Let me tell you what it’s like to walk down the street with Sonics Guy in Tacoma. Forget having a long, uninterrupted conversation with him. It’s not possible. Within minutes someone, an old friend, an acquaintance, or more often than not, a complete stranger will walk up and say, “Sonics Guy!”
No matter what you and he were talking about, he will stop and give this new person his full attention. He’ll smile. He’ll sign an autograph or take a picture with them if they want. He’ll use a level of smarm and charm that most people can’t pull off authentically. He’ll thank them for taking the time to say hello. Then he’ll get back to you and whatever you and he were talking about.
I knew Kristopher Brannon aka Sonics Guy for over thirty years. And as I write this less than two days after his death, I find it hard to believe I’ll never have that experience again. Kris and I became friends in high school. We were in drama class together. We used my dad’s video camera to make videos in class that I wish I still had. We briefly worked at the Tacoma Central movie theater together. I only lasted a few months at the job. He was there almost until it closed down. Years later, I would go with him out to places like Baldy’s Road House in Milton and watch him kill (and bomb) at Open Mic stand-up. And then one day, a few months after Seattle’s NBA team, the Seattle SuperSonics was sold to Oklahoma, Kris put on a Sonics jersey, made a cardboard sign, and started attending every sporting event, rally, parade, gathering, and birthday party he could find. He became Sonics Guy.
His message was simple and direct: Bring Back Our Sonics. Week after week, month after month, year after year, if there were a lot of people in one place in Western Washington, odds were pretty good Sonics Guy was one of those people. He attended thousands of events, met tens of thousands of people, and was seen by millions.
And as his friend, I absolutely did not get it. He didn’t take endorsement deals. He didn’t ask anyone for money. He would sometimes get free tickets to events, but that’s as far as it went. He was inexplicably spending a lot of time and money on what I saw as a hopeless cause and doing it all for free. What could he possibly hope to gain from this?
I didn’t get it until we walked down 6th Avenue on a hot day in July during Tacoma’s Art on the Ave. and I saw it. I watched the eyes of men, women, and so many children light up as they saw him. They became excited. It was a highlight of their day. He never seemed to tire of it. When a person approached Kris, he treated him like an old friend he hadn’t seen in a while. (I know because I am an old friend of his.)
Sonics Guy couldn’t actually bring the Sonics back. I think he knew that. But it didn’t matter. He brought the Sonics back every day by sharing the joy and excitement of a local NBA team with each and every person he met. He literally was Sonics Guy and in that regard he was phenomenally successful.
Kris told me a couple years ago, “The old me was small, petty, and angry. The new me is large, generous, and caring. And I’ll tell you, I’ve never been happier.”
I keep thinking about that in the wake of his death. I remember his dark days and dark moods. I know that being Sonics Guy took a toll on him until he found his peace with it. And when he did, it was something to behold.
He wasn’t content to just find his peace though. He wanted me to find my own. He’d challenge me. He wouldn’t let me just complain about politics online. He insisted I get involved. Three days before this past election he sent me a text: “Election Day. You and me. Some old fashioned sign waving for Biden. Pick me up at 6:30am.” It wasn’t a request. He insisted on positivity and activism.
Now, after only 47 years of life and with the Sonics still only a part of our past, Kristopher Brannon aka Sonics Guy has died of a heart attack. I can’t imagine what his sister, his mother, and the rest of his family are going through. I know he got to see his mother for the first time in eight months just a few days before his death and how great that he felt about that. I’m sure his mother will cherish that memory. The last time I saw him I drove him around running errands with him and talking about old times. I wish I knew that was the last time I’d see his face or hear his loud laugh.
When he started out as Sonics Guy I thought he was insane, but now I believe. We will have a NBA team again. And when we do, I hope they’ll make a retired jersey for Sonics Guy. He’s earned it.
I love you and miss you, Kris. Thanks for every moment you spent with me. Go Sonics.