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The Seattle SuperSonics (also commonly referred to as the Sonics) were an Americanmarker professional basketball team based in Seattlemarker, Washingtonmarker that played in the Pacific and Northwest Division of the National Basketball Association (NBA) from 1967 until 2008. Following the 2007–08 season, the team relocated to Oklahoma Citymarker, and now plays as the Oklahoma City Thunder. The SuperSonics nickname, logo, and color scheme will be made available to any subsequent NBA team in Seattle. According to the team's Oklahoma-based owners, the Sonics' franchise history will be "shared" between the Thunder and any future Seattle club.

The SuperSonics won the NBA Championship in 1979, and are one of just two teams out of the six major-league men's professional sports franchises that have existed in Seattle (the Sonics, Mariners, Pilots, Seahawks, Sounders, and Metropolitans, winners of the 1917 Stanley Cup) to have won a championship.

Sam Schulman owned the team from its 1967 inception until 1983. It was also owned by Barry Ackerley (1983–2001), and the Basketball Club of Seattle, headed by Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz (2001–2006). In 2006, the SuperSonics were purchased by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett. After failing to find public funding to construct a new arena in the Seattle area, the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City before the 2008–09 season, following a $45 million settlement with the city of Seattle to pay off the team's existing lease at KeyArena in advance of its 2010 expiration.

Franchise history


On December 20, 1966, Los Angelesmarker businessmen Sam Schulman and Eugene V. Klein and a group of minority partners were awarded the NBA franchise for the city of Seattle. Schulman would serve as the active partner and head of team operations. Named the SuperSonics after Boeing's recently awarded contract for the SST project (later canceled), they were Seattle's first major league sports franchise. Beginning play in October 1967, the SuperSonics were coached by Al Bianchi and featured All-Star guard Walt Hazzard and NBA All-Rookie Team members Bob Rule and Al Tucker. The expansion team stumbled out of the gates with a 144–116 loss in their first game, and finished the season with a 23–59 record. Hazzard was traded to the Atlanta Hawks before the start of the next season for Lenny Wilkens. Wilkens brought a strong all-around game to the SuperSonics, averaging 22.4 points per game, 8.2 assists per game, and 6.2 rebounds per game for Seattle in the 1968–69 season. Rule, meanwhile, improved on his rookie statistics with 24.0 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game. The SuperSonics, however, only won 30 games and Bianchi was replaced by Wilkens as player/coach during the offseason.


Wilkens and Rule both represented Seattle in the 1970 NBA All-Star Game, and Wilkens led the NBA in assists during the 1969–70 season. In June 1970 the NBA owners voted 13–4 to work toward a merger with the ABA; SuperSonics owner Sam Schulman, a member of the ABA-NBA merger committee in 1970, was so ardently eager to merge the leagues that he publicly announced that if the NBA did not accept the merger agreement worked out with the ABA, he would move the SuperSonics from the NBA to the ABA. Schulman also threatened to move his soon-to-be ABA team to Los Angelesmarker to compete directly with the Lakers. The Oscar Robertson suit delayed the merger, and the SuperSonics remained in Seattle. Early in the 1970–71 season, however, Rule tore his achilles tendon and was lost for the rest of the year. Wilkens was named the 1971 All-Star Game MVP, but the big news of the season came when owner Sam Schulman managed to land American Basketball Association Rookie of the Year and MVP Spencer Haywood following a lengthy court battle (see Haywood v. National Basketball Assn.). The following season, the SuperSonics went on to record their first winning season at 47–35. The team, led by player-coach Wilkens and First Team forward Haywood, held a 46–27 mark on March 3, but late season injuries to starters Haywood, Dick Snyder, and Don Smith contributed to the team losing eight of its final nine games — otherwise, the 1971–72 team might very well have become the franchise's first playoff team. The following season, Wilkens was dealt to Cleveland in a highly unpopular trade, and without his leadership the Supersonics fell to a 26–56 record. One of the few bright spots of the season was Haywood's second consecutive All-NBA First Team selection, as he averaged a SuperSonics record 29.2 points per game and collected 12.9 rebounds per game.

