The Denver Nuggets and the Seattle Supersonics both entered their respective leagues at the same time, 1967. Denver in the ABA and Seattle in the NBA. This is the first in a surprisingly very long line of shared history between the two cities that continued all the way to 2008. Some of the most pivotal moments in Nuggets/NBA history occurred between the Nuggets and the Sonics in that time span starting in 1969.
The Denver Rockets of the ABA signed Spencer Haywood in 1969 after one year of college. Due to the NBA's "Rules of eligibility" at the time, Haywood couldn't sign with the NBA. Haywood's one season in Denver was spectacular, averaging 30 points and 19.5 (!) rebounds a game. Amazing talent in a fledgling league. It was inevitable that the ABA would be too small for the amazing talents of Haywood. In 1970 Haywood and the Seattle Supersonics agreed on a contract, putting them in direct violation of the NBA's eligibility rules. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and resulted in a landmark decision regarding eligibility for professional leagues.
The two teams didn't intersect again until after the Nuggets entered the NBA. They met in the Western Conference Finals in 1978. The Nuggets were defeated in six games 4-2 and the Sonics went on to lose to the Washington Bullets in the Finals. The next year the Sonics would play the Bullets again in the Finals and win their only Championship. Three seasons later, in 1982 the Nuggets would trade troubled star David Thompson to Seattle for none other than the Stiffiest Stiff of them all ... Bill Hanzlik.
The Nuggets and Sonics met again in the first round of the 1988 NBA playoffs. The Nuggets won 3-2 over a Sonics team featuring Xavier McDaniel, Tom Chambers and future Nuggets player Dale Ellis. They were coached by Bernie Bickerstaff. Fast forward two years ... in 1990 the Nuggets' pretend owners Peter Bynoe and Bertram Lee hired Bickerstaff as general manager.
Four seasons later, the (then) upstart Denver Nuggets met the heavily favored Sonics in the first round of the 1994 NBA playoffs. We all know what happened there, NBA History. The Nuggets became the first-ever No. 8 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in the playoffs. A great moment for the Nuggets and the NBA (not so much Seattle or George Karl). The next year Bickerstaff brought in former Sonics sharp-shooter Dale Ellis.
The Nuggets connection fell off until January of 2005 - the Nuggets hired Karl, former Sonics coach. He has been with the club ever since. The last "connection" and milestone was the NBA record 168 points in regulation that the Nuggets put on the Sonics in their last-ever season in Seattle in 2008. These are all moments that connect the Nuggets to the Sonics, a connection that runs just as deep as the one with the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs (the Nuggets have faced both of those teams six times in the NBA playoffs).
I have to say, speaking for myself, it has been weird not seeing the Nuggets annual trek up to the Pacific Northwest. The back to back of the Portland Trail Blazers and the Supersonics was a tradition. The events of what happened in 2008 are well worn and covered extensively by the documentary Sonicsgate. You can understand the lingering animus and ill-feeling toward Commissioner David Stern and former Washington State Speaker of the House Frank Chopp after their ego-fueled showdown in 2006. After an attempt to purchase the Sacramento Kings by Hedge Fund Manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft Billionaire Steve Ballmer this year was denied by the NBA, and David Stern started off his press conference on May 15th by saying "This is going to be short for me. I have a game to get to in Oklahoma City..." ... you can understand the hurt and enraged feelings.
I'm going to set the Sacramento issue aside. It is settled in my mind and I'm happy that the people there get to move forward knowing their team will be there for the foreseeable future. Quite frankly, for a team that has been around as long as the Kings have (in multiple cities from Rochester to Kansas City to Omaha to Sacramento) the Nuggets share almost no historical or pivotal NBA moments with them. It's odd that I really don't have any feelings about the Kings other than just another team on the Nuggets schedule.
One hopes that future NBA commissioner Adam Silver (Stern retires in February 2014) can see fit to do right by the city of Seattle. While the oft-repeated rationale for keeping the Kings in Sacramento has been that incumbent city has the advantage ... that certainly didn't apply to Seattle when the team was allowed to leave. That same consideration was not applied. So you can say that the NBA "half" righted their wrong in 2008 by giving the advantage to Sacramento they never gave to Seattle ... but their so far steadfast refusal to address the "Seattle problem" will continue to be a black eye for the league as a whole until it is addressed and the city has their team back.
My fear is the NBA intends to treat the city of Seattle like the NFL treats the city of Los Angeles. You know the implied, use the city as "the hammer to get a better arena/stadium built or else we will move them to Seattle/LA". It sure as hell has never been fair to LA, and it would be even worse for the city of Seattle - who probably have a greater love/affection for the Sonics than any of their other professional sports teams. This use of cities as leverage to gain terrific financial subsidies for building arenas is one of the most despicable things sports leagues do. People have very large attachments to their sports teams, and I can't imagine the rage and pain I'd feel if the Nuggets chose to do that when the Pepsi Center is outdated.
In that way, I'm glad COMSAT decided to build Pepsi Center themselves (with a very, very small public subsidy in the form of land donation). It bucked sports business trends. It can be done and mass corporate welfare/extortion with the use of fans as pawns is something that should be beneath every professional sports league. It is just plain weird that there is no NBA team in Seattle and it's high time the NBA sees fit to correct what they wrought on the people of Seattle.
To Kings fans. I was impressed with your media lock-step in the recent fight to keep the team. That was great. I would ask only one favor of you. Put aside any hard feelings you can and understand that the NBA needs a team in Seattle. Could you see it in your heart to flip the script and advocate heavily for a team in Seattle? Quite frankly they need all the help they can get. You won the right to a bright future, and I would hope that deep down you would want that same feeling for the people of Seattle.
The same goes for Nuggets fans. My heart and soul goes to the Nuggets. Always. Yet, I do have a very soft spot in my heart for the many friends I have in Seattle and their desperate struggle to regain their NBA team. I hope that we all understand this and tell the NBA to not give in to the worse demons of their nature and use Seattle as leverage.
It's time the NBA decides to put a team in Seattle, one way or another. The fans shouldn't suffer any more for mistakes made by egocentric politicians and commissioners.
Twitter: @jmorton78 https://twitter.com/#!/jmorton78