Wednesday, January 13

Remembering Art Harris

Former Sonic Art Harris, who we briefly profiled many years ago, would have been 68 years old today. Sadly, he passed away in 2007.

Harris is largely unknown to Sonic fans who only watched the team in the 1970s or later, but he had an interesting life. In our very short biography of him, you learned that he came from a tough background in Los Angeles, matriculated to Stanford where he became a standout in the Pac-8, then made his way to Seattle, where he was named to the NBA's All-Rookie Team after averaging 12 points per game.

The remainder of his professional basketball career was brief, and, like many of his teammates of that era, it is extremely difficult to find information about him.

Since we posted that story, though, I did manage to find two contemporary articles about Harris from his time in Palo Alto. The first is from The Stanford Daily of January 12, 1968, and explores his transition from Watts to the Bay Area, as well as the difficulty he faced in guarding (then) Lew Alcindor.

The second is an even better article, also from the The Stanford Daily, from May of 1968, and is a recognition of his being named the Stanford Athlete of the Year.

Both are worth a read.

Tuesday, July 7

The Wheel Turns

You've no doubt read the recent news that the Milwaukee Bucks' ownership is using extortion to get what the new arena they want from their local politicians. (If not, here it is).

It's sickening, really. The Bucks - not satisfied with the way things are moving arena-wise - and not satisfied with the fact that, gasp!, Wisconsin politicians are not falling over themselves with the idea of handing them an arena gratis, are now threatening that if they don't get their arena RIGHT NOW, they are going to move to Las Vegas. Or Seattle. Or someplace.

It is, of course, that second location that gets everyone in this part of the world interested. And, personally, I would like nothing more than to see Chris Hansen or whomever is representing the city of Seattle say loudly and unequivocably, "No."

No, we don't want your team.

No, we are not interested in being used a leverage.

No, we don't want to help you, billionaire hedge funders, in your attempt to swindle Wisconsin taxpayers with your cockamamie scheme.

Just NO.

It's not going to happen, because Chris Hansen wants an NBA team and he's got to play this silly game to appease the league and in the end, appeasing the league is how you get yourself a team.

It's awful, and sickening, and the hypocrisy for Seattle being involved is about a 38 on a scale of 1 to 10, and I'm completely aware that I'm probably the only person who'd rather not have pro basketball than to swipe another city's team.

But, geez, wouldn't it be nice if we just said no?

Friday, August 1

Supersonicpedia: Henry Akin

Original Seattle Sonic Henry Akin. Photo via
Happy Birthday to original Seattle Sonic Henry Akin, who turned 70 years young July 31st. The following is our profile of Akin.

The abundance of oddball characters in the history of the Seattle Sonics often makes one wonder if the team sprung forth from Kurt Vonnegut’s brain, a nonsensical torrent of thoughts emerging after a night of Wild Turkey and perogies.

Henry Akin, in his own small way, belongs in that group.

Not because he was outspoken like Haywood or Payton. Or because of off-the-court shenanigans, a la Kemp, or poetry writing like Tom Meschery. No, Henry Akin finds his small niche in Sonic history as the only player I’ve come across who abandoned a successful basketball career to work for an elevator company.

Akin, a 6’10” center from Morehead State who spent a year in New York before coming to Seattle in the Sonics’ inaugural season, played sparingly in the green and gold before moving on to the Kentucky Colonels and the ABA. His entire professional basketball career amounted to merely 308 points, a spindly total Dale Ellis might polish off in a week.

Akin first told his story to Dan Raley of the PI back in 2004, and then in even greater detail in a wonderful story penned by Tony Dondero of The Enterprise in 2008, explaining how he left Morehead State after his junior year … and began installing elevators for a living.

And it wasn’t as if Akin was a bum, either; he was named to the All-Conference team twice, and averaged nearly 20 points and 12 boards a game. But because of love (of a woman, that is, not elevators), Akin tried to live the old-fashioned life, before realizing that playing basketball might be a more exciting path to make good money than elevators, and when the New York Knicks expressed interest, he ventured to Manhattan for a workout (complete with a limousine ride and $200 in pocket money from Red Holzman), eventually finding himself picked with the first selection of the second round of the 1966 draft. Akin spent one year in New York as a reserve behind greats like Reed, Bellamy, and Van Arsdale, even getting into two playoff games and scoring three points against the Celtics in a first-round loss to Boston.

That off-season, the Sonics decided that Akin’s potential as a big man off the bench merited their attention, and they picked him in the expansion draft, ending his New York sojourn and bringing him to the Pacific Northwest for what would turn out to be nearly the rest of his life.

Interestingly, when Akin was notified by Sonics’ President Don Richman of his selection, Richman told him he was with the “Washington” Sonics. Akin, thinking the team was in DC, thought, “Hey, that’s only a few hours away,” before Richman told him that he meant Seattle, Washington.

(All of which brings to mind two things: 1. I had never heard the team referred to as the Washington Sonics. Is this news to everyone else as well? 2. Can you even conceive of this happening today? That an NBA player would have no idea where the two new expansion teams were going to be? God bless those pre-internet and cable tv days.)

Unfortunately, on his way to Seattle Akin decided to play some pickup basketball in Detroit, wrecked his knee, and saw his career over before it ever really had a chance to begin.

He only played 36 games in Seattle that expansion year, suffering through weekly tendinitis shots, and his efforts are largely ignored in the team’s history. Aside from Frank Deford’s marvelous piece on the team in 1967, wherein we learn that Akin is 1) a tobacco chewer and 2) not as good at cards as Walt Hazzard, Akin’s most famous moment in a Sonic jersey occurred when he went up against Wilt Chamberlain at the Colisseum, the same man he faced in his very first NBA game as a Knick the previous season. As Akin told the Times’ Percy Allen in 2008: 

"[Coach Al Bianchi] comes on down and he grabs ahold of me, and he said, 'Now, when you get in the game, I want you to foul Wilt [Chamberlain] every time he gets the ball," said Akin, 63, who was in his second and final year in the NBA.

Chamberlain got the ball, crouched low and made a move to the basket.

"I jump on his back and when he goes up, we both fall to the floor," Akin said. "I had known Wilt, and he said, 'Harry, what in the hell are you doing?' I looked at him and said, 'Al told me to foul you every time you got the ball.' Wilt didn't say a word. He just smiled."

Akin would foul out of the game in 11 minutes.

After his career ended in Kentucky, Akin returned to Seattle and within two weeks landed a gig as a scout for the team. He would spend more than five years in the position, with the highlight being his recommendation that the Sonics take a young man from Iowa named Fred Brown, before eventually (and ironically) settling into a position with Boeing, the same company from whom the team’s name had sprung 20 years before. When his daughter, Shannon, joined the basketball staff at Shorecrest Akin lent a hand, helping the girls out with basketball advice, naturally, but also with advice for life’s problems as well. (Unfortunately, the story about why his daughter isn’t still coaching isn’t quite as rosy).

So there you have it. Elevator installer, tobacco chewer, scout, high school girls basketball coach, life counselor, member of the first Seattle Sonics’ team … that’s Henry Akin.

On Howard Schultz:
The only free agent he ever signed was Danny Fortson and Danny Fortson used him like a dang old watch.

On the City of Seattle
Yeah, [Bennett] gave the city $45 million … the city probably would have settled for $35, who knows. All they wanted was money and that's what Bennett threw out in front of them.

Recommended Reading:

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.