The Seattle SuperSonics made their debut in the NBA‘s Western Conference Pacific and Northwest divisions in 1967. Los Angeles based businessman Sam Schulman and Eugene V. Klein headed a group of minority partners was awarded the NBA franchise. Sam Schulman was heavily involved with them as he served as team president and head of operations. He would run the team until 1983 when he decided to sell the team to media and entertainment executive Barry Ackerley.
One of the first acquisitions that Schulman orchestrated was signing Spencer Haywood from the American Basketball Association. Haywood signed with the Dever Rockets as a college sophomore but would decide to leave the team due to a contract dispute. He officially signed with Seattle in December of 1970, but it was against NBA rules at the time, which stated players could not be signed until four years removed from high school.
Schulman and his legal team would end up taking legal action against the NBA and the case ( Haywood v. National Basketball Association), would land in the U.S. Supreme Court. They would go on to beat the NBA and Haywood was able to play the rest of the season. The NBA had to revise their bylaws and it would allow younger players to enter the league in the future. The Sonics would capture it only NBA title under the guidance of Lenny Wilkens and the roster featured Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma, John Johnson, Lonnie Shelton, Down Town Fred Brown, and Paul Silas.
Ackerley would take control of the Sonics in 1983 and owned the team until 2001. During his time as owner, the Sonics were in a period of decline in his first sixteen years at the helm. Things would start to turn around after they drafted Shawn “The Reignman” Kemp in 1989, and Gary “The Glove” Payton. The dynamic duo led the Sonics to the first seed in the Western Conference during 1993–94, but would lose in the first round to the upstart Denver Nuggets. Three years later, they would reach the NBA Finals again but would lose in six games to the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan. Over the next couple of season, the Sonics were still competitive in the Western Conference capturing three straight Pacific Division titles. After the season Seattle’s defensive specialist Nate McMillan decided to retire and Coach of the Year, George Karl was dismissed after a disagreement with management regarding his contract. He was replaced by Paul Westphal for the 1998–99 season.
Westphal would spend two seasons in Seattle before getting fired in 2000–01 season and replaced by then-assistant coach Nate McMillan. The following season, the Sonic would trade Gary Payton to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Ray Allen. The team would go on to win their sixth division title but would fall to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2005 Playoffs. After the season Portland Trailblazers’ owner Paul Allen, was able to entice Nate McMillan to leave the Sonics for high pay. The team will regress to a 35-47 record. They would land the 2nd overall pick in the 2007 draft, which tired out to be Kevin Durant out of the University of Texas. The following season the Sonics would relocate to Oklahoma City, and their name was changed to the “OKC Thunder.”
Since the Sonics departed from Seattle, the city and its fan base has been very adamant that they want an NBA Franchise. Over the years prominent figures such as Gary Payton, Spencer Haywood, Russell Wilson, Walter Jones, Rashard Lewis, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Sue Bird, and Breanna Stewart have all show their support to help the efforts to bring the Sonics back.
In 2013, the Hansen-Ballmer group, which consisted of hedge fund manager Chris Hansen, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, and the Nordstrom family would agree to purchase 65 percent of the Sacramento Kings. The deal fell through because the NBA would allow Sacramento Mayor at the time, Kevin Johnson, to put a financial group together to purchase the Kings from NBA. The following year the Hansen-Ballmer attempted to purchase the Milwaukee Bucks in the ballpark of $650 million and move the team to Seattle according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. If the deal would have gone through at the time, the group would have needed to pay an additional $150 million for the relocation fee.
Long-time Bucks owner Herb Kohl, would decline the offer and decided to sell the team to hedge fund billionaires Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry for $550 million. The duo agreed to keep the team in Wisconsin.
Windhorst also reported that Ballmer and Hansen attempted to purchase The Minnesota Timberwolves in the summer of 2013 when Owner Glen Taylor briefly put the team on the market. He would ultimately decide not to sale the team after receiving public funding to renovate the Target Center.
Ballmer would decide to offer a bid of 2 billion dollars to purchase the Los Angeles Clippers after the Donald Sterling scandal that rocked the NBA. Shelly Sterling sold the team to Ballmer after a California court ruled in her favor and the NBA backed the sale to Ballmer.
In 2016, Seattle Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson joined the Sodo arena group to bring NBA, and NHL to Seattle headed by Chris Hansen.
