Seattle Super Sonics - Franchise History - 1975–1983: The Championship Years

1975–1983: The Championship Years

The legendary Bill Russell was hired as the head coach in the following year, and in 1975 he coached the SuperSonics to the playoffs for the first time. The team, which starred Haywood, guards Fred Brown and Slick Watts, and rookie center Tommy Burleson, defeated the Detroit Pistons in a three game mini-series before falling to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors in six games. The next season, the SuperSonics traded Haywood to New York forcing the remaining players to pick up the offensive slack. Guard Fred Brown, now in his fifth season, was selected to the 1976 NBA All-Star Game and finished fifth in the league in scoring average and free throw percentage. Burleson's game continued to strengthen, while Watts led the NBA in both assists and steals and was named to the All-NBA Defensive First Team. The SuperSonics again made the playoffs, but lost to the Phoenix Suns in six games in spite of strong performances from both Brown (28.5 ppg) and Burleson (20.8 ppg) during the series.

Russell left the SuperSonics after the 1976–77 season, and under new coach Bob Hopkins the team started the season dismally at 5–17. Lenny Wilkens was brought back to replace Hopkins, and the team's fortunes immediately turned around. The SuperSonics won 11 of their first 12 games under Wilkens, finished the season at 47–35, won the Western Conference title, and led the Washington Bullets three games to two before losing in seven games in the 1978 NBA Finals. Other than the loss of center Marvin Webster to New York, the SuperSonics roster stayed largely intact during the off-season, and in the 1978–79 season they went on to win their first division title. In the playoffs, the Supersonics defeated the Phoenix Suns in a tough seven game conference final series to set up a rematch with the Washington Bullets in the finals. This time, the Bullets lost to the SuperSonics in five games to give Seattle its first, and only, NBA title. The championship team roster included the powerful backcourt tandem of Gus Williams and Finals MVP Dennis Johnson, second year All-Star center Jack Sikma, forwards John Johnson and Lonnie Shelton, and key reserves Fred Brown and Paul Silas.

The 1979–80 season saw the SuperSonics finish second in the Pacific Division to the Los Angeles Lakers with a strong 56–26 record. Fred Brown won the NBA's first three-point shooting percentage title, Jack Sikma played in the second of his seven career All-Star Games for Seattle, Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson were both named to the All-NBA Second Team, and Johnson was also named to the All-NBA First Defensive Team for the second consecutive year. The SuperSonics made it to the Western Conference Finals for the third straight season, but lost to the Lakers in five games. It was the last time that the backcourt of Williams and Johnson would play together in SuperSonics uniforms, as Johnson was traded to the Phoenix Suns before the start of the 1980–81 season and Williams sat out the year due to a contract dispute. As a result, the SuperSonics fell to last place in the Pacific Division with a 34–48 mark, so far the only time they have ever finished in last place. Williams returned for the 1981–82 season, and Seattle managed respectable 52–30 and 48–34 records during the next two years.

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