BY SPNW Staff 06:30AM 02/05/2019

1979 NBA champion Sonics returning for salute

The 84th annual Sports Star of the Year event at the Sheraton Hotel will feature a 40th anniversary reunion of the Seattle Sonics’ 1979 NBA champions.

Jack Sikma helped lead the Sonics to the 1978 NBA Finals and then to a championship in 1979.  Darryl Dawkins of the 76ers offers the opposition at the Coliseum. / David Eskenazi Collection

It was a long time ago that the Sonics won the NBA title. It may be almost as long before Seattle sees NBA basketball again.

Until then, we’ll have Thursday. The boys are back in town.

The 1979 champions return in the 40th anniversary year of their triumph over the Washington Bullets in a reunion celebration at the 84th annual MTR Western Sports Star of the Year at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Seattle Sheraton.

Presented by the Seattle Sports Commission, the longest-tenured event of its kind in the U.S. will also hand out awards in seven categories, including three voted on by the public: Male Athlete of the Year, Female Athlete of the Year and Sports Star of the Year.

A limited number of tickets remain and can be purchased online at sportsstaroftheyear.org.

Reunion participants include coach Lenny Wilkens and players Jack Sikma, Gus Williams, Fred Brown, Paul Silas, Wally Walker, Tom LaGarde, Dennis Awtrey and Dick Snyder, and trainer Frank Furtado.

Joe Hassett is on the road with his alma mater, Providence College, for whom he provides radio commentary for the men’s basketball team, and can’t get to Seattle. Three luminaries from the title team, Dennis Johnson, Lonnie Shelton and John Johnson, are deceased.

The 1979 NBA champion Seattle SuperSonics. / David Eskenazi Collection

The title was the first for a Seattle team in the modern pro sports era. It came a year after the Sonics started 5-17 and replaced coach Bob Hopkins with Wilkens. The Sonics went 42-18 thereafter, dominating the West but losing the 1977-78 Finals to the Bullets.

Wilkens made key changes in the 1979 season. He moved Brown to sixth man behind Williams and Dennis Johnson in the backcourt, and moved power forward Sikma to center when a knee injury ended the season of  Tom LaGarde. Once Shelton became a starting forward with John Johnson, they finished 52-30 and beat the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns in the West playoffs before dispatching the Bullets 4-1 in the Finals.

The subsequent victory parade drew more than 200,000 to downtown Seattle.

Downtown Seattle loaded up to celebrate the Sonics title. / David Eskenazi Collection

Some belated national recognition is finally developing. Sikma, a seven-time All-Star in a 14-year career in Seattle and Milwaukee, is a candidate for the Naismith Hall of Fame. The selection process is underway for the Class of 2019, which will be inducted into the shrine in Springfield, MA., in September.

The process is more obscure than the same honors for football and baseball.

Sikma’s candidacy has advanced through the North American screening committee, which required votes from seven of its nine members.

He’s now being considered by the 24 members of the Honors Committee, consisting of Hall of Famers, basketball executives and administrators, members of the media, and other experts in the game. Eighteen votes are required for enshrinement.

The class of 2019 will be announced during All-Star Weekend in Charlotte Feb. 15-17.

Sikma is ranked fifth among eligible players in a win-share formula at basketball-reference.com. In 2015, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton analyzed Sikma’s numbers and made the case they were hall-worthy.

Meanwhile at the Sheraton Thursday, some honorees are already known.

The following winners of the event’s four annual awards were selected by the Seattle Sports Commission’s event committee, composed of representatives of pro sports franchises and college athletic departments, businesses active in sports, sports historians and media members.

ROYAL BROUGHAM AWARD

Presented to an individual for a lifetime of achievement in sports and who
exemplifies the spirit of our state.

Sue Bird

In her 17-year WNBA career, Sue Bird has proven herself to be among the best women players of all time. The Seattle Storm’s savvy point guard has won two NCAA titles, four World Cup gold medals, and four Olympic gold medals, in addition to playing a key role in all three of the Storm’s championships.

“Sue is a true Seattle sports champion,” said Alisha Valavanis, CEO and general manager of the Seattle Storm. “Her impact off the court has been equally as significant as her accomplishments on the court.

“Sue began giving back to the Seattle community long before the awards and accolades started to mount. She embodies the very best of professional sports and we are fortunate she dons the yellow and green jersey.”

PAUL G. ALLEN AWARD

Presented to an individual who has made a significant or compelling philanthropic contribution.

Sandy Gregory

The last of the original Seahawks employees, Sandy Gregory joined the franchise as a public relations assistant in 1976. She retired in June 2018 as senior director of legends, team history and special projects. She was the heart and soul of the team’s community outreach, earning praise from past and present players whose charity events she helped stage.

“Sandy was instrumental in my career,” said Seahawks LT Walter Jones, Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2014. “Often, fans forget about behind-the-scenes people. I know for sure that my life was easier because of how easy she was to work with. Sandy is not just staff, she is family. I am extremely honored to be able to witness her get the recognition she deserves.”

