Friday, July 25

Supersonicpedia: Bud Olsen


Here’s the thing about Bud Olsen – former Sonic, former Louisville Cardinal – the man had a way of finding memorable teammates.

You look at Olsen’s career and you don’t reach for superlatives; four points a night in about 450 games will do that. But the teammates, oh the teammates the man had.

Let’s start in Cincinnati, the introduction of Olsen to the NBA, where he played with Oscar Robertson (future Hall of Famer), as well as Jerry Lucas (HOF). From Cincy, Olsen was sent to San Francisco, where he was introduced to Rick Barry (HOF), as well as Nate Thurmond (who would be if he had played for Boston or LA). Then to Boston for a brief spell, where, naturally, Olsen picked up a few more HOFers, including Bill Russell, Sam Jones, John Havlicek, Tom Sanders, and Don Nelson (not yet, but we know it’s coming some day).

Next came Detroit, where Olsen played with Walt Bellamy (HOF), Dave Bing (HOF), and Dave Debusschere (HOF). That gives us 11 so far. Next comes two more – Bill Sharman and Alex Hannum – both HOFers, both of whom coached Olsen at some point, making the total 13. Add in Dan Issel and Artis Gilmore from the year Olsen served as an assistant with Kentucky and we’ve got 15 Hall of Famers with whom Bud Olsen had direct contact as a player or coach. For someone who never played in the NBA Finals, averaged fewer than eight points a game, and had a career of less than a decade, it’s a remarkable feat. Who knows, maybe I missed a couple in there, but after awhile you start to lose count.


Enoch “Bud” Olsen made a name for himself in Ohio high school ball in the 1950s, where he ran into folks like Bobby Knight, John Havlicek, Jerry Lucas and Mel Nowell, before heading to Louisville, where he took the Cardinals and their new building – Freedom Hall – to the Final Four in 1959. Perhaps as important, Olsen’s presence helped lure his brother, Bill, to Louisville, where he wound up being a key figure in the revitalization of the Louisville athletic program in the 1990s and 2000s.

Anyhow, thinking he’d make a nice addition to their club, the Cincinnati Royals took the local kid in the second round of the 1962 draft, where Olsen began his rather vagabond journey through the NBA. Obviously, Olsen wasn’t expecting life in the pros to be just life in Kentucky, but just how different it would be was a revelation.

Olsen was a teammate of the great Oscar Robertson with the Royals, who recalled this humorous story to the NY Times’ Ira Berkow in 2002:

''I was told that when you go to the Garden, and a kid says he wants to carry your bag, don't let him,'' he said. ''And I didn't. A few years later, when I was playing for the Royals, Bud Olsen, a teammate of mine, gave his bag to a kid. The kid disappeared with it. Olsen couldn't play that night. No uniform.''

Olsen was an admirer of Robertson’s skills. In his book, “The Big O,” Robertson said Olsen would “sit on the bench and watch my moves and punch the guy next to him, ‘You see that? You see that?’”

Anyways, aside from getting a chance to watch Robertson up close, Olsen never got much time with the Royals, with his best season coming in 1964-65 when he averaged 17 minutes and 7.5 points a game. He was traded to San Francisco at the end of the season and spent one year in the Bay before being exposed in the expansion draft, which is how he wound up wearing a Seattle Sonics jersey in 1967.

(Which , when you think about it, was one heckuva ride for a 25-year-old. In the span of five years ol’ Bud went from Ohio to San Francisco; and not just any San Francisco, either. 1966 San Francisco.)

His time in Seattle was relatively unmemorable, and at the end of the season the Sonics let him go in another expansion draft, this time to Milwaukee.

Bizarrely, Olsen failed to latch on with the expansion Bucks, but somehow found a role as a backup to Bill Russell (in what would be Russell’s last year) with the perennial champion Boston Celtics. By December, though, Red Auerbach decided he had seen enough, and he let Olsen go so that the Celtics could grab Jim Barnes instead.

Olsen drifted to Detroit for 10 more games that season (this was 1968-69), but that ended his NBA career. Thinking they could capitalize on Olsen’s college fame, the Kentucky Colonels grabbed Olsen for the 1969-70 season. He wasn’t the only player with Kentucky ties … the Colonels used a total of nine guys who went to college in Kentucky that year.

He had a good year for the Colonels, advancing to the Eastern Division Finals while playing 18 minutes a night during the playoffs. Olsen later told a Louisville magazine, “But when they brought in Dan Issel on a no-cut contract, I decided to retire from playing and became an assistant coach. I was under Joe Mullaney and then Babe McCarthy for two years and then a new opportunity came up and I accepted a position that put me in charge of ABA officials.”