“I’m excited to announce I’ve partnered w/the Sonics Arena Group to help bring the @NBA and @NHL to the best fan base in the world. Seattle,’’ said Wilson.
“There is no place like the Emerald City. The positive impact sports has on our kids and many generations to come, and bringing different cultures and people together is what motivates and inspires me’’ said Wilson.
— Russell Wilson (@DangeRussWilson) November 14, 2016
“We couldn’t be more thrilled that Russell is joining our partnership and continued efforts to bring the NBA and NHL back to Seattle, said Hansen.“
“As you are all aware, we have always kept our focus on doing this for the right reasons – Our love for the City, our love of basketball, and our belief that pro sports has the ability to positively influence our youth and bring communities together in a way very few things in this world can.“
“It is with this shared view that we welcome Russell, a young, smart and passionate entrepreneur, as our business partner. We know that his enthusiasm, positivity and ‘never give up’ attitude will make a huge difference in our effort.’’
Since then three-time NBA Champion Dwyane Wade voiced he is interested in being a part of the ownership group that brings the Sonics back to Seattle.
“I want Seattle’s team, the Sonics, to come back,” Wade said. “I think Seattle is a great basketball town. I would love to be a part of that.”
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to speak with Hall of Famer and former Seattle Seahawk Walter Jones, if he had any interest adding his name into the mix.
”If someone came and asked me to be a part of it, I would be interested. I know Dwyane Wade said something about it and once we get a Hockey team, it will become more of a reality of getting a basketball team. We must get an arena first, and a couple of years ago we thought it was going to happen with the Kings coming, but Seattle is my home now. I hope to still be around to see another NBA team come here,” Jones told me.
Jones also shared with me that he was approached about possibly joining the NHL ownership group to bring an NHL franchise to the Emerald City.
Former Seattle Seahawk and Founder of Will Ventures, Isaiah Kacyvenski is willing to be part of an investment group:
”I would absolutely love to be a part of an investment group that brings the Sonics back to Seattle. I was a huge fan of the Sonics when I played in Seattle and look at that as a great opportunity,” Kacyvenski told me.
During a visit to Seattle, this past summer I presented the same question to future Hall of Famers Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart:
“If by hat you mean money, that is a different question, but being someone that was here when the Sonics were here. I love that people are talking about it not just Dwyane Wade, but other people throughout the NBA and even Russell Wilson in the NFL. People have been talking about wanting the Sonics back, and it has obviously been the topic of conversation since they left. I think for us anything we can do to help I do not think it would be a monetary thing or not.” Says Bird.
“I don’t think it is a monetary thing, so much, I feel enough people would invest in it. Its just actually getting them here.” Said Stewart.
Bird would continue by stating that she thinks it will happen and “the fact that people are talking about it the process will happen sooner. ” I would love to be a part of anything and anyone that is trying to bring the Sonics here.”
Seattle native and three-time slam dunk champion Nate Robinson is someone that not only wants to purchase a share of the team, but he also wants to play for the Sonics:
”Would I? Of course, I would, but would not want just a percentage I want to play for Seattle. After I played, then I would like to own an interest in the team. I would like to show what I can offer as an owner and what we expect in our players while giving an opportunity for someone like myself that is hungry and wants to play hard. I want to be a part of building and developing a winning culture,” Robinson told me.
During a recent trip to Dallas to take on the Mavericks, I was able to speak with 2-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant about his interest in being a part of an investment group to own a piece of the team. If the team does not return to Seattle before he retires:
That is a great question! ”Hell Yeah” I would love to, but it is way easier to say, yeah I want to part of than know how to do it,” Durant told me.
”Hell Yeah, I would do that.” That would be so much fun to bring basketball back to Seattle and try to build a winning team. As someone that enjoys the business as well, but understands the pure game of basketball. Especially, in Seattle that would be sweet. That has always been a dream of mine to run an NBA franchise and help lead young players and young people as I get older that would be an amazing experience.”
I spoke to ESPN’s Marc J. Spears before the trade deadline last season and he shared with me that Durant would be interested in owning a team one day. Why not the one that originally drafted him?
”That would be a dream come true because all I really want to do with my time on earth is be around basketball. If I can’t play anymore that would be the next best option.”