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I finally had a chance to respond to your thoughts on the all time Sonics team. I'm wondering if you included Tom Black as a joke or to see if I'm really an authentic fan. I mean, how many people really remember Tom Black? He only played about 50 games as a reserved. Pete Cross, a player with limited quickness and athleticsm beat him out for the starter's position. What I remember about Black is that he was the oldest rookie ever in the NBA. He was 29 when he tried out for the Sonics. The reason he was given a shot in the first place is that the Sonic's lost their 1st round pick, Jim Ard, to the ABA.
My 1st, 2nd and 3rd teams
PG - 1 - Gary Payton 2 - Lenny Wilkens 3 - Gus Williams Honorable Mention - 1 - Nate McMillian 2 - Slick Watts
SG - 1 - Dennis Johnson 3 - Ray Allen 3 - Fred Brown Honorable Mention 1 - Dale Ellis 2 - Dick Snyder 3 - Ricky Pierce
SF - 1 - Detlef Schrempf 2 - John Johnson 3 - Rashard Lewis Honorable Mention - 1 - Kevin Durant 2- Derrick McKey
PF - 1 - Shawn Kemp 2 - Spencer Haywood 3 - Lonnie Shelton Honorable Mention - 1 Tom Chambers 2 Vin Baker
3 Xavier McDaniel 4 tie Paul Silas and Tom Meschery
C - 1 - Jack Sikma 2 - Bob Rule 3 - Marvin Webster Honorable Mention 1 Tom Burleson 2 Sam Perkins 3 Don Smith 4 tie Alton Lister and Jim Fox
Williams was quicker and more athletic than Wilkens but he wasn't a pure point guard. John Johnson often ran the offense during the Sonic's two Finals seasons. On the other hand, Wilkens clearly controlled the offense when he was on the court. He was so highly respected that back in the days when the players chose the MVP each season, he finished 2nd to Wilt Chamberlain in the 67 voting.
DJ wasn't a great shooter but he was the MVP and a key figure on the championship team so he was slotted #1. I ranked Allen ahead of Brown because his size and superior athleticism made him a better defender and post up player. Both Brown and Allen were better ball handlers and distributors than Ellis.
I ranked JJ ahead of Rashard because I think he was the glue on the championship team. Rashard was a great talent who really never played up to his potential. He would dominate for a game then disappear for the next.
In my mind Kemp has razor thin edge over Haywood because he was taller and stronger. Haywood's game was more polished when you compare his 1st three years vs. Kemps. But in 96 Kemp's domination of Rodman was so entertaining. He truly rose up and performed on the world's biggest stage.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Webster was so important to the team when they reached the finals for the 1st time. That experience allowed the team to build cohesion and confidence. Even though he was not part of the championship team, I contend that the championship wouldn't have happened if Webster hadn't been a Sonic the previous year. Burleson was the center on the Sonic's 1st two playoff teams and even beat out Bill Walton for the center position on the all rookie team.
2 years, 2 months ago on The Lowdown: Bob Rule
I really enjoyed your perspective on Sikma. I completely agree with your statement that his talents were often overlooked by casual fans who aren't able to recognize the finer nuances of the game. Many people like to think of him as a slow, white stiff because he is....well, white and tall. But I think a lot of these same people never really watched him play. He wasn't flashy, was rarely seen on highlight reels. But what he did over the course of his career land him squarely among the top 25 centers of all time. To begin, he had a sky high basketball IQ. He also had deceptive quickness and agility. While casual observers or fans who are only dazzled by high flying dunks couldn't appreciate Sikma's superlative play. players and coaches alike were impressed. None other than the very stoic Robert Parish gushed "that's why he's an All Star" after Sikma hit a clutch game winner in a mid season game against the Celtics. Sikma's 7 all star selections were generally not the result of fan voting, but rather the result of the conference coaches selection of the reserves. Sikma earned every All Star berth. Year after year Sikma managed to stand out in a league that was well stocked with quality centers. He had to battle Abdul Jabbar, Moses Malone, Bill Walton, Robert Parish, Bill Laimbeer, Bob Lanier, Jeff Ruland, Brad Daugherty, Alvin Adams, Kevin Willis, and the young twin towers Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwan.
