STH News - Sonics History

A Look Back at the Seattle Supersonics

Can you hear that? If you listen closely, you can hear thousands of teeth grinding all the way over in Seattle. As expected, the Oklahoma City Thunder are proving their worth in the NBA 2023/24, and this is always a sore subject for Seattle basketball fans. 

It wasn’t too long ago that the Oklahoma City Thunder were playing as the Seattle Supersonics – the pride of Seattle for forty-one years between 1967 and 2008 –. While Seattle has the Redhawks in the NCAA, there must be a bit of resentment whenever they see the Thunders doing well in the NBA.

The Seattle Supersonics

There are plenty of iconic NBA history moments, but one of the most substantial has to be the relocation of the Seattle Supersonics – when they left the windy streets of Seattle for the Oklahoma sunshine in 2008. Their story started in the 1960s when Los Angeles business tycoons Sam Schulman and Eugene V Klein were awarded an NBA franchise for Seattle. Having had success with the AFL side, San Diego Chargers, Schulman believed it was time to honor Seattle with its basketball team, named after the city’s famous ties to aviation. 

They began playing in October 1967, kicking off their campaign with a 144-116 loss against the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco. Unperturbed, they returned to seal a win against the San Diego Rockets just over a week later, clinching the victory in overtime with a score of 117-110. Finishing the season with a 23-59 record, the Supersonics well and truly earned their place in the NBA history books. 

The Arrival of a Supersonic Superstar

It wasn’t until Lenny Wilkens joined, however, that people started to take notice. With the all-rounder guard Walt Hazzard carrying the Supersonics through much of their first season, it didn’t take long for him to be snapped up by one of the more established NBA teams, Atlanta Hawks, who he was traded to before the 1968/69 season started. In place of Hazzard, Supersonics was awarded Lenny Wilkens, which became one of the best trade deals of the club. 

Wilkens was an immediate superstar, bringing a brave, all-rounded game to the Supersonics in a season that saw him averaging 22.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 8.2 assists per game. He was liked so much that he even replaced manager Bianchi during the off-season, serving the team as a player and a coach.

Success and Decline

When Wilkens left the team in 1974, he left them in a much better place than he found them, although that wasn’t immediately evident. After leaving, the Supersonics fell to a 26-56 record, leading to many fans calling for his return. However, they needn’t have worried because the rest of the decade was a complete success. In the following season, they got to the playoffs for the first time, and toward the end of the decade, they even snatched their first-and-only NBA title against the Washington Bullets. 

This was to be their crowning achievement as, throughout the 80s and 90s, they went through a period of decline. While the team of 1995/96 looked to take them out of that decline – for two seasons, Seattle was a Western Conference powerhouse, with players like Detlef Schrempf, Sam Perkins, and Hersey Hawkins taking the team to the 1996 NBA finals – things were not great behind the scene. 

Management was finding it hard to attain public funding to construct a new arena in the Seattle area, and the NBA had a definitive notion that they should be relocated to Oklahoma. They eventually did, offering a $45 million settlement with the city of Seattle to cover their lease at the KeyArena. The rest, as they say, is history. But that’s a bit of history before the history – when Oklahoma City Thunder were the shining lights of an entirely different city.


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