The morning after the Seahawks pummeled the Denver Broncos into an early submission, the man who orchestrated Seattle’s first professional championship 35 years ago was sleepless and speaking on fumes, but sounding almost giddy.
And giddy is not a term often associated with Lenny Wilkens. Dignified. Brilliant. Resilient. Successful. Stoic. That would be Lenny Wilkens.
But these last several days, he said, left him skipping down memory lane, reminiscing about his 1978-79 NBA Champion SuperSonics and deepening his affection for the Seahawks.
“It has been such a long time coming,” Wilkens said from his home in Seattle. “People were having so much fun (Sunday) night. It was crazy. It’s wonderful. Sports brings people together, and it makes people realize what a great city we have.”
Actually, there is no need for arm-twisting. Seattle soars beneath its chronic cloud cover. It’s a gem of a city, and hopefully in the near future, one that will be back on friendly terms with Sacramento.
The Sonics’ departure to Oklahoma City wasn’t Sacramento’s fault. Nor should Seattle be blamed for Chris Hansen’s notion of what constitutes fair play and being graciousness in defeat; he tarnished his reputation all by himself.
“That was just bad advice,” Wilkens said. “The fact Sacramento didn’t lose its team a lesson learned. You don’t want to take another city’s team. Move forward. And what better way than to push for an expansion team and start from the beginning?”
Wilkens, who raised the Seahawks’ symbolic 12th man flag to the top of the Space Needle last week, is one of several Seattle-area sports luminaries who emphatically supported Sacramento throughout last year’s sale-relocation drama.
Hall of Famer Bill Russell, a former Sonics and Kings coach and longtime Seattle resident, told me it would be disgraceful to yank the Kings out of town. Former Sonics coach George Karl recalled the passion he encountered during his visits and continually inquired about the latest developments. Former Sonics star and coach Nate McMillan – known as Mr. Sonic – only days ago summarized the sentiment: “I am really glad the team stayed, because that’s where it belongs. Seattle shouldn’t get a team at Sacramento’s expense. But I also believe that Seattle should have an NBA franchise.”
So this Seahawks victory? Does it lighten the gloom of yet another dark winter without basketball?
Wilkens, 76, suspects the afterglow will persist. And he points out that the Seattle Storm won two WNBA championships (2004, 2010) within the past decade. But he misses attending NBA games, doing radio or TV commentary, stopping into Key Arena to visit with friends and colleagues. Since the Sonics relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008, the NBA League Pass has been one of his best buddies.
Interestingly, the Seahawks’ combination of length, athleticism and brute force reminds Wilkens of his Sonics that defeated the Washington Bullets in the 1979 Finals.
Gus Williams was a jet in the backcourt. The late Dennis Johnson, after an 0-for-14 performance a year earlier in the championship series, responded with an MVP effort. Jack Sikma rebounded and converted those funky stepback jumpers. Paul Silas and Lonnie Shelton set screens, threw elbows, established a physically bruising tenor. Freddie Brown came off the bench and changed tempo. John Johnson, Wally Walker and Dennis Awtrey added depth.
“Both (the Seahawks’ and Sonics‘ seasons) were surreal,” Wilkens said. “The championship was kind of anticlimatic. When we won our division, we knew. We knew we were ready to win a championship. And when we won, people were partying, celebrating, coming together.”
Wilkens, who is convinced the NBA will deliver a franchise to Seattle in the not-so-distant future, studies the game closely and not surprisingly has a few issues with the current style of play. He loves the young talent, but hates the one-on-one nature of the game.
“Some teams play great team basketball, and some play too much of the one-on-one stuff that turns people off,” he said. “As a coach, it’s not about getting along. It’s about demanding your players play the right way.”
Asked whether he plans to coach again, Wilkens laughed. In any future endeavor in Seattle, he said, he would hope to be involved in some capacity.