|Win (%)||Play-offs||2nd Round||Conference Finals||NBA Finals||Titles|
It has been three years since Sonics moved from Seattle to Oklahoma and became Oklahoma City Thunder. Those of us that watched the Sonics during the 90s miss them and I believe that everyone would want the Sonics to return to Seattle. I am afraid that in ten years from now nobody will refer to the great Seattle team as it has happened in the past with other teams that have been re-allocated.
The 90s’ Sonics were a great team, an impressive one, I could easily say the most impressive team in the NBA. I cannot remember of anyone that didn’t like to watch the Sonics play. It was the combination of Payton and Kemp, the overall team presence (including their jerseys), their colours, the home-crowd, the arena and even the revolutionary city of Seattle, although most of us (kids that played basketball at the open courts of the Greek basketball-capital, Thessaloniki) never been there. No offence to Oklahoma City, but come on now, Thunder is not a basketball team’s name and what is it with those jerseys and the colours? They look like a set of pyjamas (although I really like the young team that Oklahoma is building, but it could have been Seattle’s team). Imagine the impact that the Sonics’ team had on us, because I wasn’t even a Sonics fan, but I knew a lot of them and if it weren’t for the Spurs I could easily be a Sonics fan.
1990 – 1992 Building the 90s team
1989-90 season was of great importance to that 90s’ Sonics team as they drafted a high-school boy that was going to change the future of the team, his name was Shawn Kemp. In 1990 Sonics recorded a 41-41 and did not qualify for the play-offs but Kemp’s athletic abilities were already recognized. Next year they made some moves, sent Dale Ellis to Milwaukee in exchange for Rickey Pierce, and McDaniel to Phoenix for Eddie Johnson, but their most important move was drafting the young point guard Gary Payton. The trades had an immediate positive effect on the team, even though the youngsters were not ready yet they made the play-offs (41-41 again in regular season) where they battled against a great Blazers team and fell after 5 games (3-2). In 1991-92 season they made another key decision by hiring George Karl as their head coach. Sonics played beyond 50% (47-35) in the regular season and qualified sixth in the West for the play-offs. They faced Mullin’s and Hardaway’s Golden State Warriors and they eliminated them in four games (3-1), while Shawn Kemp averaged 22ppg. and 16.3rpg., but in the 2nd round things were not that easy as they played against the powerful Jazz that defeated them in five games (4-1). This was the beginning of the 90s era for the Sonics.
1992-93 The first sign of success
In 1992-93 season the trades, the drafted players and the coaching came together and the Sonics had their first over 50-wins (55-27) season in the 90s. This record brought them in the 3rd position of the Western Conference Play-offs where they had to face the team that eliminated them last season and it was definitely a strong team. The Supersonics had already become a team that was a joy to watch as Payton’s and Kemp’s cooperation was maturing and the results were at least impressive. However, the Sonics got almost eliminated in the first round as they were behind 2-1 and they had to play the fourth game of the series at Utah. The Sonics found the courage and with some great performances from their veterans (Eddie Johnson and Nate McMillan) were able to win both of the remaining games and qualify (3-2) for the next round. In the second round, the Sonics had to play against the Houston Rockets (almost the same team that won the championship next year). The series was tough like a dogfight; 1-0 for the Sonics, 2-0 Sonics, 2-1 Sonics, 2-2 series tied, 3-2 Sonics, 3-3 series tied and finally after a heart-breaking game the Sonics beat the Rockets 103-100 and eliminated them 4-3, but I have to mention that there were a few calls that Rockets’ fans remember even now. Anyhow, the Sonics qualified for the Western Conference Finals where the best team of the regular season (Phoenix Suns 62-20) was waiting, after eliminating the Spurs (4-2). A great match-up, Barkley versus Kemp and two high-scoring and offensively orientated teams against each other. Those western finals were so good, either team could have won, but in the end it was the Suns that prevailed (4-3). It was again a great battle with both teams coming at each other throughout the series, but Charles Barkley saved the best for the last and came up big on the seventh game of the series (44 points and 24 rebounds) to give his Suns the so-wanted win and qualification to the NBA Finals.
1994 – 1995 Disappointment and making history
How disappointment and making history can be in the same sentence? Of course they can be you don’t only make history by winning or by doing acts of heroism, you can be a negative protagonist of the history and Seattle Supersonics were exactly that in the next two seasons of the 90s. Detlef Schrempf and Kendall Gill came to the team as Derrick McKey and Rickey Pierce were traded and the team became even stronger. They demonstrated their abilities throughout the regular season and finish with an NBA best 63-19 record. The expectations were great, last year they came one win shy of the NBA Finals and now they entered the Play-offs with the best record. The 1994 play-offs started in the same fashion as the regular season ended for the Sonics. 2-0 lead over the 8th seeded Denver Nuggets, but Dikembe Mutombo and his company hadn’t said their last word. They managed to turn the series around and finally beat the Sonics (3-2) in a dramatic game 5 in front of their crowd. This was the first time that a number 8 seed eliminated a number 1.
