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

5 Year Plan (5 Years Later)

The final season of the Seattle Supersonics was five years ago. Five year before that, Howard Shultz unveiled his "Five Year Plan" for the Sonics. Check out this classic Supersonicsoul column by Pete Nussbaum about that plan, which strangely enough was written five years ago. KISMET!

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.

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.