Seattle SuperSonics History
SONICS HISTORY
AT A GLANCE
NBA Title:
1979

Division Championships:
1978-79 (Pacific)
1993-94 (Pacific)
1995-96 (Pacific)
1996-97 (Pacific)
1997-98 (Pacific)
2004-05 (Northwest)

Playoff Appearances:
22

Retired Uniform Numbers:
(1) Gus Williams
(10) Nate McMillan
(19) Lenny Wilkens
(24) Spencer Haywood (32) Fred Brown
(43) Jack Sikma
(Microphone) Bob Blackburn

The city's first major professional sports team, the Seattle SuperSonics joined the NBA for the 1967-68 season and have reached the upper echelon of the league during two different decades. The Sonics first reached the top of the mountain in the late 1970s. They reached the NBA Finals in two straight seasons, winning the crown in 1978-79 with an efficient team of interchangeable players led by Jack Sikma, Fred Brown, Dennis Johnson, and Gus Williams and coached by the legendary Lenny Wilkens, one of just three men enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a coach and a player.

After an up-and-down decade of the 1980s, Seattle was resurgent in the 1990s. Once again the team featured an unconventional lineup, a deep rotation, and an innovative array of defensive schemes. The stars of these Sonics - power forward Shawn Kemp, one of the most creative slam dunkers of his era, and brash point guard Gary Payton - reflected the personality of their coach, the volatile and imaginative George Karl.

Following Karl's departure, the Sonics managed to rebuild without falling to the depths of the NBA, a process that culminated in their winning the first-ever Northwest Division Championship after the NBA realigned for the 2004-05 season.

One of the NBA's most successful franchises all-time, the Sonics have finished .500 or better 25 times in 38 seasons, including 15 straight years from 1987-88 through 2001-02. 2004-05 was the franchise's sixth division title after winning the Pacific Division five times, and the Sonics boast the longest active streak of having a player in the All-Star Game dating back to 1993.

For a more detailed recap, click on the season/era, or read from start to finish for the complete story of Sonics history.

SeasonWL
%
2005-063547.427
2004-055230.634
2003-043745.451
2002-034042.488
2001-024537.549
2000-014438.536
1999-004537.549
1998-992525.500
1997-986121.744
1996-975725.695
1995-966418.780
1994-955725.695
1993-946319.768
1992-935527.671
1991-924735.573
1990-914141.500
1989-904141.500
1988-894735.573
1987-884438.537
1986-873943.476
1985-863151.378
1984-853151.378
1983-844240.512
1982-834834.585
1981-825230.634
1980-813448.415
1979-805626.683
1978-795230.634
1977-784735.573
1976-774042.488
1975-764339.524
1974-754339.524
1973-743646.439
1972-732656.317
1971-724735.573
1970-713844.463
1969-703646.439
1968-693052.366
1967-682359.280


1967-69: Seattle Sings The Expansion Blues
1969-71: The Golden Rule
1971-73: ABA Superstar Haywood Joins Sonics
1973-74: Players Respond Well To Bill Russell
1974-77: Finally! Seattle Makes The Playoffs
1977-80: Back-To-Back Finals
1980-81: Changing Times
1981-83: "The Wizard" Returns
1983-85: Ackerley Purchases Team
1985-86: Wilkens Era Comes To An End
1986-88: Seattle's "Big Three" Make NBA History
1988-90: Chambers Leaves, But Ellis Steps Up His Game
1990-91: K. C. Can't Repeat Celtics Magic
1991-92: By George! Karl Engineers Turnaround
1992-93: One Win Away From The Finals
1993-94: Sonics Cruise In Regular Season, Fall Short In Playoffs
1994-95: Deja Vu
1995-96: Sonics Shed Monkey, But Can't Stop Bulls
1996-97: Sonics Stay Super But No Finals Return
1997-98: Sonics Reload, Recapture Pacific
1998-99: Home for the Postseason
1999-00: Return to the Playoffs
2000-01: A Season of Change
2001-02: Exceeding Expectations
2002-03: Payton's Place Becomes Allentown
2003-04: Injuries Slow Sonics
2004-05: Inaugural Northwest Division Champs

1967-69: Seattle Sings The Expansion Blues

Seattle was awarded an NBA franchise on December 20, 1966, and the club began play in 1967-68 along with the San Diego Rockets (who soon moved to Houston). Seattle won a draft-order coin toss and selected 6-8 Al Tucker of Oklahoma Baptist at No. 6 in the 1967 NBA Draft. Tucker lasted only a season and a half with the Sonics. San Diego took Kentucky's Pat Riley with the seventh overall pick.

In the Expansion Draft, Seattle picked up Tom Meschery, Walt Hazzard, Bob Weiss, and Rod Thorn. The fledgling club hired Al Bianchi to serve as its first head coach. Bianchi had logged a 10-year playing career as a reserve guard with the NBA's Syracuse Nationals and Philadelphia 76ers before retiring in 1966.

Seattle's first NBA season ended at 23-59, second worst in the league to San Diego's 15-67 mark. The Sonics lost their first game, 144-116, to San Francisco. They finally got a win in their third game against fellow expansion team San Diego. After that first victory, the Sonics lost 12 of their next 13 contests. In other words, it was a typical expansion season.

Defensively, the team had some rough outings. On December 20 Philadelphia riddled the Sonics for 160 points, the highest opponent total in franchise history. Seattle yielded 150 or more points on four other occasions, and opponents averaged 125.1 points per game for the season. The Sonics' biggest offensive night was on February 11, when they beat San Francisco, 146-118. For the season, Seattle averaged 118.7 points per game.

Walt Hazzard, a 6-2 guard, made the West All-Star Team. He finished the season ranked seventh in the NBA in scoring (23.9 ppg) and fifth in assists (6.2 apg). Rookie Bob Rule, a 6-9, 220-pound second-round pick, added 18.1 points per game, good for 19th in the league. Rule also had the Sonics' best scoring performance of the season when he poured in 47 points in a November 21 win over the Lakers. Rule and Al Tucker made the NBA All-Rookie Team.

With Bianchi retaining the head coaching job for a second year, the 1968-69 Sonics inched up seven games to finish at 30-52. The club had a few stretches when it was playing superb, winning basketball, but like any other young team it had neither the talent nor the depth to maintain much positive momentum. Near the end of November, Seattle put together a five-game winning streak and took seven of eight games. But immediately thereafter the Sonics went into a steep decline, dropping 10 in a row - the second-longest losing streak in team history - en route to a 2-18 skid.

Before the season began, the Sonics made the biggest trade in their brief history when they dealt Walt Hazzard to the St. Louis Hawks for Lenny Wilkens. A smooth 6-1 point guard, Wilkens was an All-Star in his first season in Seattle, finishing ninth in the league in scoring (22.4 ppg) and second in assists (8.2 apg). Second-year man Bob Rule emerged as a team leader and solid contributor, averaging 24.0 points and 11.5 rebounds. He ranked fourth in the NBA in scoring. Art Harris scored 12.4 points per game and made the NBA All-Rookie Team.

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1969-71: The Golden Rule

Lenny Wilkens was named player-coach of the Sonics for 1969-70 and the team improved to 36-46. Seattle finished fifth in the Western Division, 12 games behind the first-place Atlanta Hawks. The Sonics got off to a rough start, losing their first six games and going 5-15 through their first 20. But the club hung tough through the middle of the year, then closed with a 17-12 run that began in late January.