Whether Olsen retired or was traded is hard to tell. According to multiple sources, Olsen was dealt to Dallas in July along with two other players for Cincy Powell (who would play in the ABA All-Star Game that season). Olsen served as an assistant coach with the Colonels in 1973-74, but not during the 1971-1973 period. In addition, he worked as a broadcaster for Kentucky Colonels games during the 1971-72.

With his basketball playing/coaching/broadcasting/referee overseeing in the past, Olsen turned to the real world and worked in sales for Schardein Mechanical and while also acting as a director for Team Up for Kids in Louisville. Olsen never garnered as much recognition in the NBA as he had in the NCAA, and it isn’t a huge surprise that he returned to Louisville to live when his career ended. Now 69, Olsen lives less than 10 minutes from the Louisville campus, where he no doubt is still active in the area’s ongoing love affair of all things Cardinal.

Sunday, June 1

Today is the 35th Anniversary of the Habegger Hop


Today is the 35th anniversary of the first and only championship in Seattle Supersonics history. Be sure to get down like Freddie Brown and save some room for the Habegger Hop.

Thursday, May 29

Steve Ballmer buys Clippers, renames them Clippys



Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer just bought the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion dollars, almost four times the record amount paid for the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this month. Ballmer, who was part of a group that tried to purchase the Sacramento Kings and move them to the Northwest last year, says he intends to keep the team in Los Angeles because, apparently, every city deserves at least two more NBA teams than Seattle. 

Wednesday, May 28

Supersonics Talk on Short Corner Podcast


Hey Supersonicsouliacs! If you'd like to hear me whine about being a basketball fan without a team and hear a story about Ervin Johnson's penis, you won't want to miss this episode of the very funny Short Corner Podcast with Paul Shirley and Just Halpern.

Wednesday, May 21

Championship Fallout



Happy Birthday, former Sonic James Bailey

There is a paragraph in Lenny Wilkens’ autobiography Unguarded, where the former Seattle Sonics coach talks about what made staying at the top of the NBA mountain so difficult after the Sonics had captured the NBA title against Washington in the 1978-79 season. Allow me to quote:



Another by-product of winning is low draft choices. The more you win, the lower you draft. So we didn’t have an influx of young talent to replace the aging veterans such as Silas, John Johnson, and Fred Brown.



Just one problem with Wilkens’ theory: It’s crap.

I’m sorry, that’s too blunt. To be fair, Wilkens explains in previous pages that the main culprit is “Championship Fallout,” or what Pat Riley calls “The Disease of Me.” Put simply, many of the Sonics’ players became greedy or complacent after winning the title in 1979.

But, that’s not our issue today. No, we’re focused on Wilkens’ contention that by winning the NBA Title in 1979, the Sonics were doomed to fail simply because the team continued to win large numbers of games in subsequent years, leading to low picks.

Oddly, co-writer Terry Pluto never called Wilkens on this, but a simple glance at the draft board for June 1979 shows the Sonics with the #7 pick overall, a pick they received in compensation from the Knicks after Marvin Webster signed as a free agent with New York.

That #7 pick was Vinnie Johnson, who wound up playing in three NBA Finals … for the Detroit Pistons.

Well, you say, that’s just one player. How can you expect the Sonics to reload with just one top 10 pick in a few seasons?

Ah, yes, but you forget, Vinnie Johnson wasn’t the Sonics ONLY first round pick that year. In fact, he wasn’t even their HIGHEST first round pick that year.

That’s right, the NBA Champion Seattle Sonics not only had the #7 pick in the draft, they had the #6 pick in the draft. In the entire history of the NBA, can you point to any other NBA Champion with TWO top ten picks the month they won the title? I’m too lazy to do the research, but I’m guessing it’s not a long list.

That pick – James Bailey – turns 57 today, and is, obviously, the reason you’re reading this right now. And while Bailey never materialized as the NBA star the Sonics hoped, the fact they were even able to select him at all throws quite a bit of mud in the face of Wilkens’ excuse that a main factor for his inability to maintain a championship team was lack of access to bright, young talent.

Ironically, the Sonics found greater talent in the fourth round when they drafted James Donaldson, who, of course, went on to great success with the Dallas Mavericks, and in the second round, when they selected Johnny Moore, who went on to score 5,000 points with the (mostly) San Antonio Spurs.

In all, players drafted by the Sonics the month they won Seattle’s first major sports championship went on to score 30,000 points and grab 15,000 rebounds in the NBA, most of which came in jerseys that were not green and yellow.

In the end, it appears that contrary to Lenny Wilkens’ theory, the problem wasn’t that the Sonics didn’t have access to talent – it was that they didn’t know what to do with it when they found it.

Friday, May 9

Supersonicpedia: George Wilson



From time to time, Supersonicsoul tries to highlight players from the beginnings of the team's history, rather than just the heroes of the last 20 years. The following is a reprint of an article on an original member of the Sonics, George Wilson, who turns 72 today.




