**Shoutout to Ken and Rev for making me feel nostalgic after yesterday's post. Kudos to the two of them and for inspiring me to write this post.**
Certain things just aren't meant to be. In the game of basketball, we always remember how titles were rebuked by The Jordan in the 90's. Barkley, Ewing, Stockton, Malone, etc. You know the list; you grew up with the game just like me. However, a certain team will come along that just makes you love them. Back in 1996, there was a team that played with "swagger" before rappers were using the word commonly 13 years later. A team that was deep with talent, a mix of players in their prime, and a city that cheered them from the Canadian border to the depths of the Puget Sound...
...that team was the 1995-96 Seattle SuperSonics, aka my favorite basketball team of all-time.
It's a beautiful thing to watch players develop before your very eyes, to see them struggle and actually grow from it. When Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton hit the scene in the 1990's, it was clear that they were both immensely talented. It was also clear that both had holes in their game (Kemp had no offensive post moves, Payton had no jumper) and a team around them that was in transition. However, with the installation of George Karl and an organization that was committed to building around #40 and #20 was a beautiful thing to see.
Soon, Payton to Kemp was arguably the most unstoppable duo in the league. Throwing alley-oops from half-court, Kemp dunking on people with no regard for human life, Payton using his old-man game and posting up point guards, then talking cash shit to them all the way down the floor, it was something truly fascinating to see. Then the personnel additions came. The original German legend, Detlef Schrempf, came in from Indiana and stretched the floor for Kemp and GP. Hersey Hawkins came in from Philadelphia and brought veteran leadership and a knack for hitting big buckets. Then they brought in the big homie Sam Perkins, aka "Big Smooth" (aka the man whose game most closely resembles mine) from the Lakers, and the cool he brought to the squad (always kinda looking high) was invaluable.
So as we witnessed the Sonics lay waste to the Western Conference with a franchise-record 64 wins, the inevitable matchup with the all-time winning team in NBA history Chicago Bulls (72 wins) happened in the NBA Finals. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen versus Kemp and Payton. It was the first time I could remember where some folks were openly switching up from the Bulls and were leaning to the opposing side. I can't remember this happening ever. There might've been folks still hanging onto the Showtime Lakers, but it didn't happen for the Blazers, it didn't happen for the Suns, and it DEFINITELY DIDN'T happen for the Jazz. The Sonics had love in these streets. It was a crazy time in 1996.
We all know how the series ended, the Bulls had been through the wars before and were a much more savvy team (Phil Jackson was an absurdly better coach than George Karl. No diss to Karl, though; he did his thang in Seattle.) The Bulls beat the Sonics 4-2 and the picture embedded in everyone's mind is Jordan weeping over the basketball on Father's Day with his cold as hell XI's on while mourning the passing of his father. The greatest basketball team maybe of all-time had to win that series, they were that motivated (due to the '95 loss to the Magic) and that talented, period. However, here are the things I'll always remember about that series.
- Watching Shawn Kemp give the greatest defender of big men of our generation not named Hakeem in Dennis Rodman the proverbial blues was awe-inspiring.
- Watching Gary Payton talk cash shit to Jordan and Pippen with reckless abandon was the dopest thing ever.
- The defense that Jordan and Pippen played in 1996 was the inspiration to what LeBron and Wade play in 2011.
- Hearing Michael Jordan speak on how highly he thought of Shawn Kemp, calling him the best power forward in the NBA, was unreal.
- Remembering that George Karl's bench wasn't better than Crazy Joe, The Rev, Phil, Ken, and me hurt the Sonics a ton versus the Bulls. Other than the great Nate McMillan, here is the Sonics bench: Vincent Askew, Frank Brickowski, Ervin "No Magic" Johnson, David Wingate, Eric Snow, and Steve Bleeping Scheffler. Ridiculous.
- When Shawn Kemp hit Rodman with the baseline spin move, the reverse dunk, and then sat on his shoulders.
There might never be a team like the '96 Sonics. I firmly believe that if the Sonics win the title in '96, then the Sonics stay in Seattle. The Sonics organization can only blame themselves for the downward spiral the team experienced after that Finals appearance. The mismanagement of Shawn Kemp, the signing of Jim fucking McIlvane, trading for Vin Baker, hanging onto George Karl for three years too long, and Howard Schultz negotiating with an oilman from Oklahoma.
I'll always remember. They were my childhood, and they'll always be the best in my mind. Long live the '96 Sonics.
P.S. As a reminder, checkout the livest sports talk show around, "The Unsportsmanlike Conduct Show" as we are live Wednesday's at 9pm Eastern at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/edthesportsfan! Download our podcasts if you missed the live show as well!