Franchises fans miss: Revisiting defunct teams on the anniversary of the Seattle SuperSonics sale

ByBrianna Williams ESPN logo
Monday, July 18, 2022

Breakups are tough, particularly in the sports world.

Sometimes fans get lucky and teams relocate within the same metropolitan area to help smooth the transition, la the Nets moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn. Other times fans aren't as fortunate, such as when the Warriors moved from Philadelphia to California.

Moves can happen for a variety of reasons, ranging from performance in the field of play to irreconcilable differences between the team and local leaders, but the feeling stings the same, regardless of the reason.

On July 18, 2006, one of the most notorious moves in sports history was made official when the Seattle SuperSonics were sold to an Oklahoma City ownership group, and the Oklahoma City Thunder were born.

Years later, former owner Howard Schultz expressed remorse about the sale.

"Selling the Sonics as I did is one of the biggest regrets of my professional life. I should have been willing to lose money until a local buyer emerged," Schultz said in 2019.

Despite calls from NBA fans near and far, including NBA champion Klay Thompson, an NBA squad still has not returned to Seattle nearly two decades later.

Fans across professional sports can relate to the longing for a franchise that moved on to greener (or sometimes lesser) pastures.

NFL -- Baltimore Colts

Notable players: Raymond Berry, Gino Marchetti, Y.A. Tittle, Johnny Unitas

Year folded: 1984

Rebranded as: Indianapolis Colts

The Colts operated as an All-America Football Conference (AAFC) squad for three seasons before joining the NFL. Baltimore's stint was short-lived and the team posted a 1-11 record in its only year. Its one-season roster included three Pro Football Hall of Famers.

The franchise then operated as the Dallas Texans for two seasons, but it didn't take long for football to return to Charm City as the second iteration of the Colts arrived in 1953.

Baltimore won its first NFL championship in 1958 with Johnny Unitas at the helm in "The Greatest Game Ever Played."The squad made six more playoff appearances, including a 1970 Super Bowl victory, in the Unitas era, which ended in 1972.

Over the next decade the Colts largely struggled to reach the same level of success. In 1983, John Elway famously refused to join the Colts and demanded a trade when the team selected him with the top pick.

The team recorded six consecutive losing seasons in its last years in Baltimore and attendance greatly suffered before the Colts departed for Indianapolis.

NFL football returned to the city in 1996 when the Baltimore Ravens arrived.

WNBA -- Houston Comets

Notable players: Cynthia Cooper, Kim Perrot, Dawn Staley, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson

Year folded:2008

The Comets were one of the original eight WNBA teams and the league's first dynasty, winning the first four championships of the league's existence from 1997 to 2000. The team was initially owned by Leslie Alexander, who also owned the NBA's Houston Rockets from 1993 until 2017. In January 2007, Alexander sold the team to Houston businessman Hilton Koch, but team control was handed to the WNBA shortly thereafter.

The team ultimately folded because new owners couldn't be found.

Houston's dissolution was met with great criticism from players and fans.

"It was a very big misjudgment on the league's behalf, in the sense that I just don't think that they really do business properly and didn't value what that franchise brings," Tina Thompson said in 2016.

NHL -- Hartford Whalers

Notable players: Sean Burke, Ron Francis, Gordie Howe, Mike Liut,

Relocation year:1997

Rebranded as: Carolina Hurricanes

Originally known as the World Hockey Association's (WHA) New England Whalers, the franchise was admitted to the NHL in 1979 when the leagues merged. The team was based roughly 100 miles from the regional rival Boston Bruins, which prompted the name change.

Despite the team's great success in the WHA, it took seven seasons before Hartford made the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time. In 1986, the Whalers swept a familiar foe, the Quebec Nordiques (currently known as the Colorado Avalanche), for their only playoff series win in Hartford.

The franchise departed for a host of reasons, including attendance and failed negotiations for a new arena, but its iconic logo and catchy "Brass Bonanza" fight song are among the relics that have fans hooked even decades after the team's departure from the region.

The Hurricanes have honored the franchise's roots with an annual "Whalers night" since the 2018-19 season.

MLB -- Montreal Expos

Notable players:Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Vladimir Guerrero, Tim Raines

Relocation year:2004

Rebranded as: Washington Nationals

The first MLB team outside of the United States was founded in 1969 when the league added two expansion franchises in each conference. The Expos struggled to produce early in their existence, recording 10 consecutive losing seasons and posting one playoff appearance in the strike-shortened 1981 season.

Then-commissioner Bud Selig announced that MLB would eliminate two teams in 2001, targeting the Expos. The Expos operated as an MLB-owned team for two years, until a new ownership (and location) was found.

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