I regarded Sikma as sort of a poor man's Bill Walton. He wasn't as athletic and he couldn't elevate and block shots like Walton. But Jack was still an effective defender who could deny other big men the chance to set up where they liked. He was also adept at closing off passing and driving lanes. Many observers felt his interior D was better than Moses Malone's. In fact his D landed him on the 2nd All Defensive team in his 3rd yeear. So like Walton, his defense was solid, and like Walton he could score in the low post or step out and hit the outside shot. Sikma was also an outstanding passer. He wasn't in Walton's class but he was still one of the best passing centers of his era from both the high and low post. As you pointed out, his defensive rebounding was outstanding and his ability to through the outlet was the catalyst for a lot of fast breaks. But his lack of flash meant he was rarely the subject of highlight reels or "play of the night" segments. Too few people saw enough of him to fully appreciate his refined but unspectacular game. Hence, his undeserved reputation as just another white stiff.
2 years, 3 months ago on The Lowdown: Jack Sikma
An interview with Bob Rule...it must have been fascinating. Are you a journalist/author?
I saw Tom Meschery on an ESPN interview about 2 months ago when he, Al Attles and and the former Phliadelphia Warriors Director/Statistician were discussing Wilt Chamberlain's 100 point game. It was good to see Meschery is still alive and well but his blood disorder goes way back to his playing days. Lenny Wilkens mentioned in his autobiography that Meschery was suffering from symptoms as far back as 1970. It probably forced the "Mad Russian" to retire a year or two earlier than he otherwise might have.
I never knew the actual circumstances behind the decision to trade Rule but I assumed it was a payroll thing. Sam Schulman wasn't known as a man who opened his checkbook easily or rationally. He could be an incredibly frugal owner most of the time, yet at other times he spent freely. That tendency to spend manifested itself in his rapid signings of ABA stars - first Haywood in 1970, then Jim McDaniels, John Brisker and Bob Vega the following year. In all four cases he opened the checkbook wide to get the ABA players to defect. But he managed to pull the purse strings shut when it came to players who were already on the team.
Lenny Wilkens was named player-coach in part because Schulman only had to give Lenny a $20,000 bump in salary over his player contract to get him to take on coaching duties. In contrast, a coach who only coached would have cost $40,000 or more so he got to save $20,000.
Schulman's frugal nature manifested itself when he negotiated with Rule prior to the 70-71 season. Rule had asked for $75,000 a year and only received $60,000. This was so far below the $250,000 salaries earned by Jabbar and Chamberlain at the time. Given that prior to the injury Rule was becoming an elite center, he would have been vastly underpaid at $75.000. The $60 grand Schulman paid Rule was a relative bargain. Even so I can project what Schulman and Houbregs were thinking. "Rule is costing us $60,000 and he's not up to full speed but Don Smith is only costing us $40,000 and he's pretty solid. Let's have Smith be our starter and get rid of Rule's salary."
Schulman's tight fiscal approach reared itself later when he refused to match the big contract offer the Knicks gave to Marvin Webster. Of course the Sonics got Lonnie Shelton in return and won a championship so it turned out well. But the tightly closed wallet did bite Schulman and the team soon after. After DJ won the MVP for the 79 finals he asked for a renegotiation of his very small salary. He was becoming a superstar and wanted to be paid better than his $145,000 contract. Ater all, salaries were starting to climb and comparable players like Paul Westphal and Reggie Theus were earning far more. Sam refused, DJ sulked and the championship team began to unravel. A year later Gus Williams sat out a year over a salary dispute and his absence really crippled the team.
in some ways I do admire Schulman's willingness to draw a line across the fiscal sand. Today's salaries are insane and teams will only stop losing money if owners can exercise some discipline. It's hard to get citizens to help owners out with new arenas when the owners lose money due to free spending on marginal players.
2 years, 3 months ago on The Lowdown: Bob Rule
Hi McKoosa, Yes I'm still in Seattle and am missing the Sonics. I have read various Sonics blogs on other sites like Seatown Sports am somewhat bemused with all the 20 somethings who profess to be long time fans yet they haven't the foggiest idea of who the early stars were. I read with amusement how one writer selected Sam Perkins as the second best center ever to play for the Sonics. I liked Big Smooth but by the time he arrived in Seattle he was transitioning from a decent low post player to a perimeter 3 point shooter. By his 3rd season with the Sonics, Perkins had pretty much abandoned the post duties and started roaming the perimeter like a small forward. He wasn't a force as a rebounder or as go-to inside scorer. Rule was absolutely the 2nd best center of all time and if he had stayed healthy he most certainly would have given Sikma a real race for the #1 slot. He rebounded and piled up points down low like a center should. I also ranked Marvin Webster as the #3 center despite the fact that he was only here for one year. Without him the Sonics wouldn't have reached the finals in 78. The confidence, chemistry and experience they gained in 78 was instrumental in their 79 title. I'm also at a loss as to how the 20 somethings so easily dismiss Lenny Wilkens's achievements. It's hard to argue against chosing Gary Payton as the best point guard in team history. But unlike most, I would rank Wilkens as the 2nd best in team history. Gus Williams, the popular choice for #2 was a spectacular player, probably the best open court player of the NBA's 1st 35 years (before Jordan). But he wasn't a pure point guard. In fact during his 1st 3 years with the Sonics, the task of running the set offense was routinely turned over to John Johnson. When Wilkens was on the floor there was no question as to who was in charge of the offense. He was also a solid defender. Walt Frazier, a man who knew a thing or two about defensive play from the point guard position descrived Wilkens's defense as "pure hound". JJ is another vastly under rated and under appreciated player from the past as is Paul Silas. But one of my favorites of all time was Tom Meschery. He may not have been the most talented but he had heart and competitive fire. The night he went' ballistic and challenged Wilt Chamberlain to a fight is one of the great anecdotes in league history. I believe it was featured in a book called Tall Tales, a chronicle of the NBA's Golden Age.
I was a huge Bob Rule fan and I was devastated as only a junior high kid could be the night he ruptured his achilles tendon. I can still hear trainer Jack Curren's announcement over the radio that Rule would be lost for the entire season. The Sonics had just acquired Don Smith, a talented PF/C from Milwaukee and he immediately started playing like an All Star. During the first 4 games of that 70-71 season Smith and Rule combined for roughly 50 points and 26 rebounds per game. Lenny Wilkens, a perennial All Star was at the peak of his career and Dick Snyder was emerging as a top level outside shooter and defender. It was a deep squad with two former All Star forwards - Tom Meschery and Don Kojis - in reserve. Barry Clemens could come in cold off the bench and immediately hit long range bombs and rugged rookie Garfield Heard could rebound and play lock down defense. LIghtning quick Lee Winfield was a terrific open court player who could swing between point and shooting guard; sort of an early day version of Gus Williams.. It looked like the Sonics would compete head to head with the Lakers for the division title. But Rule suffered the aforementioned injury and just weeks later Smith developed an inflamation of the tissue around his heart. The loss of both talented big men was too much to overcome. Spencer Haywood did sign with the team a few weeks later but he would remain embroiled in his much publicized landmark court case for the rest of the season. I've often wondered what might have been if the Sonics had been able to play Rule, Smith and Haywood at the same time.
But back to Rule. Before the injury, Rule seemed destined for greatness. It's unlikely that he would be in a pantheon with the likes of Russell, Chamberlain, Jabbar, O'Neal and Olajuwan, but he could have been in the next tier along with Cowens, Reed, Unseld, Hayes, Malone, Walton and Thurmond. The "Golden One" could flat out score from anywhere within an 20 foot perimeter. His arsenal included straight up jump shots, turn around fade-aways, finger rolls, and jump hooks from either side. He had outstanding foot work that enabled him to execute text book drop steps and he had a quick first step that enabled him to make slashing drives to the hoop. He was putting on head fakes and executing Olajuwan like shake and bake moves 12 years before Hakeem entered the league. But his favorite weapon seemed to be a sweeping left handed hook shot that gave fits to Russell, Chamberlain, Thurmond and Reed. It was as much a signature move for him as the sky hook was for Kareem. But he had his faults. The common criticism was that he didn't take his career seriously particularly during his first 2 seasons. He came to camp out of shape and needed the first month of the season to play his way into game condition. He could totally dominate a game for a quarter or a half then go into cruise control mode. It's tantalizing to think of what he might have achieved if he had the same competitive fire that burned in Cowens and Mourning.