Ask any English major – or anybody with even a modicum of knowledge about world literature – and they’ll be able to quote the opening line from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

The famous sentence, of course, contrasts the stability and prosperity of late 18th-century London with the oppression and strife of Paris. If Dickens were alive today, and plying his trade for ESPN or Sports Illustrated, he may well have used the same line to contrast the fortunes of two NBA cities – Philadelphia and Seattle.

In a season such as this, when the NBA seemed to return national relevance with two of the league’s flagship franchises and most bitter rivals – the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers – catapulted into prominence, harkening back to the 1980s heydays, it’s difficult to pick a single feel-good story. From Chris Paul and the surprising New Orleans Hornets to the Kobe Bryant Renaissance in Los Angeles, it’s been an embarrassment of riches for basketball fans.

So why pick Philadelphia? Part of it is, to be sure, a hometown bias on this columnist’s part. When another city’s team ascends from rags to riches, such as last year’s Golden State Warriors, it’s entertaining, and it even provides otherwise uninterested fans an excuse to watch the playoffs for a few rounds. Yet when your hometown team rises, it’s hard not to get caught up in euphoric hyperbole. It’s also important to keep things in perspective, so I’ve decided to compare Seattle to Philadelphia, instead of, say, New Orleans or Boston, because the two franchises started the regular season at basically the same point. From October to April, however, the 76ers’ and Supersonics’ campaigns took them in opposite directions.

If anyone tells you now that they predicted a playoff berth for the Sixers some six months ago, that person is either lying or is destined to make a fortune on Wall Street. The formless amalgamation that tipped off the season included players who were overpaid, over-the-hill and over-hyped – not to mention the ubiquitous Duke benchwarmer. The team that had approached the loaded 2007 draft with three first-round picks managed to convert those into only one regular roster player, Thaddeus Young, a raw teenager with only one year of college experience.

With such an underwhelming assortment, it surprised few when Sixers management fired general manager Billy King on Dec. 4t and replaced him with Ed Stefanski. As went King, so, it appeared, went the Sixers’ season. Trading sharpshooter Kyle Korver to Utah hammered the final nail in the coffin for 2007-08; the wise move seemed to be to lose as often as possible and secure pole position in the draft.

The season appeared to be a lost cause, but the front office told the players to focus on the game, not the draft. The resulting four months of basketball did not resemble typical NBA play – at least not the lackadaisical play that fans are used to it – but instead a college team making a prolonged push for a tournament berth. Just over the last month and a half of the season, the once-dead-in-the-water Sixers toughed out road wins against Detroit and Boston and defeated San Antonio at home. The reward for months of diligence, hustle and entertaining play came in the form of a virtual death sentence – a first-round matchup against the playoff-tested Pistons. Undaunted, the underdogs stole the opening game from the hosts and stand a mere three wins from an unheralded two-round stay in the postseason. Not bad for a team with no real superstars.

Yet while the Sixers and Philadelphia are enjoying the ride, many in Seattle would like to forget the 2007-08 NBA season. It’s a shame, too, considering where the team started. To be sure, nobody anticipated a Sonics playoff run. Yet with a team featuring considerable young talent, including Rookie of the Year shoo-in Kevin Durant and Georgetown’s own Jeff Green, the year promised at least a taste of future success.

Instead, the 2007-08 Supersonics played the equivalent of an 82-game curtain call. Whereas Philadelphia’s dream season was born out of the grit and will of its players, the same grit and will was cut down in the Emerald City by a conniving ownership determined to commit highway theft in broad daylight. Angry at the state legislature’s repeated refusals to foot the bill for a new arena, owner Clay Bennett promised to relocate his team to a more amenable locale. It was a grab for tax dollars, and a pretty shameless one at that. And incredibly, it was rewarded when Oklahoma City agreed to finance the new building and the NBA owners voted in favor of the proposal by a 28-2 margin.

In spite of the Sonics’ rich tradition – including the city’s sole championship 29 years ago – and bright future, Seattle fans had little incentive to drive their hybrids to the Key Arena. Because of a greedy ownership, the team’s final season in its loyal hometown was effectively scuttled from the beginning.

So while Sixers fans will continue to dream of Andre Iguodala dunking and Samuel Dalembert swatting shots into June, Seattle fans are left with the bitterness of what might have been. Two teams entered the season with minimal expectations of even modest success. For one, it was the best of seasons; for the other, the worst.

Brendan Roach is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at THE LOSING STREAK appears every other Tuesday in HOYA SPORTS.

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