Monday, February 24

Al Tucker, The Alley Oop, and An Idea

Al Tucker (photo via Gasoline Alley)
Al Tucker would have been 71 years old today, and if he's remembered for anything today, it's for being credited (with his brother, Gerald) with the invention of the alley oop.

I've long had a soft spot for Tucker, who, despite his meager career statistics, always seemed to be someone who could've been a more memorable NBA player and, at the very least, someone who I would've love to have spoken with. He loved poetry and the music of Sam and Dave, could shoot 3's and dunk with equal aplomb, dominated the NAIA, and made the all-rookie team.

But it is the alley-oop for which he is most known, and that leads me to an idea. If you're a basketball fan, you know how poorly received the NBA slam dunk competition has been the past, what, 20 years? At times it feels as though more words have been written about how to fix the darn thing than there have been to actually talk about it. So, if your eyes begin to roll back into your skull at the thought of yet another hare-brained scheme, well, your skepticism is well earned.

Next year's contest will be held in New York City, and one would hope the league would be able to parlay the notoriety of the world's biggest basketball stage into something more than yet another boring missed-dunkfest.

Yes, you ask, but what does Al Tucker have to do with that?

Well, how about a tribute to the alley-oop? What if, for one year only, the NBA required all entrants to dunk via alley-oops? What if, rather than ignoring its history, the league invited David Thompson and Gerald Tucker to be guest judges? Would that not be at least somewhat more interesting than the typical fare we get at the dunk contest?

And, to piggyback on that idea, how about inviting non-NBA players to participate? How exciting would it be to have two brackets - one for NBA players and one for New York streetball players, with the winners of each bracket meeting in the championship? Wouldn't you be more likely to watch a contest that featured a bunch of amateurs trying to knock off the NBA players?

Who knows, maybe these ideas will be as successful as Al Tucker's brief NBA career, but they're worth thinking about.

Wednesday, February 5

A Perfect Storm

With the Seahawks' Super Bowl victory parade set for today, most Sonic fans of a certain age are spending the day cheering on their new heroes while simultaneously playing back the memories of their old heroes, the 1979 Seattle Sonics.

One group left out in that reminiscence are the members of the Seattle Storm, and some of them are, well, less than enthusiastic about their neglected place in Seattle's sports history. Both Lauren Jackson and Karen Bryant took to social media to decry their removal from the city's championship pedigree. After all, they argue, the WNBA has been around for more than a decade, the Storm won two titles, and they are professionals - do they not count as much as the Sonics and the Seahawks?

It's a difficult debate to deal with, simply because both sides have persuasive arguments.

On the one hand, the WNBA checks many of the boxes that indicate that it is a "major" sport. It is televised nationally, players are paid enough money that they don't have to work in the offseason in other lines of work, and the top stars - while not celebrities like LeBron or A-Rod - are at least somewhat in the cultural sports lexicon.

On the other, the WNBA is continually surrounded by "how long will it be able to exist financially" articles, the extent to which the NBA is propping up the league is always in the background, and, quite frankly, the ratings for the WNBA are not in the same universe as the NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL.

The biggest problem is that, by definition, "major" is an ambiguous term. To a WNBA fan, the WNBA is a major professional sport, and much more important than the NHL. To a non-WNBA fan, the WNBA is like pro bowling or NASCAR or anything else he or she is uninterested in.

Is it sexist? Perhaps, although it is also true that many of the same people who ignore the WNBA also ignore the MLS. And, to be honest, the MLS' TV ratings are even worse than the WNBA's, meaning that anyone who claims the MLS is a "major" sport had sure better include the WNBA on that same list.

Thankfully, the decision as to whether the WNBA and the Storm have the right to place their championship trophy alongside those of the Sonics and Seahawks won't be decided today, or even next year. It will come if and when the WNBA continues to exist for another decade. If, in 2030, Lauren Jackson is part of a trophy presentation at Starbucks Arena to the Microsoft 17.XL Storm, I don't think anyone would begrudge her argument that her former team is a member of Seattle's proud professional sporting history.

Monday, January 6

San Diego '67 and the Curse of the Green and Gold


In 1967, the NBA welcomed two new teams to the league. They both wore green and gold, they both had aerospace industry mascots and they both no longer exist.

