Featured image: Comm Lead alumni Leigh Burmesch’s short documentary, “Superfan,” will have its debut screening at the Seattle International Film Festival Saturday, May 21 at 8 p.m. Photo courtesy of Leigh Burmesch.
When Leigh Burmesch first reached out to Kris Brannon via an email address she found on a random website, she was skeptical about whether she’d hear back. A week later, Brannon answered Leigh’s inquiry and agreed to be interviewed about his true passion: Bringing back Seattle’s NBA team.
Leigh’s short documentary, “Superfan,” will be featured at the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) Saturday, May 21 at 8 p.m. The film tells the story of Brannon’s quest to bring back the Seattle SuperSonics.
— Sonics guy (@sonicsguy) May 5, 2016
Seattle’s basketball past
For those who don’t follow basketball or aren’t from the Pacific Northwest, the Sonics were the city’s first major league sports franchise. They played at KeyArena in the Seattle Center from 1967 to 2008, and the franchise became known for stars such as Detlef Schrempf, Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. After failing to find public money to construct a new arena, the franchise was forced to leave Seattle and relocate to Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season. The team now plays as the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Many of the team’s faithful fans — and the city as a whole — were heartbroken to lose their beloved team. But few were as heartbroken as Brannon, who’s become known as the “Sonics Guy” because of his dogged determination to bring the team back bring.
Brannon attends dozens of Seattle Seahawks and University of Washington Husky tailgating events each year, and is consistently decked-out in Sonics colors—golden-yellow and forest-green. He aims to deliver the Sonics’ message at large public gatherings so that people don’t forget: Seattle is where the Sonics belong.
Meeting the “Sonics Guy”
Leigh and Brannon’s first meeting was at a bar on University Avenue prior to walking over to a Husky football game tailgate.
“That was my first time seeing how people responded to him,” Burmesch said. “He carried his sign and wore the Sonics throwback uniform. He wasn’t shouting ‘Go Sonics,’ he was just walking around and talking to people.”
To Burmesch’s surprise, everyone seemed receptive to him. When she later followed him at a Seahawks tailgate, she said people were inviting him to eat with them. Everyone wanted to chat with the Sonics Guy.
“A lot of people would thank him for what he’s doing, which I though was really neat,” she said. “He told me when he first started doing this people were like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ but now that he’s been doing it for eight years, people are really excited when they see him.”
“What’s important to people in Seattle?”
What compelled Burmesch, the temporary Seattle transplant, to dive into the story of a local diehard fan of a cast-away basketball team wasn’t basketball itself.
Burmesch is a Minnesota native and a Timberwolves fan, though she jokes she’s always been fond of the Sonics’ colors. When she’d first read about Brannon, she had only lived in Seattle for nine months.
Burmesch entered the UW Communication Leadership master’s program with a mission to make a short documentary film. When she signed up to an intensive nine-week multimedia class where she’d have to self-produce a six-minute documentary throughout the course, she brainstormed ideas around the theme of abandonment.
The summer prior to class, she worked on a story about a small neighborhood in Kansas City. That project sparked her desire to feature places, people or things that are left behind. Keeping that theme in mind, she wondered: What’s important to people in Seattle?
That’s when she landed on the Sonics.
“I wanted to find a character that was really interesting, someone that people would want to know more about,” she said. “I went into the program and didn’t have any film experience, but I knew I had to do something, even though it scared me because I had never done it before.”
Leigh says she was surprised at how deeply involved Brannon is with the local community. As a Tacoma resident, he regularly advocated not only for the Sonics, but for other community events as well.
We Did it! NO Methanol plant in Tacoma!!!! https://t.co/boky1mDv2U
— Sonics guy (@sonicsguy) April 19, 2016
He’s become a public figure, especially among sports fans. In Burmesch’s film, longtime Seattle sports columnist John McGrath mentions the time he told his grandson how he’d interviewed big celebrities (including Michael Jordan), but it wasn’t until he mentioned the Sonics Guy that his grandson asked for an autograph.
Will the Sonics be back?
Burmesch graduated from the Comm Lead program in December 2015, and is now back in her hometown in Minnesota. She and Brannon will both attend the film’s screening on Saturday. Meanwhile, Brannon continues to fight for his team.
Just last month, the Seattle City Counsel voted against a new arena proposal by California billionaire Chris Hansen. According to seattlepi.com, Hansen’s statement read, “We don’t believe it is the end of the road in our quest to bring the NBA and NHL back to Seattle. We know all the fans who have stood solidly by us these past years share our disappointment but it is important that we all stay focused on our shared goal.”
— Stephen Cohen (@scohenPI) May 3, 2016
“Kris isn’t getting anything in return for this,” Burmesch says. “He just spends a lot of his time trying to remind people that we should get a team back because Seattle is great and we should get the NBA back.”
ICYMI: Chris Hansen's proposed Sodo arena was dealt a serious blow on Monday after the Seattle City Council voted not to vacate a stretch of Occidental Avenue that was a key component for the project to move forward. In this photo taken during the meeting, SuperSonics fans Kris "Sonics Guy" Brannon, left, and Kenneth Knutsen react to the Seattle City Council's vote. #SuperSonics #SeattleArena #Seattlelife Photo by @gmartphoto
Brannon plans to continue reminding people of the team that once was here. A team not forgotten, and certainly not left behind by its fervent fans.
Meanwhile, Burmesch says Brannon jokes that once the team does return to the Emerald City, he’ll be the first to purchase courtside seats.
Full disclosure: Kirsten O’Brien is an editor for Flip the Media and the social media manager for seattlepi.com. She co-edited this piece.