I’ve always been curious about the “winner” label that gets affixed to athletes.

Bill Russell had it – he won with the University of San Francisco, then with the Celtics, so much winning that people started thinking he was incapable of losing.

Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird – they were all winners at multiple levels.

So much of it is nonsense – Cousy, Jabbar, Pippen, and McHale had more than a little to do with those first four gentlemen’s successes, right?

It’s funny, though, you never hear about guys who won a lot before turning pro, then failed when they got there.

You know, like George Wilson.

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George Wilson came to the Sonics by way of the 1967 expansion draft, arriving in town after the Sonics selected him from the Bulls. A 6’8” or so center/power forward, his career in the NBA never amounted to all that much – 5.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg in 400-odd games – but before he turned pro, Wilson was a winning machine, with a record even Bill Russell himself would envy.

At Marshall High School in Chicago, Wilson led his team to two state titles and was named a national All-American in the process. From there, he went to the University of Cincinnati, where he teamed up with the great Oscar Robertson and won yet another championship.

Not satisfied, Wilson turned to the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, winning a Gold Medal after sinking two crucial baskets in the final moments of a nail-biting win over Yugoslavia – the closest the US had come to losing in Olympic history.

In the span of six years – from 1958 to 1964 – Wilson had accumulated two high school championships, an NCAA title, and an Olympic Gold Medal.

Let’s say, at this point, George Wilson, rather than John Thompson, gets selected by Boston in the 1964 draft, gets another half-dozen rings on his fingers as a reserve big man for the Celtics, how do we then view George Wilson? Isn’t it possible, just possible, that rather as a forgotten undersized center from 40 years ago, he becomes a “winner?” Isn’t it possible that the Hall of Fame starts thinking about adding him to their ranks?

But enough about that speculation, let’s look at what really happened to George Wilson, member of the 1967-68 Seattle Sonics.

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George Wilson was born in Meridan, Mississippi back in May of 1942. Because of the racism prevalent throughout the south at the time, Wilson’s family split while he was still young, eventually winding up in Chicago with his mother and stepfather.

By the time he reached Marshall High School in Chicago, an all-black school, Wilson was already a talent, but a raw one. Between his freshman and sophomore seasons, he learned to shoot a hook shot, and his career took off. Averaging 26 points a game during the next three seasons, the 6’8” Wilson dominated games, and took the Commandos to the State Title twice, the first all-black team to do so in Illinois.

With colleges around the country coveting him, Wilson opted for Cincinnati because of his admiration for Oscar Robertson. After spending one season on the freshman team while the varsity won the NCAA tournament, Wilson became a key member of the squad his sophomore year as Cincy captured its second consecutive title.

By the time 1964 rolled around, Wilson’s skills were evident to those that put together the Olympic team, but because of an arcane rule that limited each school to no more than one member on the team, Wilson’s chances at travelling to Tokyo seemed slim as his teammate, Ron Bonham, the team’s leading scorer, had already been selected.

Luckily for Wilson, he was selected for an AAU all-star team that wound up playing against the Olympic team in a tournament. His 19 rebounds persuaded the selectors to put him on the squad, and just like that, he was headed for Tokyo.

Wilson made sure they wouldn’t regret it.


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When George “Jiff” Wilson joined the US Olympic Team in Tokyo in 1964, he wasn’t the biggest name there. (How did he get that nickname? Oh, it’s a delicious story. Turns out that Jiff peanut butter came out with a kangaroo mascot around that time and George’s teammates thought he could jump higher than the kangaroo. Laugh if you will, but Wilson was much better off than his 6’5”, 270-pound teammate, John “Joe Camel” Franklin).

Walt Hazzard, Bill Bradley, Lucious Jackson, Larry Brown … those were some of the other names, and I’m guessing that during the pre-game show on ABC (or whoever was broadcasting it back then, although I’m willing to bet a small fortune that Jim McKay and/or Lindsay Nelson were involved), the only time you heard Wilson’s name was when they were showing one of those super-duper graphics they used to use back in the day.

Anyhow, after four games Wilson had 18 points and 12 fouls, and while they didn’t have uber-statisticians back then to tell us how to think about what we were watching, it’s not a stretch to imagine that he wasn’t up for any trophies at the end of the Olympics.

Considering they had just come up obliterating Uruguay 83-28, confidence was a bit high going into the Yugoslavia game. The Yugos, though, had other ideas, and they were within four points of the US with two minutes to go.

Wilson held the ball, all his teammates covered. With the shot clock near zero, he fired one up, hit it and heaved a huge sigh of relief.

Less than a minute later, the situation repeated itself. Again, the Yugos sloughed off Wilson, he waited, waited, waited … and hit another jumper.

US lead: 8 points.

From then on, the US cruised to victory in every game, earning Wilson and his teammates a gold medal.

