1996 Seattle Supersonics
A short essay of the Seattle Supersonics and their 1996 season.
I have been a basketball fan nearly all my life. I really got into it when I was about 10 years old in 1992. By 1996 I was as big a NBA fan as anyone you can imagine. I collected cards, hung posters, wore jerseys, and pretended to be my favorite players in the yard. In 1993 my favorite team, The Phoenix Suns, lost to the Bulls in the NBA finals starting my hatred of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. If you fast forward to the mid 90s Michael Jordan had left the NBA for a short stint in baseball and leaving the NBA open for a new champion. Jordan returned in 1995 for the last part of the season but still the bulls lost. 1996 would be his first full season back. The bulls set an NBA record for most wins that year with a 72-10 record. This article is about the Sonics, but I wanted a little bit of drama to build up first.
The Sonics were athletic, loud, young high flyers who were a joy to watch. A perfect mix of Smooth shooting and fundamental play with highflying athletic showmanship made this team a fan favorite. They never won a title but did make it to the dance to face the Championship factory in Chicago.
In 1989 Seattle drafted a 6 foot 10 inch power forward named Shawn Kemp from Concord High school in Indiana. He was one of only a few players to be drafted strait from high school at the time. Kemp had some legal problems leading to his dismissal from his college of choice, Kentucky. He later signed with a junior college team but never played and was drafted by the Supersonics.
In 1990 Seattle drafted a point guard from Oregon with the second pick of the first round, by the name of Gary Payton. Payton was a 6 foot 3 point guard who was a great defensive player. Payton had a few rough years but would mature to be one of the best point guards in league history and a nine time all-star and defensive player of the year award winner.
Detlef Schrempf was traded to the Supersonics in the 1992-1993 season. He was a two times 6th man award winner in Indiana and later made 2 all-star appearances with Seattle.
Hersey Hawkins was a 6 foot 3 shooting guard who also joined Seattle in 1992-1993. He was a 3 point shooter and a solid 2 guard.
Sam Perkins was a 6 foot nine power forward/center who also joined the Seattle team in 1992-1993. He became an excellent 3 point shooter and a force inside.
Ervin Johnson was drafted by the Sonics in 1993 and played the center spot for the Sonics.
Nate McMilan was a 6 foot 5 guard drafted with the last pick of the last pick of the 1986 NBA draft. He played his entire NBA career with Seattle. He was a talented guard who had a very rounded game.
Coach George Karl was the coach of the team. He joined the team in 1991 and stayed with the team until 1998. He led the Sonics to the post-season in all of his years there and helped Seattle win 50 plus games in many of those seasons.
These players were the glue that held the Sonics together, Payton and Kemp being the stars. The team had improved every year since the early 90s reaching a peak in the Western Conference Finals in 1993. In 1994 a curse fell upon the Sonics preventing them from advancing past the first round. The Denver Nuggets were the first team to curse the Sonics and defeated them in the first round.
The next year the Sonics lost to the young LA Lakers also in the first round.
In 1996 the Seattle Supersonics were hungry and eager to begin. They posted a team record 64 wins which on most years would have been a league best but all that hard work would be shadowed by the Bulls 72 win season.
The Sonics entered the playoffs as the number one seed in the west. In the first round the Sonics beat the Kings in 4 games moving on to the second round to face the reigning Champs, the Houston Rockets.
The Sonic on a mission to prove that they belong swept the Champs in 4 games halting the possibility of a three peat. The western conference finals would put the Sonics up against the Utah Jazz. The Sonics would go on the beat the Jazz in 7 games in a great series.
Finally the Sonics made it out of the Western Conference only to face the seemingly unbeatable Bulls.
The finals opened up in Chicago where the bulls would route the Sonics by 17. Game 2 would be closer but still with a Seattle loss. The Sonics would return to Seattle but only the setting would change with the Bulls hammering the Sonics at home by 22. The Sonics determined not to give up would win game 4 by an impressive 21 point victory. The Sonics who were far from giving up would also win game 5 in Seattle by 12. The Bulls would return to Chicago for game 6 and would end the Sonics run by winning the game and the Championship by a big 12 point margin.
This would prove to be the end of the Sonics run and their last game as a group. Shawn Kemp would be traded to the Cavaliers in a big 3 way trade bringing Vin Baker to replace the Rein Man. Kemp would have a few good years in Cleaveland but finally succumbing to weight problems he was waved from many teams and has had many failed comebacks.
Gary Payton would play for the Sonics for a few more years. Payton would also play for Milwaukee, Boston, and Los Angeles before winning a Championship in Miami and finally retiring.
Detlef Schrempf would eventually leave Seattle and play for the Blazers before retiring. Hawkins, Perkins, and Johnson would also leave Seattle before retiring.
The only player to retire from the team would be Nate McMilan who also had his numbered retired, being the only player on the 96 team to have that honor. Later he would return to coach his beloved Sonics team.
George Karl would leave Seattle but would continue coaching. He is currently the coach of the Denver Nuggets.
When I think back on those Payton to Kemp alley-oops spawning triumphant high fives and cheers my heart swells. Not because I am some huge Sonics fan or some Shawn Kemp stalker but because it was just great times being a kid watching a great team praying that MJ would lose so maybe, just maybe I could root for a winner.
*Charles Barkley did not play with the Rockets in 1996. He would join then soon but not for a season or two. I liked the pic so I used it. I just wanted to clear that up.
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