Coach Wilkens's most dependable performer was player Wilkens, who led the league in assists (9.1 apg) and scored 17.8 points per game. Bob Rule averaged 24.6 points per game, seventh in the NBA, and pulled down 10.3 rebounds per contest. He set a new team high when he scored 49 points against Philadelphia on November 15. Wilkens and Rule, both of whom played in the All-Star Game, got solid support from veterans Bob Boozer (15.2 ppg), Dick Snyder (13.6), and Tom Meschery (12.3).

In 1970-71 the Seattle continued to take baby steps in the right direction, improving two games to 38-44. Since Wilkens was doing such an admirable job as player-coach, the front office made Meschery player-assistant coach. The Sonics were hard to handle at home, posting a 27-13 record. They were a high-scoring unit, averaging 115.0 points per game. But the Sonics suffered a crushing blow in their fourth game of the season when leading scorer Rule went down with a torn Achilles tendon on October 23 against Portland, thereby ending his season. Although he played four more years in the NBA, Rule would never regain his All-Star form.

Wilkens played in his third straight All-Star Game as a Sonic and earned the game's MVP honors by scoring 21 points. For the season, he averaged 19.8 points and 9.2 assists, finishing second in the NBA in assists to Cincinnati's Norm Van Lier. Snyder added 19.4 points per game and finished fifth in the league in both field-goal percentage (.531) and free-throw percentage (.837).

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1971-73: ABA Superstar Haywood Joins Sonics

The biggest news of 1970-71 in Seattle - and in the NBA - involved the Sonics' December 30 signing of ABA superstar Spencer Haywood. The 6-9 Haywood had left the University of Detroit in 1969 after his sophomore season to sign with the ABA's Denver Rockets. NBA rules prohibited a team from signing a player until his class had graduated, which made Haywood off-limits until after the 1971-72 season. But the Sonics challenged the NBA's rule, and after a series of lawsuits, negotiations, and settlements, Haywood was allowed to play. The landmark case paved the way for all future college players who would enter the NBA as underclassmen. Back on the basketball court, Haywood played 33 games for the Sonics and scored 20.6 points per game.

Seattle's sub-.500 finish gave the team the sixth overall pick in the 1971 NBA Draft, and the Sonics selected Iowa guard Fred Brown.

The 1971-72 Sonics posted the first winning season in franchise history, at 47-35, and finished in third place in the Pacific Division, a distant 22 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers. Lenny Wilkens was still coaching and playing. The team's assistant coach for the season was Rod Thorn. Two decades later Thorn would serve as vice president of operations for the NBA.

Seattle got off to a decent start and on January 1 stood at 22-18. The new year invigorated the Sonics, who went on a 7-1 tear. In February they caught fire again, posting a 12-1 mark between February 8 and March 3. Seattle seemed to be on its way to an outstanding season, but the club lost eight of its last nine games.

Haywood made the All-NBA First Team, started in the All-Star Game, and finished fourth in the league in scoring with 26.2 points per game. He also hauled in 12.7 rebounds per contest and scored a season-high 48 points on January 7 against Cleveland. Wilkens added 18.0 points per game and finished second in the NBA in assists, averaging 9.6 per game. Sharp-shooting Dick Snyder averaged 16.6 points and shot .529 from the field, the fourth-best field-goal average in the league.

After that solid season Seattle had high hopes. However, the team unraveled in 1972-73, finally landing with a thud at 26-56. Player-Coach Wilkens had gone to Cleveland in a trade for Butch Beard. Owner Sam Schulman forced Wilkens to choose between playing and coaching, and after he chose to play, Schulman feared Wilkens would not be loyal to his replacement. Wilkens's absence was felt both on the floor and on the bench, as Seattle shuffled through two coaches, Tom Nissalke and Bucky Buckwalter, during the year.

The Sonics' lone bright spot was Haywood. He started in the All-Star Game and, for the second year in a row, was voted to the All-NBA First Team. He finished third in the league in scoring (29.2 ppg) - the top mark in Sonics history - and tenth in rebounding (12.9 rpg). Haywood tallied a club-record 51 points in a 107-101 victory over Kansas City-Omaha on January 3 and pulled down 25 rebounds on March 25 against Los Angeles.

Newcomer Jim Fox, a 6-10, 230-pound banger out of South Carolina, ranked fifth in the NBA with a .515 field-goal percentage, while Snyder finished seventh in free-throw shooting (.861). Second-year guard Brown showed promise, scoring 13.5 points per game.

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1973-74: Players Respond Well To Bill Russell

In 1973-74, Seattle sprang another surprise on the league when it signed the legendary Bill Russell as coach and general manager. Russell, whose NBA career spanned 13 years and 11 championships with the Boston Celtics, had been a player-coach at Boston for three seasons.

The players responded well to Russell, and the team improved by 10 wins to 36-46. The Sonics finished third in the Pacific Division, 11 games behind the Lakers. The 1973-74 team boasted a couple of exceptional individual performances. On December 26, Jim Fox grabbed a club-record 30 rebounds against the Lakers. Then, on March 23, Fred Brown went wild against the Golden State Warriors, setting a Sonics record by pouring in 58 points. Brown, whose long-range shooting prowess earned him the nickname "Downtown," eventually became the leading scorer in Seattle history for a time. In 1973-74 he averaged 16.5 points.

Spencer Haywood continued to rule the paint. The versatile forward finished ninth in the NBA in scoring (23.5 ppg), seventh in rebounding (13.4 rpg), and 11th in blocked shots (1.41 per game). Dick Snyder provided 18.1 points per game and ranked seventh in the league in free-throw percentage at .866.

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1974-77: Finally! Seattle Makes The Playoffs

The 1974-75 season marked a milestone for the franchise as the Sonics compiled a 43-39 record and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in their eight-year history. The team played .500 ball, or just below, for nearly the entire season, then closed out the regular season with a seven-game winning streak and carried that momentum into the playoffs. In a best-of-three First Round series against Detroit, the Sonics played like postseason veterans. They disposed of the Pistons in three games and advanced to face Golden State in the Western Conference Semifinals. The teams split the first four games before a Championship-bound Warriors squad won the next two contests to close out the series.

In addition to the team's accomplishments as a whole, several individual Sonics had impressive seasons in 1974-75. Spencer Haywood started in the NBA All-Star Game for the third time in four appearances and finished ninth in the NBA in scoring with 22.4 points per game. "Downtown" Freddie Brown added 21.0 points per game, good for 15th in the league, and was fifth in steals with 2.31 per contest. Slick Watts, a 6-1 guard who sported a shaved head and a headband, finished fourth in the NBA in steals (2.32 per game) and seventh in assists (6.1 apg). Rookie 7-2 center Tom Burleson ranked eighth in blocked shots (1.87 per game) and made the NBA All-Rookie Team.

Despite trading Haywood to New York for a first-round pick and cash, Seattle continued to play well in 1975-76, turning in a 43-39 season, good for second place in the Pacific Division behind Golden State. The Sonics were a rugged unit at home, fashioning a 31-10 mark in the shadow of the Space Needle. Seattle had an exciting, scrambling offense that produced 106.4 points per game, fifth best in the NBA. The Sonics advanced to the postseason for a second straight year but lost to the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Semifinals.

