, when we moved to San Jose, I took a much more "normal" marketing job, that allowed me to be creative, yet have weekends off. During that same time period the Sonics moved away. And I had in my own mind closed the door on the sports entertainment part of my career. I figured I would never have the opportunity to feel the excitement of entertaining a live crowd again, yet alone do it in Seattle at KeyArena.
And then 2009 happened. And I found myself back in Seattle with no job and looking for ways to reconnect with former coworkers and colleagues to improve my job rescue chances. It was through one of those connections that I was asked to help out with a temporary gig to help run the game ops for two annual college basketball games (The Battle in Seattle & Cougar Hardwood Classic) at KeyArena. So for two days during December, I found myself back in KeyArena helping entertain basketball fans again.
It was a somewhat surreal experience. I hadn't worked an event at KeyArena since August of 2003. To find myself once again walking around backstage and in the catwalk of KeyArena setting up for a basketball game was one giant day of de ja vu.. I could not believe how much everthing was the same. Much of the job and details were the same. And many of the people I was working with were the same. And most importantly the excitement was the same. Of course the one great difference was the fact that this was college basketball and that the Sonics are long gone*.
At one point towards the end of the WSU game, as I was standing in the vomitory watching a close game, taking in the crowd, the atmosphere of 15,000 fans, I was a little overwhelmed with how much it felt exactly the same as it had during my time working at the Sonics. It felt as if time had stood still. It was a view/experience I never thought I'd experience again. Yet, I was back in that experience, even if just briefly. So, I soaked it in.
Maybe, it's the fact that these long months of unemployment have left me feeling useless as of late or that I'm totally lost when it comes to figuring out where my job rescue/career is headed. Rejection sucks. And unemployment is really nothing but a long string of rejections. This was a break from that. I utterly enjoyed those two days back at KeyArena. And it's not to say that I necessarily want to go back into the sports industry, but it was a great opportunity to look back at my career and realize that I've done cool stuff that I've enjoyed, that I have some unique skills. And that it is possible to enjoy what you do. It's something that I needed to be reminded of as I navigate this career void that I find myself in. And most importantly, it was fun.
Like most things Sonics related at KeyArena, this banner no longer hangs from the rafters at KeyArena.
*And about those Sonics.... This was my first time in KeyArena since the Sonics left town. As much as the job and KeyArena was so familiar and unchanged to me on these two recent nights. There was one great void. The Sonics were gone. And most signs that the Sonics ever played in KeyArena have been stripped away. The Sonics banners, including the championship banner of 1979 no longer hang in the rafters. The retired jerseys gone, too. The locker room still contains the familiar green and gold of the Sonics, but the logos have been removed or painted over with Seattle Storm logos or Seattle University logos. The walls on the concourse no longer pay homage to the Sonics teams of years past. On the surface, facing outward to the public, everything Sonics related is gone. But backstage, a few traces remain. If you look close in the darkened corners and the dusty storage areas there are a few reminders. A Sonics logo in the catering area, or a rolled up banner in the corner, just hanging there in the dark unnoticed by those not looking for it. But, that's it. Basketball at KeyArena now belongs to the Storm, Seattle U and the occasional WSU or Gonzaga game.