In 1994-95 season the Sonics tried to get over last year’s humiliation and did fine by recording a 57-25 record in the regular season. They entered the play-offs fourth in the west and played against a young and not that strong Lakers team. They were the definite favourites, but they managed to lose 3-1 after winning the first game of the series by a 25 point margin. The Seattle Supersonics in the second round of the play-offs was becoming an anecdote within the NBA’s cycles.
New arena (Key Arena) for the Sonics meant a new beginning. Hersey Hawkins joined the team in a trade that sent Kendall Gill to Charlotte. The fans were cold because of the way the last two seasons ended. Everybody around the world had gone mad with the second coming of the chosen one (MJ) and the basketball version of the ‘Beatles’ (Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Kukoc), so nobody was paying attention to the western side of the US territory. It was the perfect moment for a full-out attack. The Sonics played the usual good and spectacular basketball during the regular season. They recorded a second NBA best record with 64-18 that season (Bulls recorded all-time best 72-10) and they were first in the West. But that was not something new, nobody had forgotten 1994 Play-offs. This time everybody was doubting, many were betting against the Sonics in the 1st round and in favour of the Sacrament Kings (8th in the West). Sonics won the first game, okay everybody had seen that before, and then they lost the second game in Seattle. That was it everyone was sure now that the Sonics were going to be eliminated again. Sonics’ players thought otherwise and defeated the Kings in the next two games at Sacramento (3-1). In the second round the Sonics were Super indeed, as they swept (4-0) the Champs (Rockets) and qualified, for the second time in the 90s, to the Western Conference Finals. The finals of the West were no easy task the Utah team was a well-prepared team and eager to win a championship. The Sonics finally showed the world what they were made of and beat the Jazz in a really tough series 4-3. Seattle was celebrating the fans around the world expecting a great series between the two best teams of the regular season. It was not like that though, as the ‘Beatles’, sorry the Bulls took an early 3-0 lead in the series and the rest were just a typical procedure. Sonics tried and won the two following games at their arena but that was all the Bulls celebrated their fourth title in front of their home-crowd (4-2).
1997 – 1999 The end of the 90s era
Seattle had finally been recognized as a top team after their great performance in 1996 play-offs. They had another good regular season (1996-97) and finished 2nd in West (57-25). In the first round of the play-offs they faced the new Barkley-less Phoenix team and won the series after 5 games (3-2). In the second round Sonics played against the Rockets, that had their own big three (Olajuwon, Barkley, Drexler) and after a bad start in the series they found themselves trailing 3-1. Sonics found the strength and courage to tie the series to 3-3 but after a tough game 7 they finally lost and got eliminated (4-3). In that same season the Sonics management made a great mistake by acquiring the ex-Bullets’ center Jim McIlvaine in order to have another big man that could help Shawn Kemp, they paid big money for a player that haven’t proved his worth and that created some internal problems to the team as other players that had helped the team wanted to be compensated. One of them was Shawn Kemp. So, at the beginning of 1997-98 season Shawn Kemp asked for a new bigger contract and he demanded the money of a superstar, as it was expected. The management of the team didn’t agree and Kemp demanded a trade. The trade took place and Kemp headed to the East (Cavaliers) as the Sonics landed Vin Baker from the Bucks in a three-team deal. In my view this was the beginning of the end for the whole Sonics organization. Baker was a good and young player and had an immediate impact on the team, the fans loved him and with a great scoring season from Gary Payton the Sonics had another over-60wins season (61-21) and finished second in the West behind Utah. They beat the young Timberwolves in the first round (3-2) and played against another young team with a lot of potential (Lakers) in the second round. L.A. proved to be an obstacle for the Sonics that couldn’t be overcomed, as Shaq and his company prevailed in five games (4-1). After the elimination George Karl announced that he wants to walk away from the team and this is what happened as he left to join the Bucks. The retirement of Nate McMillan was one more sign of the end of an era for the Sonics. The next season (1998-99) was a disaster as the Seattle team didn’t qualify for the play-offs (25-25) and this how the end of this great team has started the next decade Seattle was a mediocre team because of the many mistakes of the owners, the state and the management of the team that finally led to a re-allocation in Oklahoma at 2008.
All-90s Supersonics Team