Whenever Seattle Supersonics fans lament the loss of their team, they should think of the poor people of San Diego, a city that lost three pro basketball franchises in just over a decade. Despite making the playoffs in only their second year behind the star power of Elvin Hayes, who won the scoring title in his rookie  season, the Rockets were sold to a trio of Texans in 1971 and blasted off to Houston. Only a year after hosting the All-Star Game, San Diego was out of the NBA.

Two other teams, the Conquistadors of the ABA and the relocated Buffalo Braves (renamed the Clippers), made brief stops in San Diego but the city hasn't hosted a pro basketball team since 1984, making 41 years and a world championship seem like a pretty good run. As terrible as it was to lose the Sonics, things could always be worse: we could be San Diego.




Friday, January 3

Who likes short-shorts?


Who likes short-shorts? Apparently Seattle Supersonics legend Lenny Wilkens did, and you can have your very own pair if you win this Ebay auction

Tuesday, December 24

Merry Kemp-Mas To All!



And to all a Rudy White! Happy Holidays to Seattle Supersonics fans around the world from the gang of idiots at Supersonicsoul. 


Monday, December 23

We Three Kings (Sonics Edition)

Merry (Almost) Christmas Supersonicsouliacs! Quick Christmas Quiz: In the 41-year history of the Seattle Supersonics (sniff-sniff) there were only three Kings. Can you name them?

(Answer after the page break)


Wednesday, November 27

Seattle Supersonics in the Playoffs: A Tale of Two Cities



With Thanksgiving just around the corner, folks across the country turn introspective, reflecting on the things in life they are most thankful for. And if the Seattle Supersonics were still around, they might be giving thanks for the Houston Rockets.

The Sonics and the (then San Diego) Rockets entered the league together in 1967. They wouldn't meet in the playoffs until 1982, but when they did, the Sonics dominated Houston.

Between 1980 and 2000, the Sonics defeated the Rockets five straight times in the playoffs before losing in their final meeting in 1997.

Of course, during that same period they lost five straight times to the Lakers in the postseason. As with most things in Seattle basketball history, no great accomplishment went unpunished.


SONICS vs ROCKETS

1982 -- WON, 2-1, first round

1987 -- WON, 4-2, conference semifinals

1989 -- WON, 3-1, first round

1993 -- WON, 4-3, conference semifinals

1996 -- WON, 4-0, conference semifinals

SONICS vs LAKERS

1980 -- LOST, 4-1, conference finals

1987 -- LOST, 4-0, conference finals

1989 -- LOST, 4-0, conference semifinals

1995 -- LOST, 3-1, first round

1998 -- LOST, 4-1, conference semifinals

Despite the seemingly one-sided history with the Rockets in the playoffs, the games were usually nail-bitters. Three out of the five series victories were decided in overtime, including the epic double OT battle in 1987, a game Sonics fans everywhere will always be thankful for. 

Friday, November 1

Da Fortson Club

Danny Fortson Seattle Supersonics


Do you remember Danny Fortson and his wonderful, crazy, maddening 2004-05 season? If you’re a Sonic fan, of course you do. I think the prevailing memory for NBA fans of Fortson (for those who remember him, anyway) is that of a thug, but he was much more than that.

For that season (and much of his career, really), Fortson was a foul-drawing, foul-inducing, efficiency machine. Yes, his hate-hate relationship with officials was tough to digest and severely limited his minutes, but on the offensive end the man was a joy to watch, drawing fouls at a ridiculous rate, and converting at the foul line at an equally marvelous percentage. Check the numbers (all per 36 minutes of play):

Personal Fouls: 9.1
Free Throw Attempts: 8.9
Free Throw Percentage: 88%

It’s crazy, right? The stereotype of a guy who draws nine fouls per 36 minutes is that of an undisciplined and bruising power forward, someone incapable of making more than half of his free throws, let alone nearly 90%.

In fact, if you look it up, here’s the list of players in NBA history to have averaged eight fouls and eight free throw attempts per 36 minutes, while shooting better than 80% from the line, and playing more than 500 minutes (I call it the Rule of 8, or Da Fortson Club):

Danny Fortson, 2004-05

And that’s it. In fact, you have to slide the requirements down to seven fouls and seven free throw attempts per 36 minutes, and a 70% free throw percentage to even find two other players who qualify, and they were playing during the Eisenhower administration.

