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The Seattle Supersonics, known in short as the Sonics, were an American basketball team that played in the Pacific Division of the NBA between 1967 and 2008. They played at different arenas through different periods, with the Key Arena at the Seattle Center serving the longest as their home stadium.
How Did the Sonics Start up?
On December 20, 1966, the NBA awarded a franchise for Seattle City to Sam Schulman and Eugene Klein and a group of minority partners. Schulman, who assumed the role of head of operations, named the team Supersonics, in reference to the city’s heritage as the home of airplane manufacturer Boeing. Al Bianchi was appointed the teams first head coach and the team picked Tom Meschry, Walt Hazzard and Rod and drafted rookies Al Tucker and Bob Rule ready for their first season of action.
The Seattle Supersonics in Competition
The Sonic’s first game was a 144-116 loss on the road to San Francisco Warriors. This was followed by a 121-114 home loss to another expansion team, the San Diego Rockets. Their first win however came only a day later as they revenged 117-110 over San Diego. They then went on a dismal run, winning just one of the next 12 games and eventually finished fifth with a 23-59 record. The next two seasons would be frustrating for the Sonics as they finished sixth and fifth respectively, despite the addition of Lenny Wilkens in player-coach capacity. In 1971 they finished the season fourth in the newly created Pacific Division with a 38-44 record.
Things looked up following the appointment of legendary coach Bill Russell in 1973 and they made the playoffs for the first time in 1974-1975, progressing to the second round, a feat which they repeated the next season. After a disappointing 76/77 season, the Sonics rebounded to win the Western Conference Championship and reach the NBA finals which they lost to the Washington Bullets. They were back to NBA finals the next season and made amends to win their first and only NBA title. The Sonics would then start to unravel, and finished last in 1980-1981 season. Between 1982 an 1992 the Supersonics made it to the playoffs seven times but only reached the conference Finals once, in 1986/1987, losing in four straight games to fierce rivals Los Angles Lakers. 1992 to 1998 was a period of relative success for Seattle. They reached the Western Conference Finals in 1993 and then bettered it three years later by reaching the 1996 NBA finals.
1999 herald a period of decline as they failed to make to the playoffs fro the first time in nine years. Results kept on declining year on year eventually finishing with a franchise worst record of 20-62 in 2007-1008, their penultimate season.
Most Notable Moments
The Sonics made it to the NBA Finals having won their conference championship on three occasions, 1978, 1979 and 1996. In 1978, they met the Washington Bullets with whom they battled to game 7, eventually losing 105-99 in front of their own fans. In 1979, they set up a revenge clash against the Bullets in the finals and scooped the title in game 5 which they won 97-93 in Washington. In the 1996 final, they were matched up against the might of Chicago Bulls led by Michael Jordan. After miraculously pushing to game 6, they were unsurprisingly beaten 87-75 as the Bulls claimed the title.
The 1970-1971 season was defined by the protracted tussle with Detroit Pistons for rookie forward Spencer Haywood. Having signed the player from ABA outfit Detroit Pistons, a ruling was passed that prohibited Haywood from playing for the Sonics until his ABA contract was voided. Haywood finally joined after a lengthy court battle and averaged 24.9 points per game over the following five seasons.
Seattle Supersonics’ Most Notable Players
Gary Payton played point guard for the Sonics from 1990 to 2003, in which period he set the franchise record for most minutes played (36,858), points (18,207), assists (7,384) and steals (2,107). His defensive prowess earned him the nickname “The Glove”. He was instrumental in the Sonics’ run to the NBA finals in 1996 averaging an impressive 19.3 points and 7.5 assists per game. Payton boasts a host of other accomplishments and has since been inducted to the NBA Hall of Fame.
Fred Brown played his entire 13 year career (1971-1984) for the Sonics helping them to the 1979 NBA championship win. He is second behind Payton in points scored (14,018) and third in assists (3160), minutes played (24,422) and steals (1,149).
Wilkens spent four seasons (1968-1972) with the Sonics, making it to the All-Star roster in three of those years. Between 1969 and 1972 as player-coach, he consistently improved the team’s performance. Upon his highly unpopular trade to Cleveland Cavaliers in 1972, the Sonics stumbled to a dismal 26-56 record the following season.
Other notable players include Jack Sikma, Rashard Lewis and Nate McMillan, who all played more than 20,000 minutes for Seattle.
What Happened to the Seattle Supersonics?
In 2006, the franchise, then owned by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was sold to a group from Oklahoma City headed by Clay Bennett. Amid protests by Sonics fans, the new owners expressed their desire to move the club due to the dire state of the Key Arena. Following the 2007-2008 season in which the Sonics posted their worst ever performance and an unsuccessful bid to acquire funding for the renovation of the Key Arena, the team was relocated to Oklahoma City and renamed Oklahoma City Thunder.
It was agreed that the “Supersonics” moniker and team colors would remain the property of the city of Seattle. Additionally, the new owners were to pay Seattle $45 million as settlement for the terminated lease of the Key arena which was to initially expire in 2010. An additional $30 million was to be paid if Seattle failed to acquire a new franchise by 2013. Plans for a new franchise in Seattle seem promising as various stakeholders including the NBA, the State of Washington and potential investors have expressed interest in supporting the franchise in their various capacities.