All-Star Brown finished fifth in the league in both scoring (23.1 ppg) and free-throw percentage (.869). Backcourt-mate Watts averaged 13.0 points and led the NBA in both assists (8.1 apg) and steals (3.18 per game), earning selection to the NBA All-Defensive First Team. Tom Burleson averaged 15.6 points and 1.83 blocks.

After two straight winning campaigns, the Sonics dipped to 40-42 in 1976-77. Seattle finished in fourth place in the Pacific Division, 13 games behind the Lakers. Brown led the squad in scoring with a modest 17.2 points per game, at the time the lowest team-leading mark in franchise history. Eight Sonics, including rookie guard Dennis Johnson, averaged better than 9.0 points per game.

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1977-80: Back-To-Back Finals

The club underwent major restructuring during the summer of 1977. Assistant Coach Bob Hopkins replaced Bill Russell as head coach for the 1977-78 campaign. New faces included veteran 6-7 rebounding specialist Paul Silas, 6-11 rookie Jack Sikma, 7-1 shot-blocker Marvin Webster, explosive 6-2 guard Gus Williams, and dependable 6-7 "point-forward" John Johnson. Fred Brown and Dennis Johnson were the key holdovers from the previous year.

Coach Hopkins lasted only 22 games. After the team got off to a 5-17 start, owner Sam Schulman brought back Lenny Wilkens, who had guided the Sonics for three earlier seasons as a player-coach and had served as the Sonics director of player personnel after being fired by the Portland Trail Blazers. Under Wilkens, who took over on November 30, the Sonics made a terrific run, posting a 42-18 record to close out the year. Seattle finished at 47-35 for third place in the Pacific Division. Then the real fun began.

Seattle upset Los Angeles, two games to one, in a best-of-three series to start the playoffs. The Sonics then dispatched Portland and Denver to reach the NBA Finals against the Washington Bullets and Wes Unseld. Like the Sonics, the Bullets had put together a modest regular season before gaining late-season momentum that catapulted them into the Finals. In the championship series, the teams traded victories through the first six games, but Washington prevailed, 105-99, in Game 7 to claim the title.

The Sonics' defense was the key to their success in 1977-78. They allowed opponents only 102.9 points per game, second-best in the NBA. Gus Williams finished second in the league in steals with 2.34 per game, and Marvin Webster ranked ninth in blocks with 1.98 per contest. Webster was also ninth in rebounding with a 12.6 average.

Six Seattle players posted double-figure scoring averages: Williams (18.1 ppg), Brown (16.6), Webster (14.0), Dennis Johnson (12.7), Sikma (10.7), and John Johnson (10.7). Sikma was named to the NBA All-Rookie Team at season's end.

The 1978-79 season was an epic campaign for Seattle, as Wilkens guided the Sonics to the NBA Championship. The club posted a 52-30 record, the first 50-win season in franchise history. The team also captured its first-ever Pacific Division title, finishing two games ahead of the Phoenix Suns.

Seattle started Williams and Dennis Johnson at guard, Sikma at center, and Lonnie Shelton and John Johnson at forward. Rebounding ace Silas and long-range threat Brown were the key reserves. Also on the bench was Wally Walker, who would later return to Seattle in a front-office capacity.

For the second straight season, six Sonics averaged in double figures, led by Williams's 19.2 points per game. The Sonics' stingy defense yielded a league-low 103.9 points per game. Dennis Johnson was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, and Williams finished the season ranked eighth in the league in steals with 2.08 per contest. Sikma was relentless on the boards and ranked fifth in the league in rebounding (12.4 rpg), while Brown was third in the NBA in free-throw percentage (.888). Dennis Johnson and Sikma played for the West All-Stars, who were coached by Wilkens.

Seattle defeated the Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals, then needed seven games to oust Phoenix in the conference finals. That set up a rematch of the previous season's NBA Finals with the Washington Bullets. After Washington took Game 1, Seattle won four straight to claim the title.

The NBA-champion Sonics featured no big-name superstars. Dennis Johnson would go on to greater fame with the Boston Celtics, and Sikma would become a perennial All-Star. But this year the Sonics were composed of small parts that added up to something big.

Seattle followed its championship season with a 56-26 record in 1979-80, including a 33-8 mark at home. The Sonics finished in second place in the Pacific Division behind a Los Angeles Lakers team that had been bolstered by the arrival of rookie Magic Johnson.

Seattle finished third in the NBA in defense, allowing only 103.8 points per game. Dennis Johnson scored 19.0 points per game and was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team for the second consecutive season. Other individual laurels went to Williams, who led the team in scoring (22.1 ppg), and to Sikma, who ranked fifth in the league in rebounding with 11.1 boards per game. For the second straight year Wilkens coached Sikma and Dennis Johnson in the NBA All-Star Game.

The 1979-80 season marked the advent of the 3-point shot in the NBA, and Brown capitalized on the new rule, hitting at a .443 clip on long-range attempts to become the league's first-ever 3-point percentage leader.

After a stellar regular season, the Sonics dumped Portland in the opening round of the 1980 NBA Playoffs. Seattle then needed all seven games to edge Midwest Division Champion Milwaukee in the Conference Semifinals, escaping with a 98-94 victory in Game 7 in Seattle. The Sonics met the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals and took Game 1 by the slimmest of margins, 108-107. But the Lakers swept the next four games, sending Seattle home for the summer.

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1980-81: Changing Times

The team chemistry that had been the catalyst for Seattle's success was scrambled in the 1980-81 season. The Sonics nose-dived to a 34-48 record, 22 games worse than the year before, coming to rest at the bottom of the Pacific Division.

Guard Gus Williams did not sign a contract and sat out the entire season, while backcourt-mate Dennis Johnson went to Phoenix in a trade for Paul Westphal. Steadying influence Paul Silas retired and became coach of the San Diego Clippers.

Jack Sikma was still around, and the All-Star center led the squad in scoring with 18.7 points per game. He also grabbed 10.4 rebounds per contest, fifth best in the NBA. Westphal, who missed the second half of the season because of injuries, added 16.7 points per game in 36 appearances and joined Sikma in the 1981 NBA All-Star Game. More modest contributions came from Fred Brown (15.5 ppg), James Bailey (14.0), Vinnie Johnson (13.0), and John Johnson (11.5).

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1981-83: "The Wizard" Returns

Gus Williams returned for the 1981-82 season and made an 18-game difference as the Sonics bounced back to 52-30, their third 50-win campaign in four years. Seattle was 11-8 on December 9 when they caught fire. During the next two months, they reeled off winning strings of six, eight, and seven games while compiling a 23-5 record. Williams, Jack Sikma, and Lonnie Shelton, who averaged 14.9 points, made up the Sonics delegation to the All-Star Game. Stellar play by Williams and Sikma helped the club to second place in the Pacific Division, five games behind the Los Angeles Lakers.

Seattle bumped Houston from the first round of the playoffs but was then blown off the court in five games by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Williams was selected to the All-NBA First Team at season's end. He finished seventh in the league in both scoring (23.4 ppg) and steals (2.15 per game). Sikma ranked second in rebounding (12.7 rpg) and 10th in free-throw percentage (.855). As usual, the Sonics were stingy on defense, finishing fifth in the league by allowing 103.1 points per game.

