I have had, for some time now, a rather bizarre fascination with the remnants of long-deceased franchises.
There is no rational explanation for this obsession, although I imagine it began while collecting baseball cards in the early 1980s. As much as I enjoyed discovering the nuances of Jim Essian’s 1.000 batting average or Bert Campaneris’ bizarre 1970 home run total, I was just as happy with the team names and cities which only existed as a quick blip on the back of those cards.
Sure, Toby Harrah’s last name forms a wonderful palindrome, but what the heck was the deal with the WASH at the top of his statistics? Who was the SEA on Marty Pattin’s card? And just what happened to those teams, those Roanoke Colonies of major league baseball?
As a 10-year-old, it was difficult to piece together, but fascinating nonetheless; those brief elements of history intrigued me, much the same way that the still-living actors who served as munchkins in The Wizard of Oz still command a small (pardon the pun) bit of attention from fans of that film, or why so much interest was lavished upon the last surviving members of the Titanic. In some way, they enable us to touch a piece of history.
It’s the same for the last men who played for extinct teams; their continuing existence in pro sports – whether basketball, football, or whatever – enables fans to see tangible evidence of a fable.
As you might have heard, the Sonics left Seattle nearly two years ago, with a roster full of cast-offs, rookies, and failed big men. From among that muck, though, are two young men – Jeff Green and Kevin Durant – who will undoubtedly be playing professional basketball for a very, very long time. The Pippen to Durant’s Jordan, Green may wind up outlasting his more famous teammate, but considering the age difference, the smart money is on Durant to hang on longer.
Durant is now 21 years old, having celebrated his birthday last September. By the end of this season, he will have scored – barring injury – more than 5,000 points as an NBA player. By that same age, the last two famous Seattle Sonic teenagers, Shawn Kemp and Rashard Lewis, had scored about 3,500 points.
Obviously, we’re talking about a special player here. Having played only a single season in Seattle at the start of what should be a prosperous career, is it possible that Durant will stand alone as the longest-tenured player of a defunct team? In other words, will his career stretch out the longest after the death of his initial team?
I did a bit of research, and, surprisingly, my guess is no. Here’s the list, in ascending order, of the longest careers after a team went bust. The numbers correspond to the number of years each player was in the league after their respective team either moved or folded.
LaSalle Thompson – Kansas City Kings
Tiny Archibald – Cincinnati Royals
Calvin Murphy – San Diego Rockets
Paul Silas – St. Louis Hawks
Walt Bellamy – Chicago Zephyrs
Chet Walker – Syracuse Nationals
Elgin Baylor – Minneapolis Lakers
Adrian Dantley – Buffalo Braves
Elvin Hayes – San Diego Rockets
Don Nelson – Chicago Zephyrs
Eddie Johnson – Kansas City Kings
Tom Chambers – San Diego Clippers
Ricky Pierce – San Diego Clippers
Otis Thorpe – Kansas City Kings
Terry Cummings – San Diego Clippers
And, your champion, at 17 years
Moses Malone – Buffalo Braves
You have to admit it’s a fascinating list, featuring no fewer than six players with ties to Seattle (Baylor, EJ, Chambers, Pierce, Cummings, and Silas). Of more importance, though, is the amazing career of Moses Eugene Malone, who played two games for Buffalo in 1976-77 at the age of 21, was dealt to Houston for two first-round picks, then spent the next 17 years moving his ample posterior throughout a wide array of NBA arenas, before finally coming to rest in the Hall of Fame.
Will Durant last 18 years in the league? It’s entirely possible, of course, but consider the length of the careers of these gentlemen, who, like Durant, scored 1,200 or more points in their age 20 seasons:
Magic Johnson – 17
Adrian Dantley – 15
Chris Webber – 15
Spencer Haywood – 14
Cliff Robinson – 13
Isiah Thomas – 13
Shareef Abdur-Rahim – 12
Antoine Walker – 12
John Drew – 11
Johnny Neumann – 7
Zero for ten. To be fair, there are a number of active players who will likely reach at least 17 seasons (Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett are at the top of that list), but for every Shaq there are a whole host of Tracy McGradys.
So, while it’s hard to say if Durant will match Moses’ longevity, it’s pretty clear to me that he will be the last man standing to have worn a Sonic jersey. And maybe, 15 years from now, some kid will be looking at three-dimensional statistics on his HoloComputer and ask his dad, “Who’s this team Kevin Durant played for at the start of his career? What’s a Sonic?”
And that sound, my friends, is the sound of a hundred Seattle fans punching themselves in the leg.