Seattle SuperSonics: Playing to Win

June 1, 2024 at 9:28 p.m.

On June 1, 1979, the Seattle SuperSonics beat the Washington Bullets 97-93 in Landover, Maryland, to capture their first (and only) NBA championship. This was the city's first major professional sports title since the Seattle Metropolitans won the Stanley Cup in 1917.

Basketball got its start in the city in 1893 when boys at the Seattle YMCA picked up on the new sport just 15 months after it had been invented in Massachusetts. Its popularity spread into local high schools and colleges, which produced noteworthy players such as UW's "Stork" McClary and Seattle U's "Flyin' O'Briens." In the 1960s, when Seattle finally made it into the big leagues, team owners chose to name the franchise after the supersonic transport -- a fast and high-flying jet plane of the future that was then under development at Boeing. The SST never left the ground, while the Sonics (as they were soon called) took off and soared to great heights.

One of the team's first stars was point guard Lenny Wilkens, who was acquired in 1968, but traded away in 1972. In 1973, basketball legend Bill Russell was hired as coach, and he brought the team to its first playoff games. But when Wilkens returned as head coach in 1977, he piloted the Sonics skyward to the coveted championship.

(left) Bill Russell, (right) Lenny Wilkens, photos courtesy of 

In 1983, the franchise was sold to Barry Ackerley, and for the next 20 years the team experienced many ups and downs (mostly downs). Under Ackerley's threat to move the team, the city transformed the Seattle Center Coliseum (whose leaky roof led to the only "rainout" in NBA history) into KeyArena in 1993. On June 2, 1996, the Sonics made it to the NBA Finals, losing to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

In 2001 the Sonics were sold to an investment group led by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. In 2006, the Schultz group sold the franchise to Oklahoma interests led by Clay Bennett. When Bennett demanded that the city underwrite a costly expansion and remodel of KeyArena, Seattle officials balked, which led to the team's departure to Oklahoma City. Meanwhile the Seattle Storm – who had won the WNBA Championship in 2004 – were sold to four local women, much to the delight of Northwest basketball fans. Since then, the Storm has won three more championships, in 2010, 2018, and 2020.

This article is courtesy of Jennifer Ott, Alan Stein, and the HistoryLink Gang. is the free online encyclopedia of Washington state history.

Read another HistoryLink article about the origins of basketball in Seattle at the following link: New game of basket ball is introduced to Seattle in February 1893. - 

A.G. Douthitt, YMCA physical education director, and one of his champion basketball teams, 1902. Photo courtesy YMCA of Greater Seattle



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