Seattle slipped a bit in 1982-83, finishing at 48-34 and in third place in the Pacific Division. The team started the season on a roll, winning its first 12 games to set what was at the time a club record. The Sonics stood at 23-7 on December 30 but then returned to reality with an eight-game losing streak. Sikma, Williams, and the newly-acquired David Thompson represented the Sonics at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game.

Williams (20.0 ppg), Sikma (18.2), and Thompson (15.9) led the team in scoring. Sikma grabbed 11.4 rebounds per game, good for fifth in the league, while Williams ranked sixth in assists (8.0 apg) and seventh in steals (2.28 per game).

The club sputtered until early March, then reignited for a 15-2 run. That boosted the Sonics into the playoffs, but two straight losses to Portland in a best-of-three first-round series made Seattle's postseason stay a short one.

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1983-85: Ackerley Purchases Team

The franchise changed hands before the 1983-84 season when Sam Schulman sold the team to Barry Ackerley. On the court, the year was unremarkable, as the club managed a 42-40 record, including a solid 32-9 mark at home. In the postseason Seattle made a first-round exit courtesy of the Dallas Mavericks.

At the top of the team's scoring charts were Jack Sikma (19.1 ppg), Gus Williams (18.7), and newcomer Tom Chambers (18.1), who had been acquired from the San Diego Clippers in a preseason trade. Sikma, an All-Star for the sixth time, finished sixth in the league in rebounding (11.1 rpg). Williams ranked seventh in assists (8.4 apg) and third in steals (2.36 per game).

At the end of the 1983-84 campaign Fred Brown retired after 13 seasons with the Sonics. He left as the team's career leader in games played (963), scoring (14,018 points), field goals (6,006), and steals (1,149). Brown had captained Seattle's 1978-79 NBA Championship team. His number 32 uniform was retired in 1986.

The 1984-85 version of the Sonics fell all the way to 31-51, the fewest wins the team had earned since 1972-73. For most of the season the squad was not as bad as their final record suggested. With three weeks left in the season, the Sonics stood at 30-39 and had a chance to finish with a respectable record. Instead they rolled over and went 1-12 the rest of the way.

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1985-86: Wilkens Era Comes To An End

Coach Lenny Wilkens was bumped up to the front office after the 1984-85 season. He would go on to coach Cleveland and then Atlanta, becoming the winningest coach in NBA history. He had directed the Sonics twice, first as player-coach when he led the team to its first winning season in 1971-72. In his second tour of duty he had taken the team to two NBA Finals, winning the title in 1978-79. Wilkens had compiled a 478-402 record as coach of the Sonics.

Bernie Bickerstaff replaced Wilkens as head coach for the 1985-86 campaign. The results were the same-a 31-51 record and a sideline view of the playoffs for the second consecutive year. But there were a few signs of hope.

The main cause for optimism was ferocious 6-7 rookie Xavier McDaniel, who had led the NCAA in both scoring and rebounding in his senior season at Wichita State. McDaniel scored 17.1 points per game for the Sonics, grabbed 655 boards, and was named to the NBA All-Rookie Team. Jack Sikma matched McDaniel's 17.1 scoring average, while Tom Chambers led the team with 18.5 points per game.

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1986-88: Seattle's "Big Three" Make NBA History

In 1986-87 Seattle put an entertaining team on the floor, scoring like crazy and unexpectedly running all the way to the Western Conference Finals. The Sonics had retooled during the off-season, sending long-time center Jack Sikma to Milwaukee for Alton Lister. That move signaled a change from a stolid half-court offense to a looser, up-tempo approach that featured pressure defense and a bombs-away attack.

When Sikma left the Sonics, he had accumulated more rebounds (7,729), blocked shots (705), and free throws made (3,044) than any player in team history. His number 43 jersey was raised to the Seattle Center Coliseum rafters in 1992.

The team had also acquired Dale Ellis from Dallas in exchange for Al Wood. Ellis, rescued from the purgatory of the Mavericks bench, turned out to be one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in NBA history. For the season, he led Seattle in scoring with 24.9 points per game and was named the NBA's Most Improved Player. Tom Chambers, the All-Star Game MVP, added 23.3 points per game, and Xavier McDaniel threw in 23.0 points per contest. It marked the first time in league history that a team had three players average 23 points or better, and all three ranked among the league's top 15 scorers.

McDaniel also hauled in 705 rebounds and finished second on the team in rebounds per game (8.6) to Lister (9.4). Lister ranked fifth in the NBA in blocked shots with 2.4 per game. Rookie Nate McMillan, the Sonics second-round pick also showed flashes of brilliance. On February 23, 1987, in a game against the Clippers, he set a franchise mark and tied the NBA rookie record by handing out 25 assists.

Despite finishing below .500 at 39-43, Seattle made the playoffs. The Sonics met the heavily favored Dallas Mavericks in the first round. After getting waxed in the first game, 151-129, the Sonics shocked the Mavericks and the world by running away with the next three contests. The Conference Semifinals matched Seattle with Houston, and that series went six games. The decisive contest was an epic struggle, as Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon made a Herculean effort, including 49 points and 25 rebounds, that nevertheless fell just short. The Sonics won Game 6, 128-125, in double overtime.

Seattle took its Cinderella story to Los Angeles for the Western Conference Finals, but the Lakers weren't playing along. They smashed the Sonics in four straight games.

In 1987-88 the Sonics continued to show gradual improvement, bumping their record up to 44-38. Once again the "Big Three" of Ellis (25.8 ppg), McDaniel (21.4), and Chambers (20.4) provided most of the scoring. Ellis had the season's biggest scoring night when he tallied 47 points against San Antonio on January 9, a single point better than the total Chambers had put up against Houston the night before. McDaniel represented the Sonics at the 1988 NBA All-Star Game.

McMillan finished sixth in the league in assists (8.6 apg) and eighth in steals (2.06 per game). Alabama product Derrick McKey, a 6-10 forward who possessed a host of subtle skills, was named to the NBA All-Rookie Team.

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1988-90: Chambers Leaves, But Ellis Steps Up His Game

The 1988-89 Sonics improved slightly, to 47-35, but had a somewhat different look. Figuring that there weren't enough basketballs to go around among Tom Chambers, Dale Ellis, and Xavier McDaniel, management let Chambers go to Phoenix via free agency and brought in rugged rebounding champ Michael Cage from the Los Angeles Clippers.

Seattle still had plenty of firepower, however. Ellis averaged 27.5 points per game, third in the NBA and second in team history to Spencer Haywood's 29.2 clip in 1972-73. Ellis scored 46 points on opening night against Utah and hit for 49 on January 5 against Sacramento en route to setting team single-season records for total points (2,253) and three-point field goals (162). Ellis also finished second in the NBA with a .478 3-point field-goal percentage, and he represented Seattle at the 1989 NBA All-Star Game.

McDaniel added 20.5 points per game, and second-year forward Derrick McKey chipped in 15.9 points per contest. Nate McMillan was developing into a solid player and finished fifth in the league in assists with 9.3 per game.

After a third-place finish in the Pacific Division, Seattle drew Houston in the first round of the 1989 NBA Playoffs. The Sonics bumped the Rockets, three games to one, then ran into the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Lakers made quick work of the series, winning in four straight.

