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Remembering Seattle's Historic NBA Moment 35 Years Ago

caption: Seattle Sonics fan with sign, circa 1980, the year after the team won the NBA championship.
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Seattle Sonics fan with sign, circa 1980, the year after the team won the NBA championship.
Flickr Photo/King County (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The Oklahoma City Thunder are playing the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA conference finals Saturday. They currently trail the spurs two games to three after a tough defeat Thursday night.

The fact the Thunder are even in the finals might be a bitter pill for some Supersonic fans, as they remember the time when the Sonics were in the national spotlight, 35 years ago this Sunday.

In 2008, after 41 seasons, the Seattle’s NBA team left the city as new owner Clay Bennett took it to Oklahoma City and changed the name to The Thunder.

KJR Sports Radio host "Softy" blamed then-mayor Greg Nickels. "Why so much of a lack of interest in attending Sonics games in the last 10 years on your part, how do you respond to that?"

Nickels responded, "First Softy, in all due respect, I would call it a really cheap shot. Second, I would say that in the last 10 years this has not been a very fun team to watch."

Nickels was right. The Sonics hadn't been very much fun to watch for a long time. In fact, to find real thrills, you had to go back to Friday, June 1, 1979.

That night, two games were underway at the same time. At the Kingdome in Seattle, the Mariners were part way through another lackluster baseball season. They were playing expansion-team rivals, the Toronto Blue Jays, in front of 5,000 ambivalent fans. That season, Seattle was battling Oakland for last place in the American League West.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country in Landover, Mass., the Sonics were playing perhaps the most exciting game in the history of the team against the Washington Bullets for the NBA World Championship.

It'd been an amazing season. The Sonics beat the L.A. Lakers and the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs, and radios blared with the team's unofficial theme song.

Going in to game five, Seattle was up three games to one. It was a close game. As the fourth quarter wound down, "Voice of the Sonics" Bob Blackburn brought home all the action.

It all came down to the final seconds. "On the inbound's pass, fires in. Ballard — long one, top of the key. No good. Rebound, John Johnson. Sonics have it. Seven seconds. Six," Blackburn announced.

In the Kingdome, they actually halted the baseball game. Everyone, even the players on the field, stopped what they were doing and looked up at the big screen to watch the Sonics as Blackburn continued to describe the action.

"Five, four, pass to Gus Williams, three, two, one, and the Supersonics win their first ever NBA Championship. The ball sails high in the air."

Sonics fans everywhere cheered the victory. "The Sonics are ecstatic. The horns are honking around the Pacific Northwest."

But for Mariner fans, there were still a few more innings to go. The home team scored a couple more runs and beat the Blue Jays 7 to 2.

Meanwhile, right outside the Dome, Pioneer Square filled with revelers as a big celebration got underway. The next day, the Sonics came home to a hero's welcome at SeaTac, and then a parade downtown that drew 300,000 fans. NBA officials gave the team a golden trophy and then-Mayor Charles Royer read a proclamation naming June 4 as Sonics’ Day in Seattle.

But the Sonics' days are done and so is the Kingdome. About the only things left from 1979 are the Mariners — still struggling — and that golden NBA trophy — currently in storage at the Museum of History & Industry.

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