Column: Sikma's Special Seattle Connection
If you ask Jack Sikma about his first two seasons with the Seattle SuperSonics, he’ll recall the details with what appears to be an encyclopedic memory.
He’ll rally off the team’s record early on as a rookie when management made a coaching change to the legendary Lenny Wilkens. He’ll rally off which teams the defeated—and upset—in the playoffs en route to a Game 7 loss to the Washington Bullets in the NBA Finals. And he’ll dissect how that Finals defeat sprung the Sonics into 1978-79, when his squad brought home the first professional sports title in Seattle history.
More than three decades later, Sikma is still incredibly proud of what he and his teammates accomplished.
“It has to do with what the connection has to be when you’re trying to achieve a championship,” Sikma said. “There are moments in which, many moments through that process where it’s almost a do or die scenario as far as being able to move on or not. The pressure and the focus that’s shared among the group, you know, connects you forever.”
Sikma went on to become a seven-time All-Star with the Sonics, and the franchise retired his No. 43 in 1992. He and his family still call Seattle home, and as a revered athlete in the area he received the distinct honor of raising the ceremonial 12th Man Flag at CenturyLink Field for a Seattle Seahawks game this season (photo, at right, courtesy of Seahawks.com). On Sunday, Sikma will be cheering on the Seahawks against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. Should Seattle win, it will add another exclusive title to the city’s professional sports resume that includes Sikma’s 1979 Sonics and the 2004 and 2010 Seattle Storm.
Sikma predicts a Seahawks victory, holding true to his town’s hopes. It will be close and the score will be in the 20s, he said, but in the end the Seahawks’ defense will find a way to beat the Broncos’ mighty offense led by Peyton Manning.
Let me step aside real quick and give a short rundown on the Seattle sports scene (as I see it). If they do get the victory, it will greatly serve a Seattle sports fanbase that has endured its share of disappointment and triumphs across the board over the past two decades. You’ll remember the Seattle Mariners’ future in jeopardy in the mid-1990s before the emergence of the Ken Griffey, Jr./Randy Johnson-led 1995 squad that won a five-game American League Divisional Series against the Yankees and breathed life back into the franchise. Let’s face it: If you liked baseball and had a pulse in the ‘90s, you loved Griffey no matter where you lived. Shortly after that, Seattle constructed Safeco Field.
You’ll recall the Sonics’ run to the 1996 NBA Finals, led by Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, only to run into the greatest team in NBA history. The Bulls won 72 regular season games in 1995-96 led by Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and coach Phil Jackson, and they beat the Sonics 4-2 to cap their fourth title in six years. Ten years later, the Seahawks lost Super Bowl XL to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Detroit.
But perhaps the biggest loss of all was the Sonics’ franchise, which left Seattle for Oklahoma City in 2008. Sikma not only played for the Sonics but was an assistant for the squad when the team relocated. It’s part of Seattle’s sports narrative that still hits home for him.
“It’s very unique for me to be involved n the NBA and have played for a franchise, and now that franchise is no longer part of the NBA. There is a tug there…I guess I’m reminded of it—of the fact that my ties to Seattle so much because it’s missing, the team where I am tied to is missing. But they’re good people, great fan base.”
When he visits CenturyLink Field, there are similarities to those Sonic days of his past. Back in Sikma’s playing career, the SuperSonics played in the old Seattle Center Coliseum—a place perfect for imposing a home-court advantage because of how close the fans were to the court and how loud it got inside. There was an intimate relationship with the fans back then in that arena, and there was a real connection between the players and the fan base.
Three decades later, the Seahawks play in a stadium that routinely gets measured for decibel volume—they hold the Guinness World Record for the loudest crowd roar at a sports stadium by reaching 137.6 decibels on Dec. 2, 2013.
The stadium might be built to corral crowd noise, but it’s still an open-air facility with a fan base that at one point in time produced the same advantage for Sikma’s Sonics teams in the 1970s and 80s.
“I think it’s just riding the wave,” Sikma said. “It started, caused a couple teams to jump illegal procedure calls and missing the snap count, and fans loved it. And now it’s just ridiculous whenever the team has the ball, it’s ridiculous how loud it is.”
Sikma hasn’t been in the Seattle area during the past few weeks due to his in-season responsibilities as a Timberwolves assistant, but he knows the 12th Man flags are flying all over the city and the region as a whole is galvanized by this Seahawks team.
He’s hoping he and other Seattle fans will have a chance to celebrate come Sunday night.
“Everyone is excited,” he said. “I’m a Seahawks fan. I’ve always followed them. I love watching football, and again, it’s quite an environment there in Seattle at that stadium. I’ve had a chance to experience that. So I’ll be rooting for them hard. It’s going to be a really tough game. The San Francisco game was a fantastic game to watch. It came down to a play or two at the end, and I would imagine the same thing is going to happen come Sunday.”