Logo, 1975–1995.
This is the last logo to date referencing the team by its full name.

The legendary Bill Russell was hired as the head coach in the following year, and in 1975 he coached the SuperSonics to the playoffs for the first time. The team, which starred Haywood, guards Fred Brown and Slick Watts, and rookie center Tommy Burleson, defeated the Detroit Pistons in a three game mini-series before falling to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors in six games. The next season, the SuperSonics traded Haywood to New York forcing the remaining players to pick up the offensive slack. Guard Fred Brown, now in his fifth season, was selected to the 1976 NBA All-Star Game and finished fifth in the league in scoring average and free throw percentage. Burleson's game continued to strengthen, while Watts led the NBA in both assists and steals and was named to the All-NBA Defensive First Team. The SuperSonics again made the playoffs, but lost to the Phoenix Suns in six games in spite of strong performances from both Brown (28.5 ppg) and Burleson (20.8 ppg) during the series.

Russell left the SuperSonics after the 1976–77 season, and under new coach Bob Hopkins the team started the season dismally at 5–17. Lenny Wilkens was brought back to replace Hopkins, and the team's fortunes immediately turned around. The SuperSonics won 11 of their first 12 games under Wilkens, finished the season at 47–35, won the Western Conference title, and actually led the Washington Bullets three games to two before losing in seven games in the 1978 NBA Finals. Other than the loss of center Marvin Webster to New York, the SuperSonics roster stayed largely intact during the off-season, and in the 1978–79 season they went on to win their first division title. In the playoffs, the Supersonics defeated the Phoenix Suns in a tough seven game conference final series to set up a rematch with the Washington Bullets in the finals. This time, the Bullets lost to the SuperSonics in five games to give Seattle its first, and so far only, NBA title. The championship team roster included the powerful backcourt tandem of Gus Williams and Finals MVP Dennis Johnson, second year All-Star center Jack Sikma, forwards John Johnson and Lonnie Shelton, and key reserves Fred Brown and Paul Silas.


The 1979–80 season saw the SuperSonics finish second in the Pacific Division to the Los Angeles Lakers with a strong 56–26 record. Fred Brown won the NBA's first three-point shooting percentage title, Jack Sikma played in the second of his seven career All-Star Games for Seattle, Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson were both named to the All-NBA Second Team, and Johnson was also named to the All-NBA First Defensive Team for the second consecutive year. The SuperSonics made it to the Western Conference Finals for the third straight season, but lost to the Lakers in five games. It was the last time that the backcourt of Williams and Johnson would play together in SuperSonics uniforms, as Johnson was traded to the Phoenix Suns before the start of the 1980–81 season and Williams sat out the year due to a contract dispute. As a result, the SuperSonics fell to last place in the Pacific Division with a 34–48 mark, so far the only time they have ever finished in last place. Williams returned for the 1981–82 season, and Seattle managed respectable 52–30 and 48–34 records during the next two years.

In October 1983, original team owner Sam Schulman sold the SuperSonics to Barry Ackerley, initiating a period of decline and mediocrity for the franchise. 1984 saw Fred Brown retire after playing 13 productive seasons, all with Seattle. His career reflected much of the SuperSonics' history to that time, having been on the same team roster as Rule and Wilkens during his rookie season, playing a key role on Seattle's first playoff teams, and being the team's important sixth man during the championship series years. In recognition of his many contributions to the team, Brown's number was retired in 1986. Lenny Wilkens left the organization following the 1984–85 season, and when Jack Sikma was traded after the 1985–86 season, the last remaining tie to the SuperSonics' championship team (aside from trainer Frank Furtado) had been severed.