In Bernie Bickerstaff's last year as head coach, the team dipped to 41-41 in 1989-90 and missed the playoffs. Ellis (23.5 ppg) and McDaniel (21.3) occupied their usual spots at the top of the Sonics' scoring charts, even though Ellis missed 27 games because of injuries suffered in a late January auto accident. Cage finished ninth in the NBA in rebounding, pulling down 10.0 boards per game.

On November 9 the Sonics tangled with Milwaukee in a seemingly endless five-overtime game. The contest finally went to the Bucks by a single point, 155-154; the Sonics' total matched their all-time high. In that game Ellis scored 53 points, the second-highest total in club history to Fred Brown's 58 in 1974. On April 20, Ellis set a team mark by making 9 3-pointers in a game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

The most intriguing player on the Sonics' roster was 6-10 rookie Shawn Kemp. He had never played a college game, and for this reason he was an unknown quantity. The handful of past players drafted straight out of high school had included Moses Malone, Bill Willoughby, and Darryl Dawkins. Kemp played few minutes but got into 81 games, averaging 6.5 points and 4.3 rebounds while blocking 70 shots.

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1990-91: K. C. Can't Repeat Celtics Magic

In 1990-91, K. C. Jones, who had coached the Boston Celtics to two championships in the 1980s (and had won eight as a player), was brought in to guide the Sonics. But Seattle remained mired in mediocrity, finishing at 41-41 and grabbing the last Western Conference playoff spot. On November 18 the Sonics, normally a high-scoring team, turned in the weakest offensive performance in franchise history, scoring only 65 points in a loss to the Clippers.

By midseason Seattle's front office had begun restructuring the squad. First, Xavier McDaniel was sent to the Phoenix Suns on December 7 in exchange for superb sixth man Eddie Johnson and a couple of draft picks. Next, Dale Ellis departed for Milwaukee on February 15 in a trade for Ricky Pierce, another scoring threat. Finally, on February 20, the Sonics sent young center Olden Polynice to the Los Angeles Clippers for big Benoit Benjamin.

Of the players who were on hand for the entire season, Derrick McKey (15.3 ppg) and Shawn Kemp (15.0) topped the team in scoring. Kemp also grabbed 8.4 rebounds per game and set the Sonics single-game record for blocked shots by snuffing 10 Lakers attempts on January 18. First-round draft pick Gary Payton, who had been Sports Illustrated's College Player of the Year at Oregon State, took over the point guard duties from Nate McMillan and led the team with 6.4 assists per game.

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1991-92: By George! Karl Engineers Turnaround

Seattle was still in transition during 1991-92, but the Sonics headed in a positive direction during the second half of the season. After a 7-3 start the team seemed to lose focus and, with their record at 18-18, Coach K. C. Jones was fired on January 15. On January 23 the Sonics hired George Karl, and the team immediately began to heat up, playing 27-15 ball the rest of the way. Their 47-35 regular-season record was good for fourth in the Pacific Division.

Karl was an interesting character. After playing five years with the San Antonio Spurs in the mid-1970s he had embarked on a coaching career that included two-year stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. In each case the teams improved, but Karl began to acquire a reputation as an "egotistical genius." Cut loose from the NBA, he coached Albany of the Continental Basketball Association (his 1990-91 team was 50-6) and then Real Madrid in Europe. That's where Seattle President Bob Whitsitt tracked him down.

The Sonics drew a powerhouse Golden State team in the first round of the 1992 playoffs, but Seattle stunned the Warriors by winning the series, three games to one. The key was Shawn Kemp, who dominated the Warriors inside despite being six months shy of his 23rd birthday. After averaging 15.5 points and 10.4 rebounds during the regular season, Kemp exploded against Golden State with averages of 22.0 points and 16.3 rebounds per game. The Sonics advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals but lost, four games to one, to the Utah Jazz.

For the season, Ricky Pierce led the club in scoring with 21.7 points per game, and he finished third in the NBA with a .916 free-throw percentage. Cage ranked fifth in the league with a .566 field-goal percentage. Dana Barros, who had been selected one pick before Shawn Kemp in the 1989 NBA Draft, won the NBA 3-point field-goal percentage title with a .446 clip from long range.

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1992-93: One Win Away From The Finals

Everything fell into place for the 1992-93 Sonics, who played an exciting, unconventional brand of basketball. Seattle fashioned a 55-27 record, second best in club history and good for second place in the Pacific Division behind the Phoenix Suns.

The team consisted of a potent mix of talent, masterfully molded by Coach George Karl. Power forward Shawn Kemp, who had always been capable of spectacular offensive moves and dramatic slam dunks, began to acquire a mature focus. Vociferous point guard Gary Payton developed a jump shot to augment his offensive repertoire and also gained a reputation as a tenacious on-the-ball defender. In fact, the entire Sonics team relied on an innovative defensive strategy devised by Assistant Coach Bob Kloppenburg to disrupt opponents with relentless pressing, trapping, and double-teaming.

Ricky Pierce led the squad in scoring with 18.2 points per game, followed by Kemp at 17.8. Kemp finished 12th in the league in rebounding (10.7 rpg) and blocked shots (1.87 per game) and played in his first NBA All-Star Game. Veteran Eddie Johnson finished third in the league with a .911 free-throw percentage. Steady Nate McMillan was fourth in the NBA in steals with 2.37 per game, while Payton was ninth with 2.16.

At midseason Seattle dealt center Benoit Benjamin and unsigned draft choice Doug Christie to the Los Angeles Lakers for Sam Perkins. The veteran Perkins provided a crafty inside game but also contributed an unexpected long-distance shooting touch, which would emerge as a secret weapon in the postseason.

The playoffs were an exhilarating ride for Seattle fans. The Sonics defeated nemesis Utah three games to two in the first round, then prevailed in overtime of the seventh game in their Conference Semifinal series against Houston. The Western Conference Finals pitted Seattle against the Charles Barkley-led Phoenix Suns. The series went seven games before the Suns finally vanquished the Sonics, 123-110, in Game 7.

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1993-94: Sonics Cruise In Regular Season, Fall Short In Playoffs

The 1993-94 Sonics had a roller-coaster year. Seattle went from being the NBA's best team in the regular season to becoming the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 8 seed in NBA Playoff history. As the campaign opened, those in the Sonics' camp had visions of an NBA Championship. The club had picked up Detlef Schrempf and Kendall Gill in preseason trades and sprang out of the gate with a 20-2 record.

With an offense fired by a scrambling, disruptive defense, Seattle outscored opponents by a league-high 9.2 points per game. The Sonics won 25 games by at least 20 points. Although the team had no players in the top 10 in scoring, three Sonics players were among the NBA's top 14 in steals - Nate McMillan (first), Gary Payton (seventh), and Gill (14th). Payton improved his scoring to 16.5 points per game and made the NBA All-Defensive First Team and the All-NBA Third Team. Shawn Kemp (18.1 ppg, 10.8 rpg) made the All-NBA Second Team. Both Payton and Kemp represented the Sonics at the 1994 NBA All-Star Game.

But the house collapsed during and after the playoffs. Seattle finished with the NBA's best regular-season record (63-19) and sprinted to a two-game lead over Denver in the first round of the postseason. However, the Nuggets took the next three games, including an overtime contest in Seattle in Game 5, and the Sonics found themselves on the wrong end of history.

