Green and yellow all day
As a child, I moved around a lot for the first 8 years of my life. My father was in the Navy so we naturally followed him as he was stationed in several places for those 8 years.
After those 8 years, though, we were able to settle in in the Cascade Foothills east of Seattle.
I had already grown a love for sports years earlier and was playing organized baseball when we moved to Washington.
That is where I had my first sense of the feeling of “home” and the sense of pride in living in a particular place. Bouncing around so much as a child, I hadn’t chosen all of my teams and allegiances yet.
When we finally settled, I was able to sit down and watch Seattle sports regularly.
A couple years earlier, I had already fallen in love with the Seattle Mariners and Ken Griffey Junior with his giant kiddish smile, backwards hat, and penance for blasting deep home runs with his sweet swing.
I had already fallen in love with the Seattle Seahawks after watching Cortez Kennedy eat linemen and quarterbacks for lunch and dinner.
I didn’t have a basketball team yet, though. That all changed when I turned on the tv one day and saw the play that made me fall in love with the Seattle SuperSonics.
Gary Payton stood on the 3 point line with the basketball. The defense came rushing to him thinking he was going to pull up hit another 3 pointer.
Instead, he threw a beautiful lob pass to a wide open Shawn Kemp who then dunked the ball and then stared down the 3 Lakers players in the vicinity.
I instantly knew this was my team.
And over the years, I grew to love the Sonics more and more. I watched games from the team’s past, and studied the 1979 championship season like it was a college exam.
I could probably recall the events of that season better than most who were alive to witness it.
I already knew from that first play I witnessed on television that there were many things to love about the Seattle Sonics.
As time progressed, I found more and more reasons to love the team.
Let me share.
The beginning and the Championship
The Sonics fielded pretty good teams from their inception in 1967 through most of the 1970’s. What people will remember most about this era, though, is the championship team of 1979.
Seattle had some pretty good and prominent players in the NBA in this era, including Lenny Wilkens playing and then coaching the team. The team had notable franchise players like Bob Rule, Wilkens, Spencer Haywood, “Downtown” Fred Brown, Slick Watts and Tommy Burleson.
They had legend Bill Russell as a coach as well as Wilkens and Bob Hopkins.
And the year after reaching the NBA Finals and losing to the Washington Bullets, the Seattle SuperSonics won it all with the additions of Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma and Paul Silas.
The 1979 NBA title was, and still is, the city of Seattle’s only major championship. It is a big part of the team’s legacy and will be memorialized forever.
The Payton and Kemp era with a dash of George Karl
In 1989, Shawn Kemp was drafted by the Sonics and Payton followed in 1990. The two years of futility after Payton joined the club were well worth it when George Karl took the reigns of the team.
The Sonics became instant playoff contenders.
The Payton and Kemp era in Seattle made the team one of the most popular in the NBA with their game play. We remember Kemp’s powerful dunks, sometimes fed by Payton, while Payton would pull up and make teams pay for giving him room beyond the arc.
Yes, they had quite a supporting cast during their reign with the likes of Detlef Schrempf, Brent Barry, Sam Perkins, and Nate McMillan.
And we all loved them. How could you not?
It was #20 and #40, though, who showed the league that the Sonics were a force to be reckoned with.
Years of playoff futility kept the team from winning another title, but it did not stop them from being one of the most dominant teams in the NBA.
The year that will go down in infamy for this era of Seattle basketball was 1996. We all know the story that culminated with the Sonics facing Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the 1996 NBA Finals.
The Bulls won the series in 6 games.
What will be remembered, though, is the toughness and character the team showed.
The Sonics continued to dominate the Western Conference the next 2 seasons before things changed for good.
Nate McMillan battled injuries that especially affected the playoffs and the Finals. Gary Payton, along with his offensive prowess, was also a defensive whiz, being dubbed “The Glove” for his staunch defense.
Shawn Kemp earned his “Reignman” nickname after throwing down dunk after powerful dunk on opponents. “Big Smooth” Sam Perkins was always waiting behind the 3 point line, slipping through defenders to catch a pass and launch a beauty of a shot that got nothing but net.
That’s the Sonics team I grew up with. And loved. And is what really came to define this franchise and it’s history besides the 1979 title.
The collapse and the goodbye
After the 1998 season ended, the team slowly fell apart with the exception of some slight success with Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Payton and Kemp had both left the team as did Karl. The team made several trades and sent several fan favorites packing to other cities.
The team struck gold, though, when they drafted Kevin Durant after their worst season in franchise history.
It was too late, though, as Oklahoma native Clay Bennett worked a deal to buy the team from then-owner Starbucks magnate Howard Schultz. He moved the team to Oklahoma City in 2008 and the rest is history.
This is a positive article so we won’t delve into the politics.
All I can offer up regarding this, is to take a look at this video.
Can’t forget these guys
As I close out this trip down memory lane, it would be shameful to not mention three other icons of this Seattle basketball franchise that helped me as well as every other Sonics fan fall in love with this team.
The original voice of the SuperSonics Bob Blackburn, his protege Kevin Calabro and the team’s loveable and hilarious mascot, Squatch.
Without the call of those 2 legendary voices, the game may not have been the same.
Yes, the players would still accomplish their achievements, but it was these legendary voices that kept you hooked even during dull moments in the contests.
And while Squatch was just a mascot, he was not just that. He was a symbol that gave the fans even more reason to love the team.
His antics and fan interaction made the team even more enjoyable both in person and on television.
Throughout the years, the Seattle SuperSonics gave this city an exciting professional franchise they could root for year in and year out.
Despite some bad years, the team saw much success in their history behind the play of many past and current NBA legends.
While we don’t have a professional Seattle basketball team to watch and root for in the present, I will always the love the SuperSonics and the SuperSonics only.
And I have that alley oop from Gary Payton to Shawn Kemp to thank for that.
I truly hope Chris Hansen is the man to bring the team back to my beloved city.