Among the few SuperSonics highlights of second half of the 1980s were Tom Chambers' All-Star Game MVP award in 1987, Seattle's surprise appearance in the 1987 Western Conference Finals, and the performance of the power trio of Chambers, Xavier McDaniel, and Dale Ellis. In 1987–88, the three players each averaged over 20 points per game with Ellis at 25.8 ppg, McDaniel at 21.4, and Chambers at 20.4. In the 1988–89 season, with Chambers having signed with Phoenix, Ellis improved his scoring average to 27.5 points per game and finished second in the league in three-point percentage. The SuperSonics finished with a 47–35 record, and made it to the second round of the 1989 playoffs.

1990s; Payton and Kemp

Logo, 1995–2001

The SuperSonics began setting a new foundation with the drafting of forward Shawn Kemp in 1989 and guard Gary Payton in 1990, and the trading of Dale Ellis and Xavier McDaniel to other teams during the 1990–91 season. It was George Karl's arrival as head coach in 1992, however, that marked a return to regular season and playoff competitiveness for the SuperSonics. With the continued improvement of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, the SuperSonics posted a 55–27 record in the 1992–93 season and took the Phoenix Suns to seven games in the Western Conference Finals.

The next year, 1993–94, the SuperSonics had the best record in the NBA at 63–19, but suffered a first round loss to the Denver Nuggets, becoming the first #1 seed to lose a playoff series to an 8th seed. After playing the 1994–95 season in the Tacoma Dome the team moved back to the rebuilt Seattle Center Coliseum, renamed KeyArenamarker for the 1995–96 season. Perhaps the strongest roster the Supersonics ever had was the 1995–96 team, which had a franchise best 64–18 record. With a deep roster of All-NBA Second Team selections Kemp and Payton, forward Detlef Schrempf, center Sam Perkins, guard Hersey Hawkins, and guard Nate McMillan, the team reached the NBA Finals, but lost to the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in six games. Seattle continued to be a Western Conference powerhouse during the next two seasons, winning 57 games in 1996–97 and 61 games in 1997–98 for their second and third straight Pacific Division titles. At the end of the 1997–98 season long-time Sonic and defensive specialist Nate McMillan retired, and disagreements with management led Karl to end his tenure as head coach. He was replaced by former Sonic Paul Westphal for the 1998–99 season.

1998 Onward

The 1998–99 season saw the SuperSonics again descend into an extended period of mediocrity. Westphal was fired during the 2000–01 season and replaced by then-assistant coach Nate McMillan on an interim basis, eventually losing the "interim" label the next year. The 2002–03 season saw All-Star Gary Payton traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, and it also marked the end to the SuperSonics 11-year streak of having a season with a winning percentage of at least .500, the second longest current streak in the NBA at the time. The 2004–05 team surprised many when it won the organization's sixth division title under the leadership of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, winning 52 games. It would be the last time that this incarnation of the SuperSonics would make the playoffs. During the off-season in 2005, head coach Nate McMillan left the Sonics to accept a high-paying position to coach the Portland Trail Blazers. After his departure, the team regressed the following season with a 35–47 record.

On May 22, 2007, the Supersonics were awarded the 2nd pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, equaling the highest draft position the team has ever held. They selected Kevin Durant out of Texas. On June 28, 2007, the SuperSonics traded Ray Allen and the 35th pick of the 2nd round (Glen Davis) in the 2007 NBA Draft to the Boston Celtics for rights to the 5th pick Jeff Green, Wally Szczerbiak, and Delonte West. On July 11, 2007, the SuperSonics and the Orlando Magic agreed to a sign and trade for Rashard Lewis. The SuperSonics received a future second-round draft pick and a $9.5 million trade exception from the Magic. On July 20 the SuperSonics used the trade exception and a second-round draft pick to acquire Kurt Thomas and two first-round draft picks from the Phoenix Suns.

