22 games into the 1977-78 season, the Sonics started 5-17. Because of this poor start, Seattle fired head coach Bob Hopkins to bring in Lenny Wilkens. Wilkens played for the Sonics from 1968-1972 where he was a player-coach. When he returned, the Sonics suddenly won eleven out of twelve. Seattle ended the season 47-35 for fourth in the Western Conference. The team was led by Jack Sikma, Gus Williams, a young Dennis Johnson and Paul Silas.
In the 1978 playoffs, the Sonics upset the defending champion Portland Trailblazers in six games though it’s worthy to note that Portland star Bill Walton suffered an injury during game 2 and missed the rest of the series. After another six-game series win over the Nuggets, the Sonics found themselves in its first NBA Finals.
The 1978 Finals was a classic back-and-forth between the Sonics and Washington Bullets. It was both teams’ first appearance in the Finals. In Game 1, the Bullets blew a 19-point 4th quarter lead on the road as the Sonics clawed their way to a 1-0 early lead. In a weird 1-2-2-1-1 scheduling format, the Bullets came back in game 2 in Maryland. Then the Sonics won a thriller in game 3, then the Bullets bounced back in game 4 (in front of 39,000 fans). This series was already a classic through four games.
Game 5 was another close game in Seattle and the Sonics won by four points thanks to Dennis Johnson’s 24 points, seven assists and Freddie Brown’s 26 point effort. The Bullets blew out Seattle in game 6 which lead to the two best words in sports: Game 7.
Game 7 was pretty anticlimactic until the end. The Bullets controlled the poise throughout the game and led by eleven with about two minutes remaining. The Sonics led a furious comeback in the final minutes, despite Dennis Johnson’s 0-14 night and Gus Williams 4-12 night. Marvin Webster and Jack Sikma picked up the slack but it wasn’t enough as the Bullets were crowned champions, 105-99. Until the 2016 Cavaliers, the Bullets were the last team to win a game 7 on the road in the Finals.
Fast-forward about a year later, when Seattle played the season with vengeance, earning a top seed and the Bullets trying to defend its title. Two first-seeded teams collided in the Finals, the same matchup as the year before. After a Bullets surprising game 1 victory in Seattle, it seemed all was lost. The fans lost confidence even though it was only a game, but the players were far from losing it. The Sonics eased wins in games two and three. After a two-point game four victory, the Sonics proved they were the better team and finished the job in game 5 on home court. Redemption from the season before, Dennis Johnson’s status as a star rose up beyond the Space Needle. Johnson secured the Finals MVP averaging around 21 points per game, four assists, six rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.5 blocks; yes, he’s a point guard. Here’s how the Sonics celebrated:
It wouldn’t be quite the same for the Sonics as they lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Magic and Kareem-led Lakers the next season. The Sonics would make it back to the Finals in 1996 but would lose to the 72-10 Bulls. Even though playing the best regular season team of all-time in the Finals seemed like a predetermined outcome, Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton led the Sonics to two straight wins in the 1996 NBA Finals (albeit facing elimination both times).
Ten years later, Howard Schultz sold the Sonics to Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett for $350 million. Bennett and his ownership group publicly claimed they would do their best to keep the Sonics in Seattle. At the end of the 2007 season, co-owner Aubrey McClendon tells an Oklahoma newspaper the group intends to move to OKC. That offseason, the Sonics landed into the #2 pick for a lanky, scoring machine in Kevin Durant. 2007-08 would end up being the final season for the Seattle Supersonics. Its last game was a 126-121 win over the Golden State Warriors.
Commissioner Adam Silver says NBA expansion is inevitable down the line. C.J. McCollum interviewed him for the Players Tribune.
The Sonics will be back, it’s only a matter of when. Jump on the bandwagon while you can.