BY Art Thiel 08:30AM 04/06/2019

Thiel: 25 years late, Sikma gets his big moment

For Jack Sikma, it doesn’t matter that ascension to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame was belated. It’s happening, and Seattle can re-live a little hoops glory.

Jack Sikma helped the Sonics to the 1978 NBA Finals and then to a championship in 1979. He is guarded here in a Coliseum game by Darryl Dawkins. / David Eskenazi Collection

Unlike the highly visible, decade-long media hype and angst around Mariners star Edgar Martinez, Seattle’s most recent pro athlete to receive his sport’s highest honor, Jack Sikma’s moment found him alone in his Eastside home. He was watching the livestream of a game in Germany’s Bundesliga Basketball League featuring his son, Luke, who a year ago was named the BBL’s most valuable player.

But the quiet circumstances of his moment did not diminish the magnitude of the feat when the call came to the hall. The former Sonic’s 14-year NBA career that included a championship was every bit as worthy as Martinez’s ascension to baseball greatness in Cooperstown, NY.

Even if Sikma’s acknowledgement was 25 years overdue.

“Whether it’s overdue or not overdue, whether I made it or not, doesn’t change the accomplishments,” Sikma said by phone. “But making it is the ultimate in the basketball world.

“I’m humbled and thankful that the Honors Committee found me worthy.”

So an elated Sikma is in Minneapolis for Saturday’s announcement of the Class of 2019 to be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The press conference is at 9 a.m. on ESPN2, then the class will be introduced at U.S. Bank Stadium ahead of the semifinal games of the Final Four.

For Sikma, the calls, texts and in-person hugs have been intense.

“So many people I’ve connected with are happy for me in the purest way,” he said. “All the relationships that were from many segments, spots and circumstances in my life have brought back memories from those time frames.

“Those are important, and I’ve enjoyed sharing this with them.”

For the entire generation that has grown up since Sikma was traded from Seattle to Milwaukee after the 1985-86 season, here’s what you need to know in a sentence about his career: He is one of seven players in NBA history to have 17,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists, 1,000 steals and 1,000 blocked shots.

The others: Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Tim Duncan, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and inevitable inductees Dirk Nowitski and Kevin Garrett.

All seven of his All-Star years — in his best season of 1981-1982, Sikma averaged 19.6 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.3 blocks, 1.2 steals, on 47.9 percent shooting, and 85.5 percent from the free throw line — were in Seattle, far away from the New York-Boston axis of the NBA in the 1980s (there was was a spike to Los Angeles, but that was it).

And for the past 10 years, there was no team in Seattle to be his advocate in the way the Mariners were for Martinez, whose candidacy advanced annually as the team provided compelling comparative data to show his worthiness relative to previous enshrinees.

The biggest reason for the belated recognition is that, unlike the equivalent process in baseball and football, the basketball hall does not co-opt the national association of writers covering the sport. The other sports give the voting responsibility for their highest honors to another industry, the news media, which inevitably conveys undue attention onto its role, which creates drama in the readership and hype for the leagues but doesn’t add credibility.

Basketball — American college and pro, men and women, and international — has a secret committee of 24, which chooses finalists from a pool of candidates vetted by larger committees. Those committees receive organic information from industry people about potential candidates.

In the case of Sikma, his most enduring advocate was the coach at his alma mater, Dennis Bridges of little Illinois Wesleyan. Bridges got the attention of Wayne Embry, a 12-year NBA veteran who since 1974 has been a trustee of the Naismith Memorial Hall, and has served on various senior-level committees for the NBA and USA Basketball.

Embry received an advocacy letter from Lenny Wilkens, a Hall of Famer who was Sikma’s coach on the 1979 title team. Title-team mate Wally Walker, who was president of the Sonics from 1994-2006, a year ago helped organize data and support for his longtime friend.

For the first time, Sikma’s candidacy was advanced to the screening committee, which approved Sikma and 12 others as finalists for the Class of 2019. Those finalists who received 18 of the 24 votes will join Sikma at the Saturday press conference.

Regardless of the timing, Sikma, a coaching consultant for the Toronto Raptors, now has a bookend for his playing career. At the beginning, he reached the Western Conference finals in each of his first three seasons (beating the Denver Nuggets in 1978 and the Phoenix Suns in 1979, losing to the Lakers in 1980).

“Guys who had been in the league longer than me and paid the price knew how hard it was to get there,” he said. “In my naivete, I was so focused on trying to get there (to the Finals), I didn’t realize how hard it was.

“It was probably a blessing.”

Inevitably, the conversation turned to the subject of the NBA and Seattle. Sikma made a point about the degree of difficulty in a potential return.

“The success of the NBA has made the barrier to re-entry much higher,” he said. “The biggest element is not where they will play, nor how much (an expansion team) will cost. It’s getting a franchise.”

He also had a lament for the current consequences.

“I really feel for the generation of young players, elementary school through high school, that didn’t experience games in person,” he said. “A lot of games are on TV and streaming,  but having that feeling of the hometown team, having their favorite players, it’s like they’re missing out on something special. It’s too bad.”

Nothing to be done about that now. But today there is something that can be celebrated by those who were fortunate to have been around when the hometown team experienced ultimate success.

 


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YourThoughts

  • 1coolguy

    Sikma had his patented baseline step back shot that was MONEY and was such a team player. He was a joy to watch and it is shocking he wasn’t inducted before now.
    A very fine player and that championship team was the definition of “team play”.

    • art thiel

      It was a great collection of personalities and talents. Underrated was the fact that they were among the best defensive teams in Finals history.

    • Bayview Herb

      Agreed. I watched the old Sonics from their inception to departure after which I scooted to North Idaho. I suspect if the coffee baron really runs in 2020, he won’t carry Washington.

      • art thiel

        The last place he’ll succeed is Seattle.

  • Husky73

    Good reporting, Art. Now that you have unraveled the mystery of how the basketball HOF voting works, I look forward to you enlightening me on exactly what is the Federal Reserve and how it works?

  • dingle

    This article hurtled me back to memory lane. I was a basketball-obsessed youth, and living in the backwaters of north-central Washington required me to search up and down the dial to find the voice of Bob Blackburn. Listening to him was sheer joy for me, even at my middle-school age. I knew he was good, but at that age I couldn’t really appreciate *how* good he was. Every once in a while I’d luck out and they’d be on the 19″ black and white television in my parents’ living room.

    When the Sonics won the championship that year, I remember seeing two kids I know holding their own impromptu parade down the streets of Pateros, Washington. They rode in the back of one of the older brother’s pickup truck, holding Sonics banners, yelling “Seattle Supersonics, number 1!” all through town. Yes, they were the only vehicle in that championship parade. And I watched joyously, probably the only spectator.

    It’s overdue for Jack, and I’m glad he’s in. Not just for him, but for those of us who get to relive those weird moments from 40 years ago.