'Sonicsgate' to get national exposure on CNBC
By TIM BOOTH
SEATTLE (AP) Adam Brown and Jason Reid weren't seeking critical acclaim or a national audience when they went about chronicling the steps that led the Seattle SuperSonics to become the Oklahoma City Thunder.
They were fans simply trying to document the departure of their team after four decades in Seattle.
The result was "Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team," a critically acclaimed, award-winning documentary released on the Internet in 2009. It became a cult success that brought Brown and Reid awards, attention and helped fans still coming to grips with the departure of the NBA.
Now three years later, a trimmed down, recut and updated version of Brown and Reid's original documentary will get a national stage on Friday night when it's broadcast on CNBC, which purchased the rights.
"We haven't slept in four months," Brown joked this week. "We recut the full movie down to scratch. Even if someone has watched it 10 times before, they will get something new out of this new cut."
The original online version released in 2009 was a two-hour examination of the SuperSonics from their inception in 1967 to their lone NBA title in 1978 and the moves that led to their departure for Oklahoma City in 2008.
Reid and Brown didn't worry about getting formal approval for all the television footage, audio and still pictures used in the original version, playing into their guerrilla approach to present their story with raw footage, basic graphics and narration to tell the tale.
The film has had nearly 300,000 views on YouTube. It was named "The Most Persuasive Grassroots Flick of 2009" by Sports Illustrated and received a Webby Award in 2010 for the best sports film. Memorabilia featuring the "Sonicsgate" logo is a must-have for Seattle hoop fans hopeful of seeing the NBA return someday.
But the original cut was simply a production of fan passion. So when CNBC called last December and began discussions about giving Sonicsgate a national audience, there were significant obstacles to overcome. Most notable was the need for Brown and Reid to get permission for all the footage used in the original version. Brown said they were paid "just enough" to cover rights costs, add some fancier graphics and get better music in the recut version.
Also important to Reid and Brown was the ability to hold on to the original directors cut. So while the sleeker version that airs on CNBC will be available for purchase on DVD, the original will remain forever available on the web.
CNBC said in an email that the network was drawn by the "compelling investigative documentary about the corporate, financial and political intrigue behind one of the biggest battles in the business of basketball."
The story is told through the eyes of Sonics fans angry at the multitude of mistakes that led to the Sonics' departure after 41 seasons. But Brown and Reid tried not to be over the top in assessing blame - although there are a few subtle shots at Thunder owner Clay Bennett in the original version that were cut from the new version.
Much of the blame is aimed at Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz, who owned the SuperSonics before selling to Bennett's group in 2006, believing that ownership outside of Seattle would help the push to get a renovated or new arena that worked within the NBA economic model.
The national release comes at a time when momentum is building in Seattle to address the biggest issue that led to the Sonics' departure: a new arena. San Francisco businessman and Seattle native Chris Hansen has proposed a $490 million venue, with nearly $300 million of that coming from private funding. The remainder would be bonded by the city and county and paid off through taxes and revenues generated by the new building.
The proposal is still being debated by city and county councils.
"This project has had so much serendipity behind it. CNBC approached us three months before Chris Hansen came forward. Now here we are with the premiere the day before the NBA playoffs start," Brown said. " ... Every time this story kind of dies down and we start working on one of our other films something happens and this gets shoved back into the forefront."
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Updated April 26, 2012