Monday, February 18

This Date in Sonic History: Feb. 18, 1977, Slick Watts Goes Off

The 1976-77 season was one of the more unusual in the team's history - featuring the end of the line for both Hall of Fame Coach Bill Russell and popular point guard Slick Watts.

Unlike Russell, Watts wouldn't leave the team until the next season, but his future in Seattle took a inauspicious turn on Friday, February 18, 1977 when he unloaded his frustration about a perceived lack of fair compensation to the local media.

The Sonics were on the road that Friday, and while the on-court results were positive (Slick led the club with 19 points in a win over the New York Nets), Watts used the opportunity to explain that he wanted to be traded - and, boy the Nets and Tiny Archibald sure looked like a great place.

"I've got to get what I'm worth," Watts told a reporter. "I play hard and I do the dirty work and for doin' the dirty work I want to get compensated.... There's seven players on the Sonics makin' more money than I do."

It's easy in 2013 to underestimate how popular Watts was in Seattle in the mid-1970s. Prior to the arrival of the Seahawks and Mariners, Sonic basketball was the only professional entity in the state, and Watts - with his exuberant personality, cocked headband, and exciting play - was the most famous player on the roster. With hundreds of personal appearances a year, Watts was the Sonics.

And yet, his salary didn't reflect it. At $90,000 a year, Watts was making less than such players as Tom Burleson ($310,000), Fred Brown ($200,000) and - worse - Frank Oleynick ($100,000).

When Watts injured his knee during the season he suddenly became aware of his basketball mortality, and how close he was to going from Slick Watts, Basketball Player, to Slick Watts, Insurance Salesman. With that in his head, it didn't take much for Watts to spill his guts to PI reporter Blaine Johnson.

Watts' comments didn't help matters. His new contract - which he hoped would earn him in excess of $200,000 year - never came off, and Watts wound up being dealt to New Orleans for a first round draft choice in the fall of 1977. It was a shocking transformation for the poster boy of Seattle basketball.

Feb. 18, 1977 - the beginning of the end of the Slick Watts Era.

1 comment:

Paul Merrill said...

Reminds me of the Kemp/McIlvaine dispute in the late 90s. I guess the lesson is always pay your stars more than your scrubs.