Relocation to Oklahoma City

In 2006, after failed efforts to persuade Washington government officials to provide funding to update KeyArenamarker, the SuperSonics' ownership group, led by Howard Schultz, sold the team to Professional Basketball LLC (PBC), an investment group headed by Oklahoma City businessman Clayton Bennett. After failing to persuade local governments to fund a $500 million arena complex, Bennett's group notified the NBA that it intended to move the team to Oklahoma City and requested arbitration with the City of Seattlemarker to be released from the Sonics' lease with KeyArena. When the request was rejected by a judge, Seattle sued Bennett's group to enforce the lease that required the team to play in KeyArena through 2010. On July 2, 2008, a settlement was reached that allowed the team to move under certain conditions, including the ownership group's payment of $45 million to Seattle and the possibility of an additional $30 million by 2013 if a new team had not been given to the city. It was agreed that the SuperSonics' name would not be used by Oklahoma City and that team's history could be shared between Oklahoma City and any future NBA team in Seattle. The team began play as the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2008–2009 basketball season after becoming the 3rd NBA franchise to relocate in the past decade.

In months prior to the settlement, Seattle publicly released email conversations that took place within Bennett's ownership group and alleged that they indicated at least some members of the group had a desire to move the team to Oklahoma City prior to the purchase in 2006. Before that, Sonics co-owner Aubrey McClendon told an Oklahoma City newspaper "we didn't buy the team to keep it in Seattle; we hoped to come here," although Bennett denied knowledge of this. Seattle used these incidents to argue that the ownership failed to negotiate in good faith, prompting Schultz to file a lawsuit seeking to rescind the sale of the team and transfer the ownership to a court-appointed receiver. The NBA claimed Schultz' lawsuit was void because Schultz signed a release forbidding himself to sue Bennett's group, but also argued that the proposal would have violated league ownership rules. Schultz dropped the case before the start of the 2008–09 NBA season.

Season-by-season records

Home arenas


Squatch wearing the Sonics' home uniform in 2005
The final SuperSonics uniforms, worn from the 2001–02 NBA season through the 2007–08 NBA season, were white with green and gold trim at home, displaying "SONICS" across the chest. Road uniforms were dark green with white and gold accents, with "SEATTLE" across the chest. The alternate uniform was gold with green and white trim, again with "SONICS" arched across the chest. These uniforms were a nod to a similar style worn from the 1975–76 season through the 1994–95 season.


The "I-5" Rivalry

The SuperSonics were traditional rivals with the Portland Trail Blazers because of the teams' proximity the rivalry had been dubbed the "I-5" Rivalry in reference to the Interstate 5 freeway that connected the two cities. The rivalry was fairly equal in accomplishments, with both teams winning one championship each. The all-time record of this rivalry ended at 98–94 in favor of the SuperSonics.


Basketball Hall of Famers

  • Lenny Wilkens (player and head coach for the SuperSonics; inducted as both, coached the 1979 Championship Team)
  • Patrick Ewing (played in 2000–2001 season)

Retired numbers


Coaching history
Coach Seasons active
Al Bianchi 1967/68 – 1968/69
Lenny Wilkens 1969/70 – 1971/72
Tom Nissalke 1972/73
Bucky Buckwalter 1972/73
Bill Russell 1973/74 – 1976/77
Bob Hopkins 1977/78
Lenny Wilkens 1977/78 – 1984/85
Bernie Bickerstaff 1985/86 – 1988/89
Tom Newell 1988/89
Bob Kloppenburg 1988/89
Bernie Bickerstaff 1989/90
K.C. Jones 1990/91 – 1991/92
Bob Kloppenburg 1991/92
George Karl 1991/92 – 1997/98
Paul Westphal 1998/99 – 2000/01
Nate McMillan 2000/01 – 2004/05
Bob Weiss 2005/06
Bob Hill 2005/06 – 2006/07
P.J. Carlesimo 2007/08

High points

Franchise leaders

Single game records

*10 by Fred Brown vs the Philadelphia 76ers, December 3, 1976
*10 by Gus Williams vs the New Jersey Nets, February 22, 1978

