A Sonics Top 40 countdown
By Percy Allen
Seattle Times staff reporter
The task — selecting the 40 most influential Sonics figures — is daunting. At some point when compiling such a list, you ask yourself the question, why stop at 40? Why not, 50, 60 or 80? To that, we say, the number coincides with the franchise's 40th season, which tips off Wednesday at KeyArena.
Because there are so many deserving candidates, debate about who doesn't make the cut is inevitable.
For instance, how can anyone leave off Tom Meschery, the first Sonic taken in the 1967 expansion draft? Anyone who saw Jim Fox collect 30 rebounds against the Lakers in 1973, a franchise record that still stands, would surely include the burly center. And how do you not include Bob Kloppenburg, the brilliant assistant and mastermind behind the Sonics' defense in the 1990s?
But they didn't make the list and neither did Walt Hazzard, Seattle's first All-Star, nor **** Snyder, Eddie A. Johnson, Hersey Hawkins or Brent Barry, who were all notable fan favorites.
That's the problem in choosing 40, someone gets disrespected.
Still, The Times has culled through the record books and researched the archives to rank the most significant figures in franchise history.
What follows, in order of importance, are the players and coaches that we've cheered and jeered over the past four decades as well as the broadcasters who've become icons, the owners and front-office executives that we've embraced and wanted to run out of town, a longtime trainer and a lovable furry mascot.
Whether they deserve to be higher or lower on the list is debatable, but their place in Sonics history is indisputable.
1. Lenny Wilkens
Guard, 1968-72; coach, 1969-72; 1977-85.
Hall of Fame player made three straight All-Star appearances as a Sonics guard. Hall of Fame coach led Sonics to consecutive NBA Finals, including 1979 championship.
2. Fred Brown
"Downtown" is the purest shooter in team history. The captain of the championship team played each of his 13 NBA seasons for Sonics, and ranks second in games and points.
3. Gary Payton
Nicknamed "The Glove" for his defense, but he's the Sonics' all-time leader in points, assists and three-pointers. Named to the All-NBA team nine of 13 years with Sonics.
4. Jack Sikma
Center, 1977-86; assistant coach, 2003-current.
Franchise's top center played nine seasons here and appeared in seven All-Star games. Sonics' all-time leading rebounder, and third in scoring.
5. Shawn Kemp
"The Reign Man" is best remembered for his high-flying, powerful dunks. He peaked when the Sonics went to the NBA Finals in 1996, averaging 23.3 points.
6. Gus Williams
"The Wizard" was the most exciting player in Sonics history, spent six years with them and was a key to the 1979 title team. Two-time All-Star with Sonics.
7. Nate McMillan
Guard, 1986-98; coach, 2000-05.
Only Fred Brown and Gary Payton played more games in Seattle than "Mr. Sonic." Second in career assists and steals, 212-183 as a coach before leaving for Portland.
8. George Karl
The winningest coach in franchise history was 384-150 during the regular season, and guided the Sonics to four division titles, to the playoffs seven times, once to the Finals.
9. Sam Schulman
Southern California show biz entrepreneur paid $1.75 million expansion fee for the team in 1967. Sold for $21 million after a run to 1979 title and a cable-TV deal.
10. Spencer Haywood
Challenged NBA's underclassman rule and became first Sonics star. Four All-Star Games in 4 ½ seasons; season marks of 29.2 points, 13.4 rebounds are Sonics records.
11. Dennis Johnson
MVP of the 1979 Finals, averaging 22.6 points in win over Washington. Played four years in Seattle; two-time All-Star and all-defensive first-team selection.
12. Tom Chambers
A torrential scorer, averaged 20.4 points during five seasons. As an injury replacement, was MVP at 1987 All-Star Game at Kingdome, scoring 34 points.
13. Bob Rule
One of the original Sonics, averaged 21.4 points during 4 ½ seasons. Suffered a torn Achilles tendon early in 1970-71 season, was traded to Philadelphia early the next season.
14. Bill Russell
Former Celtics great took over as coach and general manager in 1973, and went 162-166 in four seasons, but guided the Sonics to their first playoff appearance in '74.
15. Dale Ellis
Guard, 1986-91, 1997-99.
In seven seasons, "3D" scored 9,405 points, sixth on all-time list. His average of 27.5 points in 1988-89 is second-best (to Spencer Haywood) in Sonics history.
16. Xavier McDaniel
One of the great intimidators in franchise history, the "X-Man" provided brute strength and scoring. He's eighth in scoring and rebounding in team history.
