By Lorenzo Tanos
Thanks to the dynamic play of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it's hard to think of the Oklahoma City Thunder as the same team that called itself the Seattle Supersonics from 1967 to 2008. But the young and exciting Thunder trace their roots to the Northwest, and it's not like the Sonics didn't have a successful run in the NBA of their own. This next trivia installment will go beyond the Thunder today's NBA fan knows and loves, and will also cover the original Sonics who played in Seattle for over four decades starting in 1967.
1. Who did the Seattle Supersonics send to Atlanta in order to acquire Lenny Wilkens for the 1968-69 season?
Walt Hazzard, former UCLA star point guard and Los Angeles Lakers backup, had his best NBA season by a longshot when he averaged 24.0 ppg and 6.2 apg for the 23-59 Sonics in 1967-68. That was his only season in Seattle, as Hazzard was traded to the Atlanta Hawks in 1968 for Wilkens.
2. And when did Lenny Wilkens first become the Sonics' head coach?
In his first year with the Sonics, Wilkens was part of a slightly improved team that went 30-52 in 1968-69 under Al Bianchi. The year after, Wilkens was named player-coach at the age of 32.
3. Which 7'2" center (sometimes listed as 7'4") was picked high in the 1974 NBA Draft and played a handful of productive years for the Sonics before turning into a career reserve?
As part of the 1974 North Carolina State Wolfpack who won that year's NCAA Championship, Tommy Burleson was the team's gigantic defensive stopper, and also an above-average scorer and rebounder. Picked third overall in 1974 for the Sonics, Burleson made the All-Rookie Team and averaged 15.6 ppg, 9.0 rpg and 1.8 bpg in his second, before injuries sent him sinking into obscurity. There have been many worse busts than Burleson, but after the first two seasons, he would secure his place as a bona fide NBA Draft flop, though not through any fault of his own.
4. Which Sonics guard became the first-ever three-point shooting leader in the NBA?
"Downtown" Freddie Brown spent his entire career with the Sonics, and had his share of high-scoring campaigns, either as a starter or as a source of instant offense off the bench. In 1979-80, the first year that the NBA added a three-point shot, Brown shot 39 of 88 for the season, good for a percentage of 44.3%. Hard to believe that back then, 39 treys in a season (in less than 100 attempts) was already good enough for one to be considered a great long-range shooter.
5. Which three Sonics averaged more than 20 points per game in the 1987-88 season?
Sharp-shooting off-guard Dale Ellis (25.8 ppg), small forward Xavier McDaniel (21.4 ppg) and power forward Tom Chambers(20.4 ppg) were all big reasons behind the Sonics posting a respectable 44-38 record, though they did get eliminated in the first round of the 1988 Playoffs. No one else on the team averaged in double figures, though then-rookie Derrick McKey was close enough with an 8.5 ppg average, fourth on the team.
6. How many consecutive times did Seattle get eliminated in the first round of the Playoffs despite posting some of the best regular-season records in the Western Conference?
Twice. In 1993-94, the Sonics were the first seed in the Western Conference, but got knocked off in the first round by the eighth seed Denver Nuggets. That was repeated the very next season – the Sonics were second overall in the West for the regular season, yet got eliminated in four games by the seventh seed Los Angeles Lakers.
7. Which Seattle center started for the team and put up mediocre numbers in the regular season, before signing an expensive multi-year contract with the New York Knicks and putting up even worse numbers?
If you consider everything up to "expensive multi-year contract", this could be one of two players – Jim McIlvaine or Jerome James. But we'll go with the latter on this one. James joined the Knicks in 2005-06 on a five-year, $30 million deal, not long after he put up surprisingly good numbers for the Sonics in the 2005 Playoffs (12.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.8 bpg). Having reported to camp out of shape, James turned out to be a huge mistake for the Knicks – he averaged just 3.0 ppg and 2.0 rpg in his first season in New York. Those were actually his best numbers as a Knick, and far worse than the pedestrian regular season stats he put up as a Sonic.
8. What was the Oklahoma City Thunder's record in the first 32 games of the 2008-09 inaugural season in the new location?
Remember when pundits speculated if the Thunder would beat the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers' long-standing 9-73 record of ineptitude? That was possible when the Thunder won only three of their first 32 games in 2008-09. A "strong" 20-30 finish enabled the Thunder to end the year 23-59, and thanks to players such as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and (prior to 2012-13) James Harden, OKC has been in the Playoffs every season starting in 2009-10.
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