In the 22 years since Pearl Jam released 10, you’ve probably been tormented by the question of why 10 has 11 songs. Now your worries are over, your long nights of turmoil ended, your years of questioning, endlessly, successfully concluded. Here’s why 10 has 11 songs: 10 was the jersey number for NBA player Mookie Blaylock. The band members were such fans of this guy that their original name was Mookie Blaylock (which they were forced to change, because duh). Basketball and Pearl Jam are also linked through the delightful period piece Singles (a movie I had on VHS [!]) in which the band appears as members of Matt Dillon’s band Citizen Dick and the Sonics player Xavier McDaniel has a straight-faced cameo (Campbell Scott, trying to prolong sex, envisions McDaniel instructing him to, uh, keep his head in the game).
But Pearl Jam and Singles writer Cameron Crowe weren’t the only residents of the great damp northwest who loved both rock-n-roll and basketball. An ESPN writer posted the following ode to the “Grunge Hoops Era.”
The early 1990s were an amazing time to be living in the Pacific Northwest. Nirvana and Pearl Jam came seemingly out of nowhere at the same time. “Singles” actually made it look cool to live in a city where it’s overcast and gloomy all the time. And the Sonics drafted a brash young point guard who never shut up (Gary Payton), paired him with this raw kid out of high school who simply embarrassed people with his slam dunks (Shawn Kemp) and brought in a coach who was described as “unstable” by one fan on a local newscast the day he was hired (George Karl).
For me, it’s impossible to separate the Sonics and Pearl Jam in my memories. I still vividly recall the night it became cool to be a Sonics fan again — when GP led them out of the tunnel wearing short black socks and all-black shoes before Game 1 of a first-round playoff game at Golden State in 1992. (The seventh-seeded Supes went on to upset the No. 2 Warriors in four games, punctuated by a Kemp dunk-for-the-ages over Alton Lister in Game 3.)
I also recall the first time I heard Pearl Jam’s “Ten” album playing in Cellophane Square records in Bellingham, Wash., where I was in my junior year of college. It was an amazing sound that seemed to stop everyone in the store.
From there, my love for the Sonics and PJ became one affair. The “Slam Jam” poster featuring leaping images of Kemp and Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament, which was given away at the 1993 home opener, became the featured piece of art in my apartment.
Pearl Jam songs became the sound track for the Sonics’ playoff runs in those years, and any Seattle fan worth his salt could close his eyes and tell you what was happening on the floor at the Seattle Center Coliseum by the tune being played during timeouts. “Even Flow” meant our boys had blown the game open, “Alive” meant they were waging a comeback, “Go” meant they had a big lead in the fourth quarter but the house was urging us to “not go on them now” and bolt for the exits.
Sure, this era didn’t end well. The Supes laid a historic egg in the 1994 playoffs against Denver. Kemp went to Cleveland and got fat. Pearl Jam recorded “Vitalogy.” Eddie Vedder later hung out with the Bulls and Dennis Rodman. And I became the only person to graduate from Western Washington University between 1990 and 1993 who never saw PJ play live in an unannounced gig at a small Bellingham bar.
(And that doesn’t even mention Kurt Cobain’s suicide and what it was like to leave a Sonics playoff victory on a sunny Sunday afternoon, walk outside the arena and immediately find yourself in the middle of thousands mourning the Nirvana front man at the Seattle Center fountain.)
But for one era, it’s hard to imagine a band being more associated with a town and a team than Pearl Jam and the Seattle SuperSonics. Those songs will always take me back to those games. Now, if I could only find that “Slam Jam” poster.