17. Ray Allen
Arrived in trade for Gary Payton, and has been an All-Star each of his three full seasons with Sonics. Signed through 2010, on pace to move into top five in team scoring.
18. Wally Walker
Forward, 1977-82; GM/president/CEO, 1994-2006.
Polarizing figure who spent 17 years with the franchise as a player, broadcaster, general manager, president and part-owner. Many blame him for dismantling the '96 team.
19. Detlef Schrempf
Forward, 1993-99; assistant coach, 2006-current.
Although he was the third scoring option for most of his six-year Sonics career, the versatile forward made two All-Star appearances.
20. Zollie Volchok
Vice-president, 1969-77; president/GM, 1977-83.
Former vaudeville promoter knew how to market a basketball team. Hired in '77, he increased sagging attendance. Won the NBA executive of the year award in '83.
21. Barry Ackerley
The billboard magnate bought the team in 1983 for $22 million and sold the Sonics and WNBA's Storm for $200 million to a group led by Howard Schultz in 2001.
22. Lonnie Shelton
The final piece of the championship team, the power forward came to the Sonics as compensation when they lost free agent Marvin Webster to New York.
23. Bob Whitsitt
"Trader Bob" made 23 deals in his eight years running the Sonics, and is hailed as the architect of the championship-contending teams of the '90s.
24. Kevin Calabro
Longtime Sonics broadcaster has become a Seattle icon because of his unmistakable voice, amusing narratives and clever phrases such as "flying chickens in the barnyard."
25. Paul Silas
Averaged fewer than six points in three seasons with the Sonics, but he was the glue of the championship team, a menacing enforcer who mentored Sikma and Shelton.
26. Rashard Lewis
Entering his ninth season, the one-time All-Star is in the team's all-time top 10 in three-pointers, points, rebounds, steals and blocks.
27. Ricky Pierce
Pure shooter did his best work inside the three-point line. He's the best free-throw shooter in team history (90.6 percent) and his average of 18.5 points ranks ninth best.
28. Michael Cage
Rugged, square-shouldered big man led the Sonics in rebounding for three of his six seasons with the team. He's fourth on the team's career rebounding list.
29. Sam Perkins
Affectionately dubbed "Big Smooth," Perkins played six seasons with the Sonics, with the team making the playoffs each of those seasons.
30. Slick Watts
The unofficial "Sonics Ambassador" is just as popular in retirement as he was when he played five seasons for the Sonics and popularized headbands.
31. Derrick McKey
Taken ninth overall in the 1987 draft and selected to the all-rookie first team, McKey never maximized his potential during six inconsistent seasons in Seattle.
32. Bernie Bickerstaff
Led Sonics to playoffs in three of his five seasons. Despite a 39-43 record, Sonics advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 1987.
33. John Johnson
Before Scottie Pippen and Tracy McGrady, "JJ" was one of the NBA's first "point forwards." A capable scorer, he led the Sonics in assists for two of his five seasons.
34. Bob Blackburn
Original "Voice of the Sonics" left in what he called a "forced retirement." Beloved broadcaster is famous for rapid-fire delivery and homespun tales.
35. Vin Baker
Second-team All-NBA his first year in Seattle, but his weight ballooned during lockout-shortened 1999 season and bouts with alcoholism derailed his promising career.
36. Bob Weiss
Guard, 1967-68, assistant coach, 1994-2005; coach 2005-06.
One of the original Sonics, he played 82 games in the expansion season and coached 30 games of the '05-06 season. He also spent 11 years as a Sonics assistant coach.
37. Frank and Sarah Furtado
Frank, trainer, 1974-2000; Sarah, executive assistant, 1970-96.
The Sonics renamed their training facility the Furtado Center in 2001, in honor of the husband/wife team. Each worked 26 years for the team. Frank was twice named NBA trainer of the year.
38. Paul Westphal
Guard, 1980-81; coach, 1998-2000.
All-Star starter for the Sonics in 1981 had a disappointing run as head coach, compiling a 78-74 record after succeeding George Karl.
The high-flying, slam-dunking daredevil of a mascot made his debut in 1993, replacing "Wheedle," the former mascot.
40. Howard Schultz
Coffee mogul promised to build a championship contender within five years after buying the team in 2001. Sonics made the playoffs twice before Schultz sold to an Oklahoma City group in July.
slick watts at #30 ??!?!?!
he is top ten simply because of his ongoing influence in the city!!