Wednesday, July 27
Lenny Wilkens/Spencer Haywood Chat
Two choice tidbits:
1. Lenny: "The current NBA business model doesn't work because of huge guaranteed contracts. Lots of teams make mistakes on talent, and then they're stuck with the contract for its duration. That penalizes a lot of teams who are over the salary cap."
Cough, MLB, cough.
2. Spencer: I go into the Hall of Fame in 2012, and I would love to be a Sonic and see a Sonic team here.
Whoa ... Hold the phone. Spencer Haywood is going into the Hall of Fame? Anybody know anything about this? If what he's saying is true, then Haywood just broke a huge story on a Seattle Times chat.
Monday, July 25
Sonic Library: What's Happenin'?
It’s funny, but in a way, Blaine Johnson was blogging before blogging was blogging. He was blogging before the internet, before computers, before all of it.
Johnson just called it reporting.
And that roundabout description is the best I can muster for Johnson’s roundabout book, What’s Happenin’? A Revealing Journey Through the World of Professional Basketball.
Ostensibly about the 1976-77 Sonics, Johnson’s book contains as many paragraphs about the author as it does the subject, which is fine if the author is Spencer Haywood, but, hey, if I wanted to read a book about Blaine Johnson … wait, who wants to read a book about Blaine Johnson?
The answer is very few people, which explains the book’s less-than-prestigious standing amongst the Sonic Library. Still, despite Johnson’s best efforts to derail his book with wandering bouts of navel-gazing, there are a number of reasons to recommend Johnson’s tome. The man has a knack for phrasing (Dennis Johnson: “Kind of a black Huck Finn”) and getting people to talk, whether it’s the recalcitrant Bill Russell, the not-so-recalcitrant Slick Watts, or any of the myriad of characters you run across in a tale about 1970s NBA basketball.
That ability to get information is a boon to the latter-day Seattle hoop fan. My knowledge of ancient (all due respect to our 50+ year old readers) Sonics history is limited, and What’s Happenin’ does a stellar job of introducing us to the backstories of Seattle basketball in the mid-70s. From Russell’s enmity towards anyone and everyone (the Sonics’ coach even made an enemy of Wayne Cody, who would seem to be the most amiable – if not rotund – man in King County), to Slick Watts’ unending sparring with those he felt denied him his rightful place as a Sonic hero, to a bizarre mid-season dustup involving Bob McAdoo, a Buffalo Braves ownership change, Sam Schulman on a Hong Kong business trip, 327 other complications … well, it was 1976, and the only thing simple back then were the plots on network television.
Unfortunately, Johnson spends an inordinate amount of time congratulating himself for scoring interviews with the reclusive Bill Walton, so much so that the reader begins to wonder if the book is going to be about the Portland TrailBlazers. Further, he delves too deeply into his hardships on the road and his poor relationships with certain members of the Sonics, both of which only serve as detractions from his ability to tell a story.
A reader can easily contrast the style of What’s Happenin? to Curt Sampson’s Full Court Pressure, a classic tale of early 90s Sonic craziness. In Sampson’s book, the emphasis is on the Sonics with the author playing a minor role, a style with which I am much more enamored. Johnson’s style – emblematic of the 70s, I suppose – tends to cause the reader to skip ahead for large chunks of the book, hoping to find choice tidbits about the team’s activities, rather than the author’s.
In one ironic passage, Johnson relates his first encounter with Julius Erving. The Doctor was making his first west coast jaunt after jumping to the NBA, and Erving’s talents were already causing a stir. Trying to impress the media-besieged 76er with some inside dirt, Johnson makes a point of referencing The Legend of Dr. J, a book Erving had done with Marty Bell. Johnson felt he was able to reach a little deeper into Erving’s mind.
“I made several references to things that had been expressed in the book,” Johnson writes, “feeling he would be appreciative that a reporter was coming from a point of informed reference.”
Later, as the interview scrum concludes, Johnson makes reference again to the book, pointing out that he thought it was very well done.
“I didn’t have anything to do with it,” Erving retorts as he gets into a departing car. “I’ve never read it.”
On first blush it appears to be some welcome self-deprecation from the author. But that relief quickly vanishes as Johnson concludes the story with this gem: “He didn’t even read the fucking book. How does that make you feel, Marty Bell?”
It’s a petty and silly conclusion for Johnson to make, and winds up only belittling himself rather than his intended target.
