The Sonics’ 1996 NBA Finals Run

Great Northwest Sports Moments: The Sonics’ 1996 NBA Finals Run

The Seattle Supersonics captured the NBA Championship in 1979; that has to be considered the franchise’s crowning achievement.

However, basketball was arguably never bigger in the Emerald City than it was in 1996, when the Sonics became a powerhouse and pushed Michael Jordan’s Bulls to the brink in the NBA Finals.

Dynamic Duo – Payton & Kemp

1996 will forever be known to basketball fans as the year Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to the best single-season record in NBA history at 72-10 after he came out of retirement the previous season.

But the Bulls success sometimes overshadows how dominant the Sonics also were that season.

Led by two of the franchise’s greatest players, All-Stars Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, and coach George Karl, the Sonics went a franchise-best 64-18 that season. As the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed in the 1996 playoffs, they disposed of the Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets in four games apiece.

In the Western Conference final, the Utah Jazz, led by Karl Malone and John Stockton, battled Seattle tooth and nail. The Jazz forced Game 7 after falling behind 3-1 in the series. But the Sonics scraped by at home in Seattle to win 90-86 in Game 7.

They were off to Chicago to battle the Bulls.

The Sonics quickly fell behind 3-0 in the Finals to the unstoppable Bulls but they didn’t quit. They won Games 4 and 5 handily to force a Game 6 at the United Center in Chicago. However, the Bulls were too much.

They captured Game 6 ton win their fourth NBA title in the Michael Jordan/Phil Jackson era.

Sonics fans can only be left to wonder what might have been in 1996 had Jordan not returned to basketball the year before. Regardless, the 1996 Sonics can hold their heads high.

They were as strong as any Sonics team ever assembled and lost the Finals against, arguably, the greatest NBA team ever.

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About Matt Larkin
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