WAYNE GITTINGER INSPIRATIONAL YOUTH AWARD

Presented to an inspirational young athlete who has overcome major medical obstacles to inspire others.

Elijah Hagstrom

When he was 6, Elijah Hagstrom of Renton was diagnosed with stage-four cancer in his liver and lungs. He spent nearly a year hospitalized at Seattle Children’s, undergoing 10 rounds of chemotherapy and having most of his liver removed. He has done more than survive the ordeal. Now 9, he and his team recently completed their football season – fittingly, as champs.

“This event is more than just honoring Elijah,”said Ed Hagstrom, Elijah’s father. “It’s about creating a special memory I’ll forever cherish. Because I live with the thought that Elijah’s cancer could come back, every captured memory is extremely precious to me. This means more than words can express.”

KEITH JACKSON AWARD

Given to a member of the media for excellence in communicating the sports
stories of our state.

Art Thiel

The awkwardness of the selection will be treated Thursday night by medication available at the hotel bar. Line forms to the right.


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YourThoughts

  • Archangelo Spumoni

    I remember being mad that those dastardly Knicks signed Marvin “The Eraser” Webster (R.I.P.) away from our Sonics. The following year turned out okay . . . .

    • art thiel

      A huge controversy at the time, feeding West Coast beliefs of bias toward the NBA’s hometown team

  • NasaX

    Congrats to Art on a well deserved Keith Jackson award, Oh Nellie!

    • art thiel

      To all who have offered good words, I’m deeply gratified. One part of the gig I enjoy is the exchange with readers. I’m sure if you didn’t like my work, you likely wouldn’t be responding, but for any writer, it’s important to know the readers care — even if we disagree.

      I’d be delighted if you attended Sports Star and said hello.

  • DB

    Congratulations, Art! So very well deserved!

  • Parts

    Congratulations Art, I’ve always enjoyed your work. In my not so humble opinion, it’s a well deserved award.

  • DJ

    Congrats Art!
    An honor well deserved! You were one of the main reasons that I switched from reading the Seattle Times to the P-I back in the day. Enjoy your night!

  • Tian Biao

    Art Thiel, don’t ever stop! I’d like to add to the heartfelt congratulations already posted. your combination of humor, insight, experience and perspective is unique in the Seattle landscape. cheers!

  • coug73

    Art, enjoy yourself. Keith Jackson will be smiling down on you. Congratulations and Whoa Nellie.

  • tor5

    KEITH JACKSON AWARD: Given to a member of the media for excellence in communicating the sports stories of our state.

    Anyone paying any attention knows it’s not even close. Congrats Art! Well deserved!

  • Matt Kite

    Congratulations, Art! And go Sonics!

  • Will Ganschow

    Every time I reference one of Art’s columns to a friend, I always preface my remarks with, “Art is the absolute best sports columnists I have ever read.” This is from someone who grew up reading Warren Brown, James Enright and Wendell Smith. You (the Reader) may not know who they are but I can pretty well assure you Art does. Nobody more deserving Art. Enjoy every moment of the evening.

  • Alan Harrison

    Congratulations, Art. Well-deserved!

  • wabubba67

    Hey…. congratulations, Art!! You have been my favorite sports journalist in this region for a very long time! Enjoy your night!!

  • Husky73

    So happy to see Sandy Gregory honored. No one was more community minded and generous than Sandy. Art Thiel stands with the greatest newspaper writers (and just writers period) in Seattle history including Royal Brougham, Georg N. Meyers, Emmett Watson, John Owen and Eric Lacitis.

    • art thiel

      Glad you saluted Sandy. She worked so hard and so quietly for so many players to help them with their foundations as well as struggles with post-career difficulties.

      Very worthy of recognition.

      • Husky73

        She was a beacon of strength and integrity during the Behring years.

  • jafabian

    Jack’s numbers are more than HOF worthy. IMO his career and statistics are on par with Bill Walton’s and he’s been inducted. Unfortunately the club slowly spiraled into mediocrity and that hurt him getting into the Hall sooner. Too bad we can’t undo the James Donaldson trade. Also what’s hurt him is no team is in existence and no team owner to champion his entry.

    Maybe David Stern and Adam Silver should be sent some complimentary tickets? So they get the message that the Sonics fan base can’t be denied.

    • art thiel

      Far as I can tell, there is no public campaign because no voters are identified anywhere on the hall website or independent site. Strange.

      • jafabian

        They do seem more basic in their process than the NFL or MLB. Not sure if that’s a good thing. IIRC Detlef and Big Smooth are eligible also. I can see Detlef eventually going in.

  • Paul Sherman

    Look at the size of those biceps! Pre-juicing era.

  • Paul Sherman

    Congratulations to my favorite sportswriter, ever.

  • DonMac

    That was such a great team with no real superstars, they just maximized the talent they had and played seamlessly together to get the Jon done. Great coaching by Lenny too. God, I so despise Howard Schultz and Clay Bennett.