But enough about Blaine Johnson. The two main characters of the book are clearly Russell and Watts. Russell, brought to Seattle only a few years before by owner Sam Schulman to inject some passion and (hopefully) victories into the Sonics, appears to be losing his passion for the whole business of NBA basketball. Removed from his players, Russell yearns for his halcyon days in Boston, and is frustrated by what he deems lack of team spirit and effort from his present-day club. His sparring with Johnson throughout the book makes for enjoyable reading, and the frustration Russell feels is tangible. With Johnson’s book in your brain, it becomes rather obvious that Russell was kicked out of Seattle, regardless of what his fans claim today.
Watts, meanwhile, is basking in the glow of stardom. An undrafted free agent from Xavier University, Watts was fresh off a number of accolades in the previous season, and while he burns at every perceived slight, his charming personality shines throughout the book. Clearly, he’s a decent player on an awful team, but he’s beloved by the city all the same. Ironically, neither Watts nor Russell would be associated with the Sonics within a year (and, for that matter, neither would Johnson).
It is in the jockeying with Watts and his teammates that Johnson does his best work in the book. All losing teams bitch about their coach – it’s a trite story often told. But the author does a fine job of getting angry, bitter players to open up, even after they feel he’s betrayed them by revealing locker room secrets.
Is What’s Happenin? a great book? Hardly. Is it a fun romp through NBA basketball during the Carter administration? Not exactly. It is, however, an important piece of Sonic history, and, meandering chapters aside, deserving of a spot on every obsessive Sonic fan’s bookshelf.
Sunday, July 24
H206 Charity Game Highlights
(photos by Chunkstyle)
Supersonicsoul cub-reporters Paul Merrill and Rafael "Chunkstyle" Calonzo attended the H206 Charity Game at the Key Saturday. Here's their expert analysis of the game:
PAUL MERRILL: It was the closest I've ever sat to a basketball game without actually being part of the team. Thanks for getting the tickets!
RAFAEL CALONZO: I could say I wanted to have a special bonding event with my kids, or that it was for a great charity cause, but really, I’m a sucker for cheap, up-close tickets to pro(-ish) sporting events.
PM: I admit I was a bit underwhelmed at the rosters at first (Brandon Roy in street clothes? No Sonics?!) but thought they played a hell of a no-defense, all-star type game.
RC: I figured it was unlikely they’d get any true stars like Kevin Durant or Ray Allen for The League squad, but I was really hoping for at least some guys with local connections, like Nick Collison or Jeff Green. But yes, I can’t complain, it was an entertaining exhibition game.
PM: I hadn't really seen any advertising outside of Facebook, so I was a little worried about the crowd, but back me up here, Raf--the place was packed, right?
RC: I’d say, 75-80% of the lower bowl maybe? Which honestly is good turnout for a game that was a) lacking in true star power, b) scheduled on a gorgeous summer day, the same weekend as the Block Party, and c) held three years after the Sonics left town.
PM: It really felt like old-times: a fast-paced game, awful nachos and stupid frat guys sitting behind us. WHY DO THEY ALWAYS SIT BEHIND US?!
RC: It never fails. Good thing the dude-bros always shout HI-LARIOUS commentary and never, ever spill beer on me while trying to catch a free t-shirt. OH WAIT, the opposite happened.
PM: Okay, highlights time. Hawes trying to take it coast-to-coast a couple times and that near through-the-legs alley-oop were pretty great, but I think the highlight for me was seeing Sikma and Kemp sitting side-by-side coaching. Too bad they didn't put themselves in the game!
RC: I was looking for outlines of jerseys under Kemp and Sikma’s polo shirts, but all I saw was love handles. Oh well. There was good dunkage and dribbly showboating regardless.
PM: I don't know about you, but I'd like to see an old-timers game next time. What would you add or change if you were in charge?
RC: DUDE, an old-timers game would totally pack the house. Heck, if the only guys you could get were GP, Reign Man and the Tahoma Junior High JV squad, it would pack the house. I would rig the rules so that for the last 2 minutes of each quarter, the eight other guys leave the floor and the game turns into "How many half-court alley-oops can Gary throw for Shawn before the buzzer?”
PM: Okay, I'm exhausted--I'm not used to being outside of the house for more than two hours. Goodnight!
RC: I think the organizers should chalk it up as a success and do it again next year, too. I’m honestly hoping that next year’s NBA season is cancelled altogether (ahem), which means folks will be even hungrier for another H206 game. Remind me to bring a rain slicker and headphones next year.