You could say many things about Danny Fortson – lovable bruiser, offensively gifted thug, efficient hacker – but he is without peer in NBA history when it comes to drawing fouls, dishing fouls out, and converting at the charity stripe.

Thursday, September 26

Seattle Supersonics and the groupies who loved them



Deadspin reprinted a great Esquire article from 1992 by E. Jean Carroll about basketball groupies in the post-Magic NBA. There are some interesting/embarrassing stories about many old-school players, including the Seattle Supersonics' own "Big Smooth" Sam Perkins:
Miss Diana Mendoza is going to Tone Loc's record company tonight, so she has to buy a new bustier, but she has time to whip by in the Jetta Eddie Murphy bought her and meet me at the Source on Sunset Boulevard for a sandwich. Miss Mendoza is Austrian, Spanish, Native American, and Moroccan and has been an extra in a couple of movies. She has hung out at Magic's house with Miss Power and says that she "loves Earvin," but the one person she always wanted to meet was Sam Perkins. "Sam was like everything," Miss Mendoza had told me and now tells me again. "Magic had a party at the Palladium and all the ballplayers were there, and I told Robin there's only one NBA player I want to meet, and she said who, and I said Sam Perkins. And she introduced me! And I said when I met him, 'I rooted for you!' And we've been liking each other ever since. We had a date, but"—her bosom rises and falls with dejection—"we've never gotten together."
Awwww. But they are not as complimentary about another former Sonic:
Olden Polynice drives in for a stunning, almost indigestible, slam dunk.

"The ugliest player in the NBA," agree the young ladies, dipping into the jalapeƱos.
(cue sad trombone)Read the whole story here.

Wednesday, September 25

Friday, September 6

Supersonicsoul Hall of Fame: Gary Payton

The Glove

Words: PN | Illustration: Rafael Calonzo Jr.

Gary Payton is going into the real Hall of Fame this weekend. Obviously, we love Gary Payton. This story was originally published on July 24, 2008. 
 
How does it happen?

How does a man so menacing, so scowling, so intense become so beloved?

How does a brash youngster from Oakland by way of Corvallis become the most treasured player in four decades of Seattle basketball?

So many questions, all coming back to the same answer.

Intensity.
Gary Payton’s given middle name may have been Dwayne, but to those of us who followed his career in a Sonics’ jersey, his true middle name was always Intensity. His 1,335-game career was built upon a foundation of ferocious defense, perhaps more than any guard in history.


Ask yourself: How many other guards earned nicknames because of defensive skills? Are there any beyond Payton? He wasn’t “The Glove” for the way he stroked teammates’ egos, he was “The Glove” because of the way he clung to opposing guards like a wool sock to a freshly laundered towel.

Relax and remember Payton now in your mind’s eye. Not the GP that wandered the NBA like Odysseus for the final years of his career; that wasn’t The Glove. I mean the Payton who dominated his position for a decade in Seattle, the Payton who inhabited the All-Defense Team as if it was his summer cottage.

What do you see when you turn on the film projector in your mind? Is it the chest-bumping menace, arms stretching ever-outwards – as if he was part Plastic Man and could reach all the way around a man from both sides? Perhaps you see him poised in his defensive stance, shorts hiked up with a snarl – oh, that menacing snarl! – daring his opponent to try and drive past him? Is it the way he snapped off jumpers with disdain, as if he couldn’t believe he had to settle for an outside shot when all he really wanted to do was drive into the forest of big men? Maybe you see Payton artfully lofting the ball to an absolute perfect apex up-up-up for Kemp to snatch it and throw it back down-down-DOWN through the cylinder, a roller coaster of delicate passing and violent dunking so utterly incongruous it defied description?

For me, that rickety film projector always plays the same clip. It is Payton cockily trotting backwards up the court after yet another knife-like incision into the paint, his head cocked sideways, mouth wide open, words spilling out faster than an Al Sharpton sermon. It wasn’t enough for Payton to beat you, he wanted you to know you had been beaten, that he was going to beat you again the next time, and the time after that, and the time after that, and if you didn’t watch yourself, he was going to take the ball right from your ha .... crap, there he goes!

To me, the pinnacle of Payton’s tenure wasn’t the 1996 NBA Finals but two years previous, during the infamous 1993-94 season. The trio of Payton, Nate McMillan, and Kendall Gill only lasted two seasons in Seattle, but it was two seasons of utter hell for opposing guards. Three guards, three defensive demons, all three capable of a steal at a moment’s notice.