Single season records

  • Points: 2,253 by Dale Ellis, 1988–89
  • Points per game: 29.2 by Spencer Haywood, 1972–73
  • Rebounds: 1,038 by Jack Sikma, 1981–82
  • Rebounds per game: 13.4 by Spencer Haywood, 1973–74
  • Assists: 766 by Lenny Wilkens, 1971–72
  • Assists per game: 9.6 by Lenny Wilkens, 1971–72
  • Steals: 261 by Slick Watts, 1975–76
  • Steals per game: 3.18 by Slick Watts, 1975–76

Career leaders

  • Games: Gary Payton, 999
  • Minutes Played: Gary Payton, 36,858
  • Points: Gary Payton, 18,207
  • Field Goals Made: Gary Payton, 7,292
  • Field Goal Attempts: Gary Payton, 15,562
  • 3-Point Field Goals Made: Rashard Lewis, 918
  • 3-Point Field Goals Attempted: Gary Payton, 2,855
  • Free Throws Made: Jack Sikma, 3,044
  • Free Throws Attempted: Shawn Kemp, 3,808
  • Offensive Rebounds: Shawn Kemp, 2,145
  • Defensive Rebounds: Jack Sikma, 5,948
  • Total Rebounds: Jack Sikma, 7,729
  • Assists: Gary Payton, 7,384
  • Steals: Gary Payton, 2,107
  • Blocked Shots: Shawn Kemp, 959
  • Turnovers: Gary Payton, 2,507
  • Personal Fouls: Gary Payton, 2,577

Career per game

  • Minutes Played: Spencer Haywood, 40.36
  • Points: Ray Allen, 26.44
  • Field Goals Made: Spencer Haywood, 9.72
  • Field Goal Attempts: Spencer Haywood, 21.01
  • 3-Point Field Goals Made: Ray Allen, 3.45
  • 3-Point Field Goal Attempts: Ray Allen, 8.37
  • Free Throws Made: Lenny Wilkens, 6.25
  • Free Throw Attempts: Lenny Wilkens, 7.99
  • Offensive Rebounds: Marvin Webster, 4.40
  • Defensive Rebounds: Jack Sikma, 8.32
  • Total Rebounds: Marvin Webster, 12.62
  • Assists: Lenny Wilkens, 9.02
  • Steals: Slick Watts, 2.47
  • Blocked Shots: Alton Lister, 2.09
  • Turnovers: Marvin Webster, 3.13
  • Personal Fouls: Danny Fortson, 4.01

Career per 48 minutes

Individual awards

NBA Defensive Player of the Year

NBA Finals MVP

NBA Executive of the Year

NBA Most Improved Player Award

J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award

NBA All-Star Game MVPs

All-NBA First Team

All-NBA Second Team

All-NBA Third Team

NBA All-Defensive First Team

NBA All-Defensive Second Team

NBA Rookie First Team

NBA Rookie Second Team

NBA Rookie of the Year Award

See also

  • Bob Blackburn, primary play-by-play broadcaster, "The Voice of the Seattle Supersonics" – 1967–1992
  • Kevin Calabro, primary play-by-play broadcaster, 1987–2008
  • The Wheedle, team mascot, 1978–1985
  • Squatch, team mascot, 1993–2008
  • Save Our Sonics, grassroots organization dedicated to preventing the team's move from Seattle.


  2. Supersonics.Com News
  3. David Friedman, ABA Numbers Paint a Very Different Picture, Basketball Digest, May, 2001
  4. Pluto, Terry, Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association (Simon & Schuster, 1990), ISBN 978-1-4165-4061-8, p.200
  5. Pluto, Terry, Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association (Simon & Schuster, 1990), ISBN 978-1-4165-4061-8, p.186
  6. Suns gain $8M trade exception by trading Thomas, posted July 20, 2007
  7. "City of Seattle v. Professional Basketball Club LLC", 9 Oct, 2007.
  9. Bob Rule averaged 29.8 points per game for the SuperSonics in the 1970–71 season, but only played in four games, thereby missing the standard qualification minimums

External links

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