'Omnipresent' Sonics Guy and his message live on in mural on Tacoma's Sixth Avenue
Author's note: This year was hard. It was made harder with the news that we lost a Tacoma great: Kris Brannon, also known as Sonics Guy. But this story isn't sad. It's a celebration of someone who made Tacoma, well, Tacoma. And I think that's just what we needed. — Kari Plog on why this was a favorite story of 2021
Ever since the Seattle SuperSonics left town in 2008, Tacoma’s Kris Brannon spent every waking moment making sure the NBA knew he wanted to “Bring ’em Back.” His message was ubiquitous across the region until Brannon — widely known as Sonics Guy — died in February from heart failure. He was 47.
But thanks to a mural in Brannon’s hometown, his message lives on.
“He belongs to Tacoma, but his message is for everyone,” said R.R. Anderson, a local business owner and cartoonist who is among the group of artists creating a mural on the side of Gather Juice Co. The Sixth Avenue business donated the blank wall that serves as the canvas that’s now splashed with Sonics' green and gold.
The mural has been a slow-going labor of love with true community backing. Inspiration for the design came from a poster by Beautiful Angle, a street-art project in Tacoma. Anderson and his wife, Darcy, are the muscle behind the brush strokes. The paint was donated by a Benjamin Moore paint store on South 38th Street.
On a recent Monday in the alleyway, the Andersons put finishing touches on the “photo-real” painting of Brannon. R.R. Anderson says Sonics Guy always wanted him to paint his likeness this way.
“He would have loved to just be standing here watching it take shape,” Anderson said. “So that’s influenced the design quite a bit.”
It’s like he’s keeping watch, Anderson says. And that’s fitting. Pull anyone aside on Sixth Avenue and chances are they have a Sonics Guy story. Even if they never met him, anyone who has spent any amount of time in Tacoma can recall at least one sighting. Brannon was hard to miss: Afro standing tall, the old-school Sonics jersey and his sign reading “Bring back our Sonics.”
“Omnipresent is a good description of how people would describe his character of Sonics Guy,” Anderson said. “Just always there.”
Darcy Anderson says Brannon's ever-present spirit lives on.
“After his passing we did a memorial in our window, and people would stop and say, ‘Hey, wait, that’s Sonics Guy. What happened?’ and just share their stories,” she said. “It became this kind of community connection on how Kris was a part of their life.”
And Brannon still has that effect on people, even after his death. While the Andersons work on the mural each week, people walking by do double takes. Drivers honk their horns and yell out their windows about how much they loved Brannon and his message: Bring back Seattle’s team.
R.R. Anderson acknowledges that message doesn’t just belong to Tacoma. But his late friend does. Tacoma was Brannon’s home. As I talked with R.R. Anderson about why the mural’s location matters, the why unfolded right in front of us.
Brett Muché walked by and gasped at the progress on the mural. He knew it was going up, but it had been a while since he had seen it. Muché was Brannon’s neighbor. He showed off selfies of the two of them on his phone. (A lot of people have selfies like that.) Muché says this mural belongs in Tacoma.
“Because this man’s whole heart was about our city and about our town and about our sports teams,” he said. “This guy really did bleed Sonics.”
And now he’ll be on Sixth Avenue forever.
“Where he should be,” Muché said. “Perfect.”
Darcy Anderson says that reaction — one that they get all the time — is the best part of this project.
“I love that, just storytelling and connecting,” she said. “This is just a wall, but it’s not just a wall. It’s a spirit of Tacoma, I think, as community. We are so connected here. It is a small town. And everybody knew Sonics Guy. And they want to share how they knew him.”