Just how fantastic were Payton and his Co-conspirators? The NBA has kept track of steals since the 1972-73 season, and in those 35 years, two teams have managed to pass 1,000 steals in a season – and one of them was the 1993-94 Sonics (if you know the other, tout your knowledge in the comments). So great were the Sonics that season that the second-place team was closer to seventh than to first. The incomparable McMillan led all individual players in steals despite averaging a scant 26 minutes, and Gill and Payton both cracked the league’s top ten, but even those amazing figures don’t tell the whole story.

The Sonics were like religious fanatics that season, and assistant coaches Tim Grgurich and Bob Kloppenburg were the resident preachers. The whole team (well, perhaps not Ricky Pierce; never Ricky Pierce) drank in their defensive mantras, and the most apt disciples were Gill, McMillan, and Payton.

Imagine yourself an opposing point guard that season. Perhaps you’re Spud Webb of the Kings, and you’ve been given the role of bringing the ball up against Gary Payton. You receive the inbounds pass and turn backwards as you approach half-court, but Payton starts bumping you with his chest, forcing you to spin sideways so you can gain an angle. Out of the corner of your eye, you see McMillan inching off his man, eyes intensely focused on the ball, waiting for you to let up for just one second. You pivot around again, trying to get by Payton so that you can just pass the ball to someone – anyone – and be done with these vultures. But he won’t let you get by; Gary wants you to do the work. The shot-clock ticks downward, urging you to cross the line before a violation is called.

Finally, you make it past half-court, and now McMillan has given up the charade of guarding his man – why bother, the idea of you passing the ball was laughable to begin with – and now he’s bearing down on you and the two-headed monster – McPayton – has you by the throat. As Payton slaps at the ball for the sixth time in the last eight seconds – or was it McMillan? who can tell? – your willpower begins to fade. Who can withstand this fury? Finally, Payton wins, Kemp sprints down the court, snatches an alley-oop, the crowd screams, Garry St. Jean beckons for a timeout, and you trudge back to the bench, only to see Gill taking off his warmups.

It never ended.

Well, that was every night in 1993-94 – every night until the Denver Nuggets and Dikembe Mutombo ... no, we won’t talk about that part today.

But back to Payton (wipes blood from forehead after aborted attempt at lobotomy). I don’t think it’s a stretch to make the claim that he’s the greatest player in team history. To wit:

- Franchise leader in games, minutes, points, assists, and steals
- 18,207 points scored, or as many as Gus Williams and Xavier McDaniel combined
- Nine-time all star
- Nine times 1st, 2nd, or 3rd-team All-NBA
- Nine times 1st-team All Defensive Team
- Of the ten best single-season PERs in team history, five belong to Payton

Admittedly, Payton was not the perfect player. His antagonistic attitude towards rookies was frustrating to the team’s development, and his undying confidence in his abilities – so useful on the court – proved to be his undoing off it, as he wound up being on the losing end of a battle with Howard Schultz. At the time of his trade to Milwaukee for Ray Allen, most fans bemoaned the move, but looking back it was obviously a wise one.

That said, there’s no point belaboring the argument of his place in Sonic history. Gary Payton is the greatest Sonic ever and will be the first (only?) drafted Sonic ever inducted into the Hall of Fame. He is the Alpha and the Omega of Seattle basketball. There is no “if only” with Payton because he never left the door open to questioning – he played seemingly every minute of every game he could in a Sonics’ uniform with a manic fury unrivaled in Seattle sports history. A history of the SuperSonics without Gary Payton would be like a history of the United States without Abraham Lincoln, a history of rap music without Public Enemy. He may not have been the first or the last, but his importance is as undeniable as his will to compete.

Have I said enough? Perhaps. I’ll yield the floor, then, to the man himself, with words from his appearance at the Save Our Sonics rally a month ago.

“You guys have always supported me, and I’m supporting you,” Payton said, the crowd chanting his name as if it was 1996 once again. “And there ain’t nothin’ going to be stamped on my chest but Sonics when I go into the Hall of Fame.”

Still intense. Still beloved.

Thursday, September 5

Time Flies

How long has it been since the Sonics abandoned Seattle? Well, here's one way to look at it: My youngest daughter starts kindergarten today.

She was born after the team moved to Oklahoma.