"To this day, I wonder what would have happened had I not made those jump shots," Wilson told UC Magazine in an interview.

"When they put those gold medals around our necks, I don't know how I could have had a bigger smile," he says. "I think I cracked the corners of my mouth smiling so big. I was like a little kid at Christmas."

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Passed over in the regular NBA draft, Wilson wound up being a territorial selection by the Cincinnati Royals in 1964, where he would again join Oscar Robertson and two other UC grads (Tom Thacker and Jack Twyman).

The Royals were good, but not good enough, earning playoff berths for three straight years and getting knocked out in the first round in each of them. In November 1966, the Royals decided to start unloading some of their local talent, and Wilson’s 20% FG percentage didn’t exactly endear him to the front office, so off he went to Chicago, a truly dismal team, and he ended the season with the Bulls.

Come that spring, the Bulls were about as impressed with Wilson’s skills as the Royals were, so they exposed him in the expansion draft, where the Sonics swiftly snapped him up.

“He is definitely a center,” Sonic GM Don Richman told the Seattle Times, assuaging any doubts people had about the 6’8” Wilson while also announcing he had signed the new Sonic to a two-year deal.



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Like the rest of the newly formed Sonics, George Wilson’s expectations were mixed heading into the 1967-68 season.

On the one hand, a new team offered the opportunity for increased playing time. On the other, an expansion team meant losing – and lots of it, something Wilson hadn’t experienced much in his basketball career, although that losing would be tempered by, well, we’ll let Wilson explain:

"We had nice uniforms, I always remembered those," Wilson told the Seattle Times 40 years later. "We always at least looked nice."

So there was that.

Regardless of how they looked, Wilson could at least count on more minutes, for as late as mid-September he was ticketed to share the center duties with Dorie Murrey. Unfortunately, rookie Bob Rule proved to be better than either Wilson or Murrey (including a remarkable 31/21 performance against the Knicks in November), and wound up playing almost more minutes by himself (2,424) than the two veterans combined (2,730).

Wilson, playing only 16 minutes a night, still put up the best numbers of his career, with 6.1/6.1 in points and rebounds. Still, his low FG% (35.9) offset his strong rebounding and defense.

Still, there were bright spots, such as an early February night in Seattle when the Sonics took on Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and the rest of the mighty Lakers.

Trailing by 19 points behind pathetic 22% first-half shooting, the Sonics were dealt another blow when Bob Rule found himself ejected following a punch of LA’s Erwin Mueller (a future Sonic and a former teammate of Wilson’s from Chicago).

With Dorie Murrey in foul trouble, the Sonics had to lean on Wilson the rest of the way, and he delivered. Rallying behind Wilson’s 19 rebounds in 28 minutes, to go with 10 points and five assists, the Sonics came storming back. Seattle held a 107-104 lead late, but even then the Seattle Center faithful had to hold their breaths after a missed shot attempt fell into the hands of Baylor.

Thinking quickly, Wilson knocked the ball out of the former Seattle U’s hands, and, as the Times Gil Lyons’ described it, “while flat on his back, flipped a pass to Tom Meschery for a layin.”

Ballgame.

Seattle’s 87 rebounds set a club record (later broken), and were 23 more than the Lakers’, thanks in no small part to Wilson’s efforts.

Unfortunately, that would prove to be one of the highlights of George Wilson’s time in Seattle. By the time spring rolled around, he found himself once again picked in an expansion draft, this time by the Phoenix Suns. His time in Seattle spanned less than a calendar year.

Wilson would bounce from Phoenix to Philadelphia (via trade) and finally to Buffalo (once again, via expansion; Wilson may be the only player in NBA history to have been selected in no fewer than three expansion drafts; hey, at least somebody wanted him).

In Buffalo, Wilson got frustrated at management’s double-dealing (they told him he’d be a center, then tried to make him a forward), telling the University of Cincinnati magazine in 1984:

“I was very angry and bitter then. They had something like nine guys with no-cut contracts, then I got cut even though I’d outplayed some of the other guys in camp.”

Rather than keep banging his head against the wall, Wilson retired, and pursued a variety of other interests in his post-playing days, ranging from the restoration of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Museum in Ohio, working as a YMCA director, for 5 years with a neighborhood youth corps, taught at-risk kids in the Cincy school district for 10 years, then finally “retired” in 2002, although he continues to operate his own consulting company, worked with the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, gives speeches, and is active with the NBA Players Association. When he wasn’t busy with that, he helped raise three children with his wife, Jean, whom he separated from and later remarried, creating a blended family of six children. His son, Derek, played basketball professionally in Europe, but in reading stories about George, you can tell he’s most proud of the fact his children are all good people.

More than anything these days, Wilson serves as a goodwill ambassador for the University of Cincinnati, ready with a smile and a greeting to almost anyone he meets.  A champion – on-court and off.