Wednesday, July 27

A New Sonic Treasure Found

It isn’t often that I come across a piece of Sonics memorabilia that takes me by surprise. I’ve seen – if not all – then very close to all of it, so when I tell you that I found something amazing, well, take my word for it, this is something really unique.

I found this particular item from a sale held by Goldin Auctions for the estate of the late Dennis Johnson (the auction is now closed, but you can find the link to the items here). There are the standard jerseys, some signed baseballs from Pete Rose and Ted Williams among others, contracts, a piece of parquet floor from the original Boston Garden, and so on.

But what caught my eye was this particular gem, a drawing of the 1978-79 Seattle SuperSonics (click to enlarge).

It’s wonderful on many levels. You’ve got the autographs of all the players, the one-liner from Sam Schulman, and, most importantly, the utterly fantastic drawings of all the players and coaches. Just knowing that this was something given to each of the players (I would assume, anyway) makes it even more special. I have to imagine there are a handful of these still in existence, and it’s possible the team reproduced them for select season-ticket holders, advertisers, etc. That said, in the bottom left corner is a marking indicating this piece was 28 of 28, which obviously means not a large number of them were made. Still, it’s something I’d never seen before, and thought was just really exciting to come across. (Also, I was glad to see that Dennis Awtrey was captured in full beard - unlike the team photo that shows him shaven).

You may be wondering – as I was – who the creator of the piece is. If you look closely in the bottom right-hand corner, you’ll see an inscription that shows up as (indecipherable) Caplan, which has to make the artist Irwin “Cap” Caplan.

Caplan isn’t perhaps familiar to most people, but he is a native Seattlite who went on to fame as a cartoonist with the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, and Life, and many others. After a long and noted career that included art exhibits at the Seattle Art Gallery, the Metropolitan Art Gallery in New York, and the National Gallery in Washington, Caplan passed away in 2007 (you can read a nicely written piece on his life from the Seattle Times here).

It’s hard to say how Caplan came to draw this piece – it’s entirely possible that Caplan was a season-ticket holder, or perhaps just a friend of people that worked with the team. If nothing else, it just further cements just how beloved the Sonics were in Seattle in 1979.

Monday, July 18

Goodbye, Mr. Schultz

The sale of the Sonics to Clay Bennett came 10 years ago today. I tracked down the article I wrote about the event 10 years ago to see if it's prescient, irrelevant, or just plain dumb. Unfortunately, it is just as sad to read today as it was to write it then, and I don't think I'd change a word of it.

It's funny, a couple of days ago I was thinking of writing a piece about the greatest hair in Sonics history - X-Man, Sikma, Freddie Brown, and now Danny Fortson and Mickael Gelabale. I was hoping Chunky could put together some artwork to make it into a nice, funny piece about our favorite team. Now? I'm barely motivated to write two words.

Look, Howard Schultz doesn't owe anybody anything. He made a business deal to get himself out of a financially precarious position, and as the front man for a conglomerate of other businesspeople, he most likely has been feeling as much heat from them to sell as he has from all of us to not. Still, it seems a bit hypocritical to me that Schultz would on the one hand trump up the emotional relationship between the city and the team when it's convenient for his argument (i.e., Seattle must build me a new stadium because of all those future Sonic fans that love their basketball), and then turn around and completely abandon that same relationship when it's convenient for his pocketbook.

Mr. Schultz, I have never met you, and I most likely never will. Hence, I am in no position to judge your character. Further, if I have learned anything in life it's that passing judgement the motivations of others is a foolhardy and worthless endeavor.

Regardless, Howard, I think I speak for the majority of the people who read this site when I say that I am disappointed in you. You have passed yourself off as a man of the city, the man who saved the Sonics from leaving and preserved the legacy of Blackburn, McDaniel, Shawn, DJ, and Lenny, and a man who was engaged in a Quixotian struggle with the city and state to keep the Sonics in their home of 40 years.

And yet, you sold that same team to a man who even a 10-year-old can tell is obviously intent on moving it to Oklahoma, guaranteeing that the Sonics will become the Cleveland Browns or Montreal Expos of the NBA.

It’s funny. Howard Schultz, easily the worst owner in Sonics history in regard to wins and losses, will also go down as the most remembered owner in Sonics history. I wonder, Howard, was that part of your five-year plan?

Thursday, June 9

Complete List of Sonic Nicknames

Updated July 29, 2016 (Jack Sikma)
ZaidAbdul-AzizThe Kangaroo
RayAllenJesus ShuttlesworthRay RaySugar Ray
Greg AnthonyG-Money
VincentAskewThe FiddlerQ
Dennis AwtreyTree
JamesBaileyJammin James
VinBakerShake and BakeThe Hartford Hangover
DanaBarrosThe Human Dynamo
BenoitBenjaminBig Ben
BobBoozerBullet Bob
Frank BrickowskiBrick
John BriskerHeavweight Champion of NBA
TomBurlesonNewland Needle
Michael CageJohn Shaft
BillCartwrightMr. Bill
TomChambersTommy GunKen
ArchieClarkShake and Bake
MartynConlonCeltic Killer
Rod DerlineThe Rifle
DaleEllisLamar MundaneSilent Assassin
ReggieEvansThe CollectorJoker
Sherrell FordShake
DannyFortsonBig Daddy from Cincinnati
JeffGreenUncle Jeff
JeromeJamesBig SnacksBig JJ
Dennis JohnsonDJAirplane
VinnieJohnsonThe Microwave
EddieJohnsonFast Eddie
AveryJohnsonThe Little GeneralAJTaz
Greg KelserSpecial K
Shawn KempThe Reign Man
ReggieKingThe Mule
RashardLewisThe BladeYoung FellaQuiet Man
MauriceLucasLukeMoThe Enforcer
DesmondMasonMaseD-MaseThe Cowboy
JimMcDanielsBig Mac
DerrickMcKeyHeavy D
NateMcMillanMr SonicMac 10
TomMescheryThe Mad Russian
Frank OleynickMagic
RubenPattersonKobe StopperThe Sky Pilot
GaryPaytonThe GloveGP
SamPerkinsBig Smooth
Ricky PierceBig Paper Daddy
SteveSchefflerThe Chef
Detlef SchrempfThe Grand Teuton
JackSikmaThe Wichert WonderBangerBig Boy
DickSnyderThe Duck
WallySzczerbiakWally World
SedaleThreattThe ThiefRandy Watson
AlTuckerAirline AlTwiggySupertwiggy
Danny VranesLouMr. Defense
WallyWalkerWally Wonder
MarvinWebsterThe Human Eraser
AaronWilliamsThe A Train
GusWilliamsThe Wizard
WillieWiseWondrous Willie
DannyYoungCool Breeze

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.