Thursday, June 25, 2009

Best SuperSonics of all time

Pearl Jam made a crowd wait as they watched the end of a Sonics game in the 1996 Finals backstage before a show. And as I look back at the Sonics I think about the history of and people around the Sonics. Once I sat next to Eddie Vedder at a Howard Zinn talk, Zinn said he is not one of those historians that gets lost in the library. He meant that history is not all academic and statistics and that is what this piece is about: a people's history of the Sonics embeded in a top ten list. The first year they were gone, the 08'-09' season, I named my fantasy team Sonicsless in Seattle. Obviously what's done is done, but for die hard Sonics fans, we are grappling with being out of the mix. If you are like me and grew up dribbling a basketball everywhere you went -- well I am talking to you. Even if you are not a Sonics fan, you hate to see the tradition cut off. We support classic uniforms and logo preservation. We are sucker's for nostalgia and fans of tradition. We got the love. The love is shooting hoops until the sun goes down. The love is playing after dark by the light of a street lamp. The love is for the game. That is how a franchise can become something more than corporate. More than a product. More than pro. Here are some quick graphs about the team I remember as if they are still here. This is not a list of Sonics in an academic or statistical sense, just my memories and a few I ripped off from other crazed Sonics fanatics. Here are my top ten Sonics.

Last winter, I was at The Duchess (a Seattle institution) with a couple friends, I looked up from my beer and there he was -- "The Reign Man." It was a quiet night, he was with a few friends. He looked good, like he could still get up and throw it down. As I sat there, a voice flashed through my head. Nobody can do the voodoo like you do. It was former voice of the Sonics, Kevin Calabro's, trademark description of Kemp acrobatics. Kemp was the most powerful game-time dunker I have ever seen. The fact that he couldn't replicate his greatness in the dunk competition added to his legend. He had to be in the he heat of battle to communicate with the basketball Gods. The last time I saw Kemp in a Sonics uni, I was at a Beastie Boys concert in 2004 at Key Arena. Mike D, MCA and Ad-rock wore green and gold Adidas track suits. A gigantic flat screen repeated Kemp dunks in slow motion. Shawn was known for playing pick up ball at the Belltown and Greenlake outdoor court's. Last summer, Kemp talked about the Sonics move on KJR-AM and said, "back in the day no one expected a new arena if they were losing."

In 1999, Charles Barkley called him, "the best player on the planet." In 1996, Payton and the Sonics lost the Finals to Jordan and the Bulls. The Supe's never had a chance due to the goofy new logo and awful brick colored uniforms they wore. Ten years later, in 2006, "The Glove" got his ring -- with the Heat. Although, geographically Miami is about as far from Seattle as one can get within the mainland borders of the country, a picture of Gary Payton hugging the trophy was above the fold in Seattle's oldest newspaper. The biggest GP fan I know, Pistol Peach Cobbler, framed the front page of the Seattle Post - Intelligencer the morning after. Even though, Gary didn't win a championship with us, he will always be a Sonic. At last year's Save Our Sonics rally in front of the Federal Court House, Payton said he would retire his number in Seattle -- no matter what.

I grew up with a kid whose family rented a mother in law apartment to Schrempf when he was at the University of Washington. He led the Husky team that won a co - Pac-10 title in 1985. "Det" played at the Montlake community center courts. Once in 7th grade, after school I walked out with a basketball ready to play on my home court to find a bunch of my class mates crowding around Detlef. He was there to do an Adidas commercial. I remember how impressively maintained his mullet was. It was shorter than most mullets. It was sort of an elegant mullet. I never really paid attention to him when he was an Indiana Pacer, but once he came to the Sonics, it was obvious how valuable he was. Many times he carried the bulk of the load on an off night for Kemp or Payton. He was consistent. It was painful to cut Nate McMillan officially off this list, so I must give him a piece of Det's real estate. I am sure Det won't mind. McMillan never scored a lot and didn't play a ton of minutes. But Magic Johnson said Nate McMillan was the toughest one-on-one defender he ever faced. Nate was Mr. Sonic and in a weird way -- still is. I don't know how that is possible since he coaches the Portland Trailblazers, but that is the feeling. The Sonics started to disintegrate when "Mac-10" left.

My friend Cod grew up going to the Pro Club on the Eastside. He saw "X-Man" there a few times. Once someone threw X a can of soda and when he caught it -- the can looked the size of a golf ball. It's ironic, I had the brew she had the chronic. The Lakers beat the Supersonics. -- lyrics from Ice Cube's song "Good Day." The Lakers beat the Sonics a lot in the 80's. But we had good teams too, just not as good. My dad and I went to game three of the Western Conference Finals in 1987 (May 23: Sat, Lakers 122 @ Seattle 121). We had good seats that night, a few rows back at half court. I clearly saw McDaniel shoot and make a three in the last moments of the game, but the refs did not count it -- it was ruled after the buzzer. Instead of losing by one, we would have won by two. My dad and I walked out of the Coliseum and talked about the last shot, we were certain X-Man got it off in time. Even though we lost, there was a confident certainty we settled into -- that X had prevailed no matter what the official outcome was. I had a six foot X-Man poster in my bedroom when I was a kid.

