Seattle legends mixed on OKC’s Finals berth

Pardon Jack Sikma if he’s slapping high-fives or doing fist bumps when Miami is performing well in the NBA Finals.

Sikma, once starred for the Seattle SuperSonics, the team that moved in 2008 to Oklahoma City. Now the Thunder are playing the Heat in the Finals.

That doesn’t sit well with Sikma.

“To tell you the truth, I was rooting for San Antonio (in the Western Conference finals against the Thunder). I still have a bad taste in my mouth,” said the big man, who starred for the SuperSonics from 1977-86 and had his No. 43 raised to the rafters in Seattle not long after he retired from the NBA in 1991. “I am rooting for the Heat. I coached (Miami forward) Shane Battier for 3½ years in Houston (as an assistant). … It pours salt in the wounds of the situation that we have now (with the Thunder in the Finals).”

Sikma was on Seattle’s only NBA championship team in 1979, and remains very popular in the community. When he’s not busy serving as a Minnesota Timberwolves assistant, he makes his home in a Seattle suburb.

When the Thunder moved, they agreed to leave behind the SuperSonics’ name, logo and team colors for a possible future NBA team in Seattle. But they do have the rights to the team’s history, and, if they wanted, could tout the accomplishments in Seattle.

Currently, the Thunder don’t do that, having no banners hanging in Chesapeake Energy Arena that have anything to do with the SuperSonics. Still, that didn’t stop TV announcer Marv Albert from saying, as the final seconds ticked down in Oklahoma City’s clinching win over the Spurs, that the franchise had secured its fourth Finals berth and first since 1996.

During their 41 years in Seattle, the SuperSonics lost in the Finals in 1978 and 1996 in addition to winning it all in 1979. So how do members of those Seattle teams feel about the team that moved from there now being in the Finals?

Opinions vary. They range from Sikma’s to those from forward Detlef Schrempf, a stalwart on the 1996 Finals team which lost 4-2 to Chicago, having no qualms talking about rooting for the Thunder against the Heat.

“I like the way they play as a team and the passion they have,” Schrempf said. “I know a couple (of players) on the team and a couple of guys who are still sitting behind the bench (the equipment manager and strength coach being holdovers from Seattle) working hard. So I’ll definitely pull for them.”

That might seem as a shock to some considering Schrempf played high school ball in Washington, starred at the University of Washington, played for the Sonics from 1993-99 and has remained in the city as a businessman. But Schrempf doesn’t believe these Thunder have anything to do with the SuperSonics.

“It’s not the same team,” Schrempf said. “There’s nothing left from the Sonics, really. There’s no tradition. It’s a totally new organization, a different city.

“I don’t think they stole our team. It’s a business. The NBA is making money. It’s not a charitable organization. Somebody saw an opportunity to buy a team and bring something to their city. I don’t see them (stealing) our team. We gave it away. Our leadership gave it away. Our politicians gave it away. We screwed up (by not agreeing to build a facility to replace outmoded Key Arena).”

There’s not exactly nothing left from the Sonics. Oklahoma City’s biggest star, Kevin Durant, was named NBA Rookie of the Year for Seattle in the team’s final season there. And rugged big man Nick Collison played his first four seasons with the Sonics.

While they never played in Seattle, Thunder stars Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka were taken in the June 2008 draft by the SuperSonics. Oklahoma businessman Clay Bennett, who had bought the team in 2006, finalized the move to Oklahoma City in July 2008.

There are some in the city frustrated that Seattle now could have this young and exciting team playing for the title. But there are some who have moved on, including Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens, who coached the 1979 champions and still lives in the area.
 
“We were all disappointed when the team left, there’s no question about that,” said Wilkens, who also coached the Sonics in a 4-3 loss to Washington in the 1978 Finals before they beat the Bullets 4-1 for the title next year. “But they’ve been gone now, and you have to move on.

“It’s disappointing (not having an NBA team), because Seattle is a great city and it’s a good sports city. The Sonics began here. We won the championship here. So, yeah, there’s a certainly a void. But, you know, that doesn’t stop me from watching the NBA. … I’m going to watch and enjoy the Finals.”

Having a similar attitude is Gary Payton, star guard on the 1996 team. He was disappointed when the Sonics left but has since directed his efforts toward Seattle getting a new team.

“I don’t care anymore about Oklahoma City leaving from Seattle,” Payton said earlier this week on KGMZ-FM 95.7 in San Francisco. “It’s over now. It could be a big difference if they’re called the Oklahoma Sonics. They’re not. … People keep saying we’re sad. OK, it is what it is. But it’s over.

“So I really don’t care about them leaving Seattle. We’re trying to get another team in Seattle now. So that’s what our main focus is about.”

Payton, who played with the SuperSonics from 1990-2003 and is generally regarded as the top player in team history, plans to be at a rally in Seattle on Thursday to build a new arena. Businessman Chris Hansen, a Seattle native, is the latest guy with big money to step forward in an effort to bring a team back to the city.

With the Thunder in the Finals, that has cast some additional light on the basketball void in Seattle. Denver coach George Karl, who led the SuperSonics to the 1996 Finals, believes exposure now on the situation could help the city eventually get another team.

“I would think so,” said Karl, who coached the Sonics from 1991-98. “The combination of the economy coming back and Seattle maybe getting a new building, and a movement of wealthy people wanting to bring a team back to Seattle … I hear there’s more voices talking about wanting to bring the team back.”

Karl quipped last year he’s a “huge fan of Oklahoma City other than they took my team out of Seattle.” Now that the Thunder are in the Finals, he’s at peace with that.

“I’m OK with what’s going on, but I don’t have a great identity that Oklahoma City is Seattle,” Karl said. “I look at them as a great team. … I want them to win. I want them to win for Scotty (Brooks, the Thunder coach who once was Karl’s assistant in Denver). I want them to win because they’re in the Western Conference.”

There might be some notable ex-Sonics pulling for the Thunder in the Finals. But that doesn’t change Sikma’s tune.

“I just know emotionally there are reasons for me to root the way I am,” Sikma said. “It still comes back as a slap in the face for the (Seattle) fans. I still hold the fans of Seattle very dear to me.”

With that in mind, consider Sikma to have taken his seat on the Heat bandwagon.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson