Greatest of All-Time: The 1978 Seattle Supersonics

Over the next few weeks Sonics Rising will be running reviews of the 22 Seattle Supersonics teams that made the playoffs. This third installment focuses on the 1978 Sonics.

Edited by Tiffany Villigan

With the Bill Russell era coming to a close in Seattle, the Supersonics turned to former Grambling State and Syracuse Nationals power forward Bob Hopkins to take over as head coach. After a very disappointing 5-17 start, the Sonics front office dismissed Hopkins of his duties and brought in former Sonics all-star Lenny Wilkens as head coach.

Lenny took over the reigns and never looked back. As he stressed playing great defense, Wilkens led the Sonics to a 42-18 record the rest of the way, good enough for third in their division and a trip to the playoffs.

Led by the coaching of Wilkens (along with guys like Jack Sikma, Dennis Johnson, and Gus Williams), the Sonics beat the Lakers 2-1 in the first round, following that up with a 4-2 series rout of the Trail Blazers. With that win, the Sonics upset the number one seed and defending champs, and earned Seattle their first ever taste of the Western Conference finals.

They were outmatched on paper, though the Sonics' impressive run wouldn't end in the Western Conference finals. After taking down the Denver Nuggets in a six-game series, the Sonics were on their way to their first ever NBA Finals. Bill Russell couldn't lead them there, Bob Hopkins certainly couldn't, but Lenny Wilkens finally did, getting Seattle over the hump. Waiting for the Sonics in the finals were the Washington Bullets. The Bullets were coached by Dick Motta and carried a very good roster including future Hall of Famers Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes.

In game one of the finals series, in Seattle, Downtown Freddy Brown came off the bench to score 30 for the Sonics as they took a 1-0 series lead. Seattle scored 33 points in the fourth quarter, including 16 from Brown in the last 9 minutes, and won the game 106-102.

In game two, the Sonics weren't so lucky and they were unable to contain Hayes and Bob Dandridge, who combined for 59 points. The Bullets took game two to tie the series, winning 106-98. After the game, Coach Motta said to the media, "That's our game; Hayes and Dandridge going off tackle. People know where we're going. They're just going to have to stop us."

The Sonics did their best to stop the Bullets in game three but nearly blew it in the end after mental mistakes from Dennis Johnson and Paul Silas. The Bullets had the ball in the final seconds of the game, down by just a point, but a long-range shot from Dandridge rimmed out as the Sonics held on to win in Washington 93-92, taking a 2-1 series lead.

Back in Seattle for game four, despite packing a then-NBA finals record 39,457 fans into the Kingdome, the Sonics lost game four in overtime to the Bullets, 120-116. Game four was held in the Kingdome because the Seattle Coliseum, where the Sonics usually played during this time, was being used for a mobile-home show. A MOBILE-HOME SHOW... Welcome to 1978.

In game five, the Sonics were back in the Coliseum and took a 3-2 lead after narrowly beating the Bullets 98-94. Once again, leading the way for the Sonics was Fred Brown, who led all scorers with 26 points.

In Washington for game six, the Bullets blew the Sonics out 117-82. No Sonic scored 20 or more points; for the Bullets, Dandridge, Hayes, and Mitch Kupchak each scored 19-plus. With the series tied at 3-3, the Sonics and Bullets were headed back to Seattle for a decisive game seven.

In game seven, Fred Brown once again tried to bring the Sonics back, scoring 21 points in the game, but it would not be enough. Late in the game, the Sonics trailed by just 2 points after a tip-in from Paul Silas. Silas then fouled Unseld, who was shooting just 55% from the line in the playoffs. Unfortunately for Seattle, Unseld hit two that mattered. After Unseld flushed the free throws, Dennis Johnson missed a shot and Dandridge threw down a dunk on the opposite end as the buzzer sounded. The Bullets would celebrate their first-ever NBA title, in Seattle.

The loss ended Seattle's 22-game winning streak in the Coliseum and ended the season for a team that appeared to be headed for the bottom of the division when the season began. The Sonics' day would come soon; Wilkens and the gang would have to wait just a bit longer before capturing their first title.

The '78 team's stats include:

Record: 45-37, Finished 3rd in the Pacific Division

Coach: Bob Hopkins Lenny Wilkens

ROSTER

#

Player

Pos

Ht

Wt

Exp

College

32

Fred Brown

SG

6'3"

182

6

Iowa

30

Al Fleming

SF

6'7"

215

R

Arizona

23

Mike Green

C

6'10"

200

4

Louisiana Tech

10

Joe Hassett

SG

6'5"

180

R

Providence

24

Dennis Johnson

CG

6'4"

185

1

Pepperdine

27

John Johnson

SF

6'7"

200

7

Iowa

45

Bruce Seals

SF

6'8"

210

4

Xavier University of Louisiana

43

Jack Sikma

PF/C

6'11"

230

R

Illinois Wesleyan

35

Paul Silas

PF

6'7"

220

13

Creighton

20

Dean Tolson

PF

6'8"

190

2

Arkansas

42

Wally Walker

SF

6'7"

190

1

Virginia

13

Slick Watts

PG

6'1"

175

4

Xavier University of Louisiana

40

Marvin Webster

C

7'1"

225

2

Morgan State

1

Gus Williams

PG

6'1"

175

2

Southern California

42

Willie Wise

SF

6’5"

210

8

Drake

STATS

Player

G

MP

FG%

FT%

TRB

AST

STL

PPG

Fred Brown

72

1965

.488

.898


188

240

110

16.6

Al Fleming

20

97

.484

.588

30

7

0

2.0

Mike Green

9

250

.494

.677

55

10

6

11.9

Joe Hassett

48

404

.444

.833

36

41

21

4.0

Dennis Johnson

81

2209

.417

.732

294

230

118

12.7

John Johnson

76

1812

.416

.753

307

210

43

10.7

Bruce Seals

73

1322

.417

.634

226

81

41

7.8

Jack Sikma

82


2238

.455

.777

678

134

68

10.7

Paul Silas

82


2172

.397

.586

666

145

65

5.8

Dean Tolson

1

7

.000

.000

0

2

0

0.0

Wally Walker

68

1003

.440

.625

201

69

24

6.5

Slick Watts

32

809

.404

.566

81

133

53

7.8

Marvin Webster

82


2910


.502


.629

1035


203

48

14.0

Gus Williams

79

2572

.451

.817

256

294


185

18.1

Willie Wise

2

10

.000

.250

3

0

0

0.5


Interesting Stats:

  • During the majority of this season, Fred Brown was used as a third guard off the bench, but his Per 36 Minutes numbers tell us that he was the best scorer on the team, leading with 21.8 points per 36 minutes.
  • As they were by most opponents for the season, Seattle was looked over when it came to All-Star voting and no Sonics made the trip to Atlanta in 1978.
  • In his only season as a Sonic, center Marvin Webster enjoyed the best season of his career, averaging career-highs in blocks, rebounds, and points per game. He finished the season ranked 5th in total rