Zollie Volchok, long-time president and general manager of the Seattle SuperSonics, died Sunday at 95. Volchok worked for the franchise during much of the Sam Schulman (1967-83) ownership and served as the club’s chief executive officer when the club won the 1979 NBA championship.
Born Sept. 22, 1916, in Salem, OR., Volchok came to the Sonics in 1969-70, initially as the team’s supervisor of operations, with a background in the entertainment industry. For many years (1953-69), Volchok co-owned Northwest Releasing, one of the premier talent-booking agencies in the country.
Northwest Releasing dominated the theatrical scene throughout the West, booking Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte, Louis Armstrong, Mary Martin, Jack Benny, George Burns, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and Elvis Presley.
When Schulman asked Volchok to run his hoops operation, Volchok said, “I don’t know anything about basketball.”
“Neither,” said Schulman, “do my players.”
With Volchok in charge, the Sonics created attractions such as Senior Nights, Kids Nights, Ladies Nights and a range of other promotions in an effort to increase attendance.
Within two years of his arrival, the Sonics went from 6,000 in average attendance at the old Seattle Coliseum (now KeyArena) to many sold-out houses. Ultimately, the Sonics moved to the Kingdome to satisfy demand for tickets.
Throughout his time with the Sonics, Volchok worked on the business and promotional sides of the operation, leaving basketball affairs to his coaches, principally Bill Russell and Lenny Wilkens.
The NBA named Volchok its Executive of the Year in 1983.
Volchok, who owned five percent of the franchise before Schulman sold it to Barry Ackerley Oct. 14, 1983, is survived by Sylvia, his wife of 72 years, and sons Gary, Michael and Tony.
Memorial services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Temple DeHirsch Sinai in Seattle.