After the playoff fiasco General Manager Bob Whitsitt, who had won NBA Executive of the Year honors for building the team, resigned in an apparent dispute with ownership. During the summer, Wally Walker, a former Sonics player who had most recently been the Sonics' part-time broadcast analyst, was hired to fill the general manager spot. Before Walker took the reins, the Sonics traded Ricky Pierce and the draft rights to Carlos Rogers to the Golden State Warriors for Sarunas Marciulionis and Byron Houston.

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1994-95: Deja Vu

Despite some changes, the Seattle SuperSonics' 1994-95 season was reminiscent of the year before. The Sonics were again one of the league's best teams in the regular season; they tied for the fifth-best record in the NBA at 57-25 and had a chance to win the Pacific Division heading into the campaign's final few games. The 57 wins, which would have tied Seattle with the Orlando Magic for the best record in the NBA's Eastern Conference, were only good for a fourth seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.

In the first round of the playoffs the Sonics met the Los Angeles Lakers, who had given them trouble all season. The Sonics won Game 1 decisively but then fell in three straight to experience their second consecutive first-round upset. The talent-laden Seattle squad simply couldn't find the right chemistry in the postseason.

Individually, the 1994-95 season was one of the best for several Sonics players. Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, and Detlef Schrempf all made the All-Star Team, giving Seattle more representatives in the midseason classic than any other NBA club. They also earned All-NBA honors at season's end-Payton and Kemp on the Second Team, Schrempf on the Third Team. Payton repeated on the NBA All-Defensive First Team.

Kemp finished among the league leaders in scoring, rebounding, field-goal percentage, and shot-blocking. Payton increased his scoring average to a team-high 20.6 points per game. He also joined Nate McMillan and Kendall Gill among the league's top 12 in steals, as Seattle compiled more thefts than any other team for the third consecutive year. Schrempf took advantage of the newly shortened 3-point arc to register a remarkable .514 3-point percentage. He lost the 3-point shooting crown to the Chicago Bulls' Steve Kerr on the last day of the season.

Seattle's attack was much as it had been the previous season except for a few changes. Sarunas Marciulionis occasionally added spark, and second-year player Ervin Johnson showed improvement in the post and was a starter in 30 games. The Sonics signed veteran center Bill Cartwright in an effort to bring experience and defense, but he was rarely used and didn't appear in the playoffs.

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1995-96: Sonics Shake Monkey, Can't Stop Bulls

For the 1995-96 Sonics, victims of first-round upsets for consecutive seasons, not even a perfect 82-0 regular-season record would have swayed detractors, who said Seattle wouldn't win games when it counted - in the postseason.

For the fourth straight year under George Karl, Seattle piled up the wins in the regular season. Back-to-back losses at Indiana and Toronto dropped the Sonics to 6-5. It marked the last time in the regular season that the Sonics would lose two straight. In late November, they handed the Chicago Bulls one of only 10 losses they would suffer all season. In February/March, they posted a team-record 14-game winning streak. When all was said and done, the Sonics had posted a record of 64-18, the 10th-best season in NBA history at the time. In the wake of their past history and the record-setting 72-10 performance of the Chicago Bulls, no one seemed to notice.

When the playoffs started, it appeared the detractors may indeed get the last laugh. Seattle lost Game 2 at home to eighth-seeded Sacramento. The Sonics, with their backs against the wall for a third straight season, rallied from a 10-point second half deficit to win Game 3 and closed out the best-of-five series in four games.

Once the monkey was off their back, the Sonics seemed to respond. They swept through the two-time defending champion Houston Rockets, then survived a seven-game series with the Utah Jazz to advance to the Finals for the first time since their 1979 Championship.

The Bulls took a three games to none lead, and while talk of the "greatest team ever" began in Chicago, the Sonics responded with back-to-back wins in Games 4 and 5 before the Bulls ended Seattle's championship run in six games.

Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton and the Sonics coaching staff represented the team in the All-Star Game. Kemp would lead the team in scoring (19.6 ppg), Payton led the NBA and steals (2.85 spg) and was named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year. He was rewarded in the off-season with a berth on the U. S. Olympic basketball team.

Hersey Hawkins (15.6 ppg) and Detlef Schrempf (17.1 ppg) provided additional offensive firepower for the Sonics, who finished second in total offense (104.5 ppg) behind Chicago. On the defensive end, the Sonics became the first team in NBA history to lead the league in steals for four straight seasons.

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1996-97: Sonics Still Super But No Finals Return

The Sonics fell short of a return to the NBA Finals in 1996-97, but continued their five-year run as one of the NBA's elite teams. After a 57-25 season and a hard-fought seven-game series loss to the Houston Rockets in the Conference Semifinals, Head Coach George Karl saw a lot of positives that he could carry over into next season.

For the fifth straight season, the Sonics won at least 55 games. No other franchise can make that claim during that span. The Sonics tied a franchise record with 26 road wins, and became the first team ever to lead the NBA in steals for five consecutive seasons (11.02 per game).

This Sonics team played best with their backs to the wall. They won their final three games to edge the Lakers for their third Pacific Division title in four years. In the first round of the playoffs, Seattle fought back to beat Phoenix in five games, after trailing that series, 2-1. Seattle won Game 4 in Phoenix and the decisive Game 5 back in Seattle.

Squaring off with Houston in the Conference Semifinals, Seattle fell behind the Rockets 3-1. But the Sonics won the ensuing two games to force a Game 7. In the deciding game, the Sonics rallied from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit to close to within two points in the final minute, but could not overcome the Rockets.

Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton and Detlef Schrempf all represented Seattle in the All-Star Game. Payton averaged 21.8 points and 7.1 assists, and was third in the league in steals with 2.40 per game. Kemp averaged 18.7 points and 10.0 rebounds, and shot .510 from the field. As a team, Seattle led the NBA in steals-to-turnover ratio (0.73), and also forced more turnovers (18.7) than any other team.

Despite their achievements, the Sonics knew they were in a situation where, fairly or unfairly, they had to win the NBA title in order to improve on what they accomplished last season.

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1997-98: Sonics Reload, Recapture Pacific

Despite introducing seven new players to the mix, the Seattle Sonics found themselves in a familiar position in 1997-98: atop the Pacific Division for the fourth time in five seasons after a 61-21 season. The Sonics became only the third team ever to win 55 or more games for six consecutive seasons, even though most of the talk during the off-season centered around Shawn Kemp's imminent departure and a possible letdown.

Much of that talk subsided when Sonics President Wally Walker swung a three-way trade with Milwaukee and Cleveland that brought Vin Baker to Seattle. Baker, himself a three-time All-Star, immediately energized the franchise with his effusive personality and his knack for hitting the game-winning shot. Three times Baker delivered when the clock was winding down, endearing him to the city, his teammates and most importantly, his coach. Baker averaged 19.2 ppg and 8.0 rpg for the season, and finished fifth in the NBA in field-goal percentage.

Though the acquisition of Baker was the most publicized off-season move, several smaller moves by Walker gave Karl his deepest team in years. Jerome Kersey, Greg Anthony, Aaron Williams and Dale Ellis each made significant contributions to Seattle's success.