Saturday, July 23
What to Wear?
Friday, July 22
H206 Charity Basketball Classic Tomorrow
From the press release:
The A PLUS Youth Program presents the H206 Charity Basketball Classic, a state-wide public celebration showcasing the contribution of basketball to the Pacific Northwest. The game will be held at KeyArena on July 23, 2011, at 2 pm, and will feature current professional basketball players and Seattle legends. Tickets go on sale today at 10 am at Ticketmaster.com, and range from $15 to $150. Discount tickets will also be available at the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club in Seattle.Players scheduled to appear include Brandon Roy, Jamal Crawford, Aaron Brooks, Spencer Hawes, Will Conroy, Isaiah Thomas, Martell Webster, Avery Bradley, Brian Scalabrine, Marvin Williams and Michael Dickerson. According to the Sonicsgate Facebook page, tickets are heavily discounted (2 for 1!) and even free for kids if you pick up tickets at the Rainer Vista Boys and Girls Club tomorrow.
Chunkstyle and I will be there and hopefully will have some pics to share on Monday.
For more info and tickets, go to the official H206 page.
Tuesday, July 19
I'm finishing up Blaine Johnson's great What's Happening'? right now, but before giving you a full-fledged review here's an amazing paragraph from page 125:
“I’m struck again by the comments of the longtime veterans and coaches who span what apparently was a very different era in pro basketball. The league has been diluted by expansion, players are making incredible salaries, many of them guaranteed before he ever plays a pro game. Almost all the arenas are new and shiny, the travel is … first class. … Pro basketball is drawing unprecedented attendance and TV ratings.”Johnson wrote those words in 1977.
Thursday, July 14
Call it one of the levels of grief, call it whatever, but I got tired of documenting the evilness and idiocy of the NBA, of the Oklahoma ownership group, of all of it. I loved the Sonics, loved talking about the great players from their (our) history, and, perhaps most of all, loved the stories of players and coaches that I had previously known nothing about. I suppose I finally came to the conclusion that I liked writing and reading about the Sonics and I hated writing and reading about the NBA.
Don't get me wrong; this is not some "players today are spoiled, the game is all about the money now" nonsense. The NBA has always been about the money, and as a business, it should be about the money. No qualms there.
Which is a long-winded way of explaining why I haven't written anything about the new arena plans, or really anything other than stories about Art Harris or Spencer Haywood for awhile. The way I see it, there are plenty of great places to get news and analysis of the arena issue and, being that the concept of taking another city's team makes me ill, I'd rather not be involved in it.
Anyhow, I'm sitting on about a dozen books now that I've read, and about a half-dozen more to go. The plan is to start putting up book reviews of the ones I've completed, as well as asking for help in finding other possibilities. Here's the list so far:
- Over The Rim, by Tom Meschery
- Full Court Pressure, by Curt Sampson
- Unguarded, by Lenny Wilkens and Terry Pluto
- Stand Up For Something, by Spencer Haywood and Bill Libby
- Slick Watts' Tales From the Seattle Supersonics, by Slick Watts and Frank Hughes
- Black Planet, by David Shields
- This Game's the Best, by George Karl
- We Still Call Him Coach: The Life and Legacy of Les Habegger, by Doris Pieroth
- The Lenny Wilkens Story, by Lenny Wilkens
- What's Happenin'?: A Revealing Journey Through the World of Professional Basketball, by Blaine Johnson
- Second Wind, by Bill Russell and Taylor Branch
I'm also eager to find another book which seems to be out of print and impossible to find anywhere on the internet called Men of Steal, by the late Mike Kahn. The book is supposed to be a year in the life account of the early 90s Sonics. If you have any info on where I could find the book, please drop a note in the comments. Thanks.
Wednesday, July 13
Sonics Taskforce Meets
Rep. Mike Hope of Lake Stevens, Wa. stated via press release Tuesday that the Sonics Taskforce held its first meeting on Monday, exploring various funding and location options for an NBA/NHL arena to be located in the Greater Seattle area. The task force is a bi-partisan group of elected officials, with the goal of finding a way to create a new home for an NHL or NBA franchise. Per Rep. Hope:
Funding professional sports teams is not the responsibility of the tax-payers. We will only move forward with a plan that benefits our economy, adds revenue to our cities and brings new opportunities to WA State without costing the tax-payers money.Parse away.