He won the All - Star game MVP in 1987, was in the dunk competition that year, and a dunk comp. judge this year. Chambers always looked like he had two black eyes. Maybe he was a vampire. All those late nights, big black circles around his eyes. I don't know, he coulda just always had a bit of a broken nose. Banging around catching elbows from Mark Eaton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Chambers was a great scorer with no defense. A big part of me wanted to give this part of the list to Dale Ellis, but Ellis wasn't here long enough to be considered a classic Sonic. Ellis scored a ton from behind the the arc. We called him "D3." He averaged 27.5 points a game in the 88'-89' season. Ellis got a DUI getting off the 520 Lake Washington Blvd. exit and I guess due to that -- ended up leaving the team on bad terms.

Growing up, I heard many stories about "Downtown" Freddie Brown and how many deep bombs he made. Nobody knows the number he drained. He played without the benefit of the three-point line. He led The League in three-point shooting percentage in the 79'-80' season -- the first season the line was adopted. Brown retired in 1984, so he only had a few years at the end of his career to be counted in the books. Of course guys didn't loft them up at the same rate as today. Brown was on the forefront to save the Sonics. His group was trying to build an arena in Renton. Renton is a little south of Seattle and the community would have supported the team there. That is my belief. The geography between Tacoma and Seattle is where the bulk of NBA talent has come from in the area. Doug Christie, Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson all went to Rainier Beach High School which is at the southern tip of Seattle. Jason Terry went to Franklin, Brandon Roy is a Garfield High guy and those are central to south end schools. It is important to know where the community support lies. Our best talent grew up watching the Sonics -- no doubt.

A poster of Gus Williams and DJ still hangs in a friend's basement 30 years after the championship they quarterbacked. said that most late-seventies Sonics games came down to, seven seconds left, Gus Williams with the ball -- he would sink the winning shot in traffic or at the free-throw line. Willams' nickname was "The Wizard" and Johnson's was "DJ." DJ was the Finals MVP in 79'. My knowledge wanes with the players from the championship team. I was born in 1980, so I can't rely on my own memories for this stuff, so I consulted with some tribal elders for further info. DJ was only here a few years and became a prima donna after the 79' season. When DJ hit a game winning shot, one local newspaper writer said, "Its too bad and A-Hole had to take it." I know in later years DJ was a beloved Celtic and Larry Bird said, "he was the best he ever played with." DJ was from the same place as N.W.A., Compton, CA.

Sikma was the guy with a tight white guy jerry curl. He had great numbers and a turn around fadeaway soft touch in the paint jumper a la Patrick Ewing (who later became a Sonic, which is kinda weird to think about -- he was a shell of his former self). On a side note I wanted to name myself Patrick after Patrick Ewing, but my dad said that would be too many ck's and years later I was grateful for his advice because I don't think Paddy Wacker would have worked out too well. Sikma was that second tier center that is so crucial for a team like the 79' Supe's that had the great guard play of Downtown, DJ and The Wizard. I think of Sikma as a Zyrdrunas Ilgauskus type for Cleveland -- and he is quite valuable to the Cavs. I think Lebron would confirm that if asked.

In 1971, Haywood v. N.B.A. broke down the barrier that said, you have to have four years of college to join The League. Early entry is not even given a second thought these days. When Kevin Garnett won the MVP in 2004 he said, "I would like to thank Spencer Haywood." In an interview with The Starting Five blog, Haywood said he almost fell out of his chair when KG gave him props. If you google Haywood, most articles are about his problems and persecution. He is one of those guys that became more known for controversy surrounding him off the court that what he did on it. What he did on it was nothing short of remarkable. He probably had the best statistical individual season in the history of the SuperSonics. Haywood averaged 29 points and 13 rebounds a game in the 72' - 73' season.

He has been here for the highest high's and the lowest low's. From championship to jumping ship, it has been a long strange trip for Wilkins. He was a player, then a player-coach and then went on to coach the team that won Seattle's only professional championship. It must have been weird when he became Vice President of the franchise under new owner Clayton Bennett. It just dawned on me, as I am flushing out the the Sonic memory banks, I wonder if Bennett named the new team in Oklahoma City after "Thunder" Dan Majerle? In the 90's Majerle was a Sonic killer, with his ridiculously frequent half-court bombs. He was a long range weapon in the Sonics' Suns' wars of the 90's. If "Thunder" Dan is who the Thunder are named after, I have to give Bennett credit. That would take some sinister smarts and conniving creativity to come up with that. A rumor has been surging that Clay Bennett will get our championship banners rehung in OKC. I heard a group of fans are ready to go in, to Key Arena, pose as painters and take them down, so they don't go to OKC. They couldn't bear giving our history away. Those banners are all we have left.

Here is some cultural heritage for you. The morning the Sonics left, I ran into Sonic historian, Rod Guevara, at the Sonics team shop. We were both milling around licking our wounds. I was looking at some Supe's socks, but was not going to buy them because the line was too long. Rod balked at getting anything, said he was thinking about it. He ended up bringing home armloads of stuff. Rod sent me six pairs of socks. Men in Rod's family have called each other every year on the anniversary of the 79' championship. They play pieces of the broadcast to each other over the phone. That was their tradition. I was recently at Rod's birthday party and he was wearing Sonics shirt that had big black letters over the logo that said, M.I.A. I drove by Key Arena after the party. The comedy club closed across the street, it was boarded up and covered in amateur graffiti art. It looked like a ghost town. Of course the economy is bad, but the businesses around the Key depended on the Sonics. A lot of fans that have sworn off the NBA are just a little more hurt than me. I still watch because I like the dynamics of different teams, their players' style, coaching philosophy, and geographical attitude. I watch from the outside looking in.

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