Ellis in particular displayed shooting touch reminiscent of his first tenure in Seattle. He finished fourth on the team in scoring (11.8 ppg), was third in NBA Sixth Man Award balloting, and was the NBA's leader in 3-point percentage (46.4 percent).

Payton, who had a game-high 13 assists in the All-Star Game, continued his development under Karl into arguably the game's finest point guard. He had his best year passing the ball (8.3 apg, 6th in the NBA), finished among the league's top 20 in scoring (19.2 ppg, 19th in the NBA) and for the first time was a consistent 3-point shooting threat, despite the line moving back. On the defensive end of the floor, he solidified his reputation as the league's best on-the-ball defender, and finished second in Defensive Player of the Year balloting.

During Seattle's First Round series with Minnesota, Payton also proved to be one of the NBA's best clutch performers. After Seattle had fallen behind 2-1 in the series against Minnesota, Payton averaged 26.5 ppg on 20-of-35 shooting to help Seattle advance. In the series-clincher, he played the entire 48 minutes.

In the second round, Seattle battled the Los Angeles Lakers, who had finished with an identical 61-21 record during the regular season. Seattle won the regular-season series, but was overwhelmed in the postseason by the phenomenal play of Shaquille O'Neal, for whom they had no answer. Los Angeles won the series in five games.

The season put a premature end to the final chapter in the 12-year career of Nate McMillan, Seattle's all-time steals and assists leader. McMillan, whom Karl often called his favorite player, had the rare ability to make his teammates better, and was a crowd favorite in Seattle.

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1998-99: Home for the Postseason

Despite another stellar year by point guard Gary Payton, the Seattle SuperSonics finished 25-25 in the lockout-shortened season and missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

Payton averaged 21.7 points and a career-high 8.7 assists while on his way to being named to the All-NBA Second Team. He also notched 2.18 steals per game and was on the All-Defensive First Team for the sixth consecutive year.

Seattle's other key player, power forward Vin Baker, had a frustrating season. The four-time All-Star missed 16 games with thumb and knee injuries, and he posted career-lows in scoring (13.8 ppg), rebounding (6.2), blocks (1.00), field-goal percentage (.453) and free-throw percentage (.450).

The season also marked a major change on the Seattle bench. For the first time since midway through the 1991-92 season, someone other than George Karl was the Sonics head coach. On June 17, 1998, Paul Westphal was hired to replace Karl, who became Milwaukee's coach two months later.

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1999-00: Return to the Playoffs

After sitting at home during the playoffs the previous season, the Sonics returned to the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 years. The Paul Westphal-led Sonics finished the regular season 45-37, fourth in the Pacific Division.

The Sonics got back on track behind the stellar play of Gary Payton, who led the Sonics in scoring (24.2 ppg), assists (8.9 apg), steals (1.87 spg) and minutes (41.8 mpg). Postseason honors rolled in for Payton. He was named to the NBA’s First Team and was the second leading vote getter behind Shaquille O’Neal. Payton was also named to the league’s First Team All-Defense for the seventh straight season.

During the year, Seattle witnessed the emergence of a rising star in Rashard Lewis. Lewis and Payton were the only Sonics to see action in every game. Lewis, in his second season, was critical off the bench, playing 19.2 minutes per night and averaging 8.2 ppg.

Vin Baker, who signed a seven-year contract extension before the season, led the team in rebounds with 7.6 rpg. He was the second-leading scorer at 16.6. ppg.

In the playoffs, Seattle faced Utah in the First Round. After losing the first two games, the Sonics returned to KeyArena and forced a game five after two wins. Seattle would fall short, however, as the Jazz pulled it out late to beat the Sonics 96-93 in Salt Lake City.

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2000-01: A Season of Change

The Sonics made just their second coaching chance in nearly a decade early in the 2000-01 season. Former Sonics playing legend Nate McMillan replaced Paul Westphal as interim coach on Nov. 27 and recorded his first career victory the next night against Portland. McMillan would have the interim tag removed in March when he signed a four-year contract.

On the floor, the Sonics were a team trying to gel with new teammates and different lineups. Seattle welcomed legendary center Patrick Ewing, acquiring him in a trade before the season. The future Hall-of-Famer provided a presence in the paint and years of experience. During the season, Ewing played in his 1,100th career game and grabbed his 11,000th rebound. He finished the season 13th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and 20th on the league’s all-time rebounding list.

Gary Payton led the team in scoring with 23.1 ppg and assists with 8.1 apg and passed Fred Brown as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. He was named First Team All-NBA Defense for the eighth consecutive year.

Rashard Lewis moved into the starting lineup at small forward and finished second on the team in minutes played. He averaged 14.8 ppg and 7.9 rpg.

The national spotlight was on the Sonics when Desmond Mason dazzled fans at the NBA Slam Dunk contest during All-Star weekend. With his explosive, high-flying dunk, Mason became the first Sonics player to win the dunk contest.

The Sonics finished the season 44-38, fifth in the tough Pacific Division, but missed the playoffs for the second time in 11 years.

On March 30, the NBA approved the sale of the Seattle Sonics and Storm from The Ackerley Group to The Basketball Club of Seattle LLC.

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2001-02: Exceeding Expectations

Led by Nate McMillan, who was in his first full year as head coach, the Sonics weren’t expected to have a winning season, let alone make the playoffs. After unveiling a new logo and new colors (a return to the franchise's traditional Green and Gold scheme), the young Sonics entered the season determined to prove critics wrong. Seattle finished 45-37 and captured the seventh seed in the loaded Western Conference.

The Sonics were able to make the playoffs despite being hammered by injury. Calvin Booth, signed away from Dallas during the off-season, missed most of the season with a sprained right ankle that required surgery. In all, 13 players missed a total of 211 games due to injury or illness.

Once again, Gary Payton played with tenacity and aggression, leading the Sonics in minutes (40.3 mpg), scoring (22.1 ppg) and assists (9.0 apg). He represented the Sonics in the All-Star game for the eighth consecutive year, passing Jack Sikma for all-time All-Star appearances for a Sonics player. Payton was also named to the First Team All-NBA Defense for the ninth consecutive season, tying him with Michael Jordan for most appearances.

Brent Barry emerged as a leader this season with his solid ball-handling and timely shots. He was an effective second option and threat on the floor, averaging 14.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg and 5.3 apg. Rashard Lewis continued his development at small forward, leading the team in rebounding (7.0 rpg) and finishing second in scoring with a new career-high of 16.8 ppg.

The Sonics, relative newcomers to the playoffs besides Payton, faced the Spurs in the first round. After losing the first game in San Antonio, Seattle was able to pull out a win in the Alamodome. The series returned to KeyArena where the Sonics and the Spurs split. League MVP Tim Duncan, who missed Game 4 because the death of his father, was too much in Game 5. The emotional Spurs bounced the Sonics from the playoffs 101-78.

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2002-03: Payton's Place Becomes Allentown

The Sonics returned largely the same lineup for the start of the 2002-03 season despite trading Vin Baker to Boston in a five-player trade over the summer. Because of the familiarity, the team started the season hot, running up an 8-2 record. Four losses by a total of seven points in late December turned Seattle's momentum for the worse.

By the trade deadline, the Sonics were 22-30 and seemingly out of the playoff chase. As a result, Sonics management made a bold move on the deadline, trading Gary Payton and promising youngster Desmond Mason to Milwaukee for All-Star shooting guard Ray Allen, Kevin Ollie, Ronald Murray and a conditional first-round draft pick.

