As momentum builds towards a potential return of the NBA to Seattle, let's take a look back at some of the greatest moments in Sonics history.
Brandy was sittin' up in her room, people of all ages were doing the Macarena, and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony made us sad about losing our grandparents when they took us to Tha Crossroads.
As we get further away from the nineties, it's easier to feel nostalgic about the glory days gone by. It was also one of the most incredible decades in Seattle history, as grunge music became the forefront of popular music (and still defines the Seattle music scene for most of the country) and the Mariners featured a few of the greatest stars in baseball as they made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
When people sing that "The Dream of the 90s is Alive in Portland," the essence of that feeling stretches all across the Northwest because it seemed that Seattle had become more than just a city, it had become a culture as success spotlighted the area on a national landscape.
The Sonics had already had success by this decade, having won Seattle's most significant professional championship in 1979 with a five-game Finals victory over the Washington Bullets. Names like Lenny Wilkens, Jack Sikma, Downtown Freddie Brown, Gus Williams, and others are still revered in Seattle because of that single championship, as they should be. However, I must admit that I was only negative three and a half years old when the city won that championship. For me, the stories of those years are merely that; stories.
For those of us that think of middle school when I mention "Tha Crossroads," the highlight of Sonics history came during the run with Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, George Karl, Detlef Schrempf, Nate McMillan, and a bunch of other names that make me think of my 6th grade crushes and watching Darkwing Duck.
Going into the 1995-1996 season, the Sonics were going through some major franchise changes and had a lot to prove.
They had new a new logo, new uniforms, a "new" team name, and were moving into Key Arena.
What they had to prove was that they'd stop losing in the first round of the playoffs to lesser opponents. In 1992-93, they lost a heartbreaking 7-game series to Phoenix, but seemed like the best team on the rise. They were the best team in the NBA in 1993-94 (The Sonics won 5 more regular season games than any other squad), when they blew a 2-0 first round lead to the Nuggets. And they lost to the Lakers in the first round of the 1995 playoffs, a team that they finished 9 games ahead of in the regular season.
But Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton were entering their sixth year together and fifth year under George Karl when they began the 1995 season in their renovated and re-named arena, with nifty new uniforms that are soooo nineties.
The Sonics went on the best run in their history. They beat the Bulls in an early season Finals preview, 97-92 on November 26, behind 26 points and 11 assists from The Glove and 25 points and 14 rebounds by The Reign Man.
Seattle won 14 straight games over February and March of 1996 and won a franchise-record 64 games total, the best mark in the Western Conference by five games. The SuperSonics led all Western Conference teams in scoring behind George Karl's offense, and were 2nd in scoring defense with legendary assistant coach Bob Kloppenburg.
They took out the Mitch Richmond Kings in four games in the first round, ridding themselves of their demons of the previous two years. It's one thing if Dikembe Mutombo is immortalized in NBA history after upsetting your team. It would have been a lot more demoralizing to see Olden Polynice crying on the ground as he clutched a basketball over his head.
A second round sweep over the two-time defending NBA champion Houston Rockets solidified the SuperSonics place among the NBA giants.
Seattle had it's share of "Classic-NBA-Dream-Team-Nightmares" over those years. They couldn't get past Charles Barkley in 1993. They couldn't get past
Shaquille O'Neal Nick Van Exel and Vlade Divac in 1995. They finally had gotten by a real superstar in Hakeem Olajuwan, but the Western Conference Finals would be a matchup against two of the greatest legends in NBA history: Washington-native John Stockton, and the most intimidating postal worker in history, Kahl Mah-lone.
The Sonics took a 3-1 series lead and headed back to the Key for game 5, but lost a 98-95 heartbreaker because of 27 points from the human sweatshop, Jeff Hornacek.
The Jazz won game 6 118-83, and the doom and gloom of the previous years seemed to be rearing it's ugly head again. Could this really be happening again? Do Seattle fans always need insult included with injury whenever we see our teams ousted from the playoffs? Why do you put happiness so close within my reach before you snatch it away?
But heartbreak would have to be put on hold this year. The SuperSonics won game 7 90-86 at home and when the final seconds ticked off the clock, nothing but pure exhilaration consumed my soul. Just a mere nine months after "The Double," the Sonics were going to the NBA Finals. Surely, this is not Seattle that I live in. We aren't allowed moments of happiness so close together, are we?
That year, Gatorade was doing a promotion where under every cap they had a team name and a number. I had a few of them, including one that said "Bulls in 6". If the Bulls won the NBA Finals in six games, I would get a tote bag or something. It was a really crappy prize.
I watched game 6 of the NBA Finals in a hotel room with my father. There was no joy that day. I would not be redeeming my tote bag and hat. Gatorade and the NBA could keep it.
Why couldn't we break through in the two previous non-Jordan years? Why couldn't Michael Jordan have given baseball at least one more year? I'm sure eventually you would have hit .250, Mike!
The would be the peak of Seattle's run of NBA dominance. There was only one more year of Kemp before he was sick and tired of being paid less than Frank Brickowski and Jim McIlvaine. There were only two more years of Karl, until we entered the awesome Paul Westphal era.
Nobody knew how long it would take for the SuperSonics to regain that magic again, and then when it was taken away, the answer became even more clouded for Seattle. (Real journalists use puns.)
But I'll never forget the best Sonics team that I ever saw play. I'll never stop replaying those series in my head. I won't let the memory fade for myself, or the rest of us. The Dream of the 90's is still alive for many of us. Can you smell that? Smell's like team spirit.