THIS DAY IN SPORTS: The height of hoops around Puget Sound

Presented by BACON BOISE.

This Day In Sports…June 1, 1979:

The Seattle Supersonics, led by Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma, Gus Williams, and Downtown Freddie Brown off the bench—and coached by the legendary Lenny Wilkens—beat Washington 97-93 to win the NBA Finals in five games. The Bullets were coached by Dick Motta, the pride of Fish Haven, Idaho, who guided Grace High School to the 1959 Idaho Class AA championship. It was the only NBA championship for Seattle, which watched the Sonics become the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008.

When Wilkens became Seattle’s head coach 22 games into the 1977-78 campaign, a title became the Sonics’ destiny. They won 42 of their final 60 games that season under Wilkens and upset the defending champion Portland Trail Blazers in the playoffs on their way to their first berth in the NBA Finals. They lost that series to Washington in seven games. Seattle’s resolve sharpened the following season as it rolled to a Finals rematch against the Bullets.

The Sonics lost Game 1 of the 1979 finals 99-97 in Landover, MD, but they swept the next four games to secure the trophy. Williams was a scoring machine in the series and put up 23 points in the clinching Game 5, while Johnson added 21 on his way to NBA Finals MVP honors (for his defense as much as anything). Sikma, in his second NBA season, was coming into his own, and Brown provided thrills off the bench, draining deep balls from anywhere inside the city limits (one season before the three-pointer was introduced).

One of the hallmarks of the 1978-79 Sonics season was the team’s phenomenal fan support. Game 3 against the Bullets drew 35,928 fans in the Kingdome. The year before, attendance for Game 4 of the NBA Finals between the Sonics and Bullets was 39,457, at the time the largest crowd in NBA history. Those are a couple of factoids that made the Sonics’ departure for the Midwest 15 years ago all the more painful. Meanwhile, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has hinted at league expansion, and with the old Key Arena having been transformed into Climate Pledge Arena for the NHL’s Seattle Kraken, the city is well-positioned for a rebirth of the Sonics. Someday.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)


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