The move was an emotional one after Payton's 12 and a half seasons with the Sonics, but a new-look lineup led by Allen quickly won fans over. With Brent Barry sliding to point guard to make room for Allen, the Sonics took off, going 18-12 in their final 30 games of the season to get back into playoff contention. Ultimately, they were eliminated on the season's final weekend, finishing with a record of 40-42.

During his 29 games in Seattle, Allen averaged 24.5 ppg, 5.9 apg and 5.6 rpg, all career highs. He was named to the 2004 USA Olympic team during the season. Rashard Lewis also blossomed with more shot opportunities, upping his scoring average to 18.1 ppg. Undrafted rookie forward Reggie Evans became only the second Sonics rookie to start on opening night in a decade and led the team with 6.6 rpg.

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2003-04: Injuries Slow Sonics

The previous February's Gary Payton trade continued paying off for the Sonics in the summer of 2003, as they held a pair of picks in the top 14 of the NBA Draft - their own 12th pick and Milwaukee's 14th pick. The Sonics used the selections to add a pair of college-tested prospects, Kansas forward Nick Collison and Oregon guard Luke Ridnour, a native of Blaine, Wash. After Kevin Ollie, acquired from Milwaukee with Ray Allen in the Payton deal, left for Cleveland as a free agent, the Sonics replaced him by signing guard Antonio Daniels. They also dealt center Predrag Drobnjak to the L.A. Clippers for a second-round pick.

The month of October saw the Sonics hit by a pair of devastating injuries. During the first full day of practice, Collison suffered a suxbluxation of his left shoulder. He would eventually undergo surgery on both shoulders and miss the entire season. In the Sonics last preseason game, Allen injured his right ankle and was lost for the start of the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery.

Even without Allen, the Sonics got off to a fast start. They opened their season in Japan with two games against the Clippers and swept them, with Rashard Lewis becoming the fourth player in Sonics history to score 50 points in the second game. Allen's replacement, second-year guard Ronald "Flip" Murray, stepped up as a starter to score 20 or more points in 11 of the Sonics first 12 games.

By the time Allen returned in late December, the Sonics had slipped below .500. His return sparked the team, which won seven of its next nine games. That, however, would prove to be the highpoint of the Sonics season. The team lost its next four games and lost guard Brent Barry to a broken finger near the end of January. The Sonics would go just 5-9 in February, and though Barry's return sparked a season-long seven-game winning streak, the Sonics could not climb back into playoff contention in the competitive Western Conference. They finished the season at 37-45, their worst record in nearly two decades.

Despite missing 26 games, Allen had one of the best seasons of his career, averaging 23.0 points and 4.8 assists per game. He made his first All-Star appearance as a member of the Sonics. Lewis finished as the team's second-leading scorer (17.8 ppg) and rebounder (6.3 rpg).

Even though he started only 18 games, Murray finished as the team's third-leading scorer at 12.4 points per game, emerging as a steal as the throw-in in the Allen trade. In his third year, forward Vladimir Radmanovic posted career highs of 12.0 ppg and 5.3 rpg. Barry averaged 10.8 ppg and led the Sonics with 5.8 apg. Daniels posted the best season of his career, providing 8.0 ppg and 4.2 apg off the bench and leading the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio. Ridnour, expected to see little action as a rookie, started at the end of the year and led the Sonics to a win over playoff-bound Dallas with 16 points and 13 assists. Fellow rookie Richie Frahm, who made the team in training camp, provided a highlight when he scored a career-high 31 points when the Sonics overcame injuries to both Allen and Barry to beat Denver in December.

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2004-05: Inaugural Northwest Division Champs

Despite falling short of the playoffs in 2003-04, the Sonics largely stood pat in the off-season. They added forward/center Danny Fortson (acquired for Calvin Booth) and returned Nick Collison from shoulder surgery, but lost veteran guard Brent Barry to free agency. Though the Sonics proclaimed their goal of making the playoffs, most observers had them back in the lottery.

The Sonics did little to change that opinion in their opener, getting drilled 114-84 by the Los Angeles Clippers. But they bounced back to win their next nine games, including victories over San Antonio and Sacramento. The Sonics silenced many doubters in early December, when they traveled to San Antonio and Dallas and swept a two-game road trip, moving to an NBA-best 17-3 on the season.

The Sonics were unable to completely sustain the momentum of their quick start, but they went to the All-Star break at 35-15 and ten games up on Minnesota in the new Northwest Division (the NBA realigned from four divisions to six prior to the season, pulling the Sonics out of the Pacific Division). Despite a mid-March stress fracture of the right fibula suffered by Vladimir Radmanovic, the Sonics used surprising help from undrafted rookie Damien Wilkins to stay on track and win their 50th game on April 1.

With Rashard Lewis and Antonio Daniels also sidelined, the Sonics lost six in a row before clinching the Northwest on April 15 with a 97-72 win over New Orleans. They finished the season at 52-30, winning 50 games for the first time since 1997-98.

Facing a veteran Sacramento team in the First Round of the playoffs, the Sonics showed their mettle by taking the first two games. After the Kings won Game 3 in Sacramento, Ray Allen produced a vintage performance to give the Sonics a come-from-behind Game 4 win. Allen scored 45 points to tie the Sonics Playoffs record. A win two nights later in Game 5 at home closed out the series.

In the Western Conference Semifinals, the Sonics confronted a loaded San Antonio team. Needing to play at their peak to win the series, the Sonics instead lost Radmanovic to a badly-sprained ankle in Game 1. Allen also sprained an ankle in Game 1, and though he returned to score 25 points in Game 2, the Sonics head home down 2-0. Back at KeyArena, the Sonics survived to win Game 3 when Tim Duncan missed at the buzzer. Despite playing without Lewis because of a sprained left big toe, the Sonics cruised in Game 4. But San Antonio held serve at home in Game 5, and the Spurs got the break they needed in Game 6. Duncan's shot with less than a second left was good, eliminating the Sonics and advancing the eventual-champion Spurs.

Despite nine potential free agents, including Allen, the Sonics came together and boasted incredible team cohesion, symbolized by their post-game huddles, win or lose. Allen's leadership was impeccable and he was also great on the court, returning to the All-Star Game and earning All-NBA Second Team honors after averaging 23.9 ppg. Lewis joined Allen at the All-Star Game for the first time, and also topped 20 points per game, finishing at 20.5.

Ridnour, in his first season as a starter, emerged as the director of the Sonics potent offensive attack. The starting lineup was balanced by forward Reggie Evans, who led the NBA in rebounds per 48 minutes (18.8) and grabbed a career-high 21 rebounds on Feb. 5, and center Jerome James, who stepped up against the Kings in the First Round to average 17.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.

The Sonics boasted a deep bench, with two players finishing amongst the leaders in Sixth Man Award voting - Radmanovic (fifth) and Daniels (eighth). Radmanovic's ability to spread the floor was key, while Daniels averaged a career-high 11.2 ppg and finished second in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.96). Fortson became a fan favorite and was key to the Sonics fast start to the season, recording six double-doubles. After starting slowly, Collison came on and led the team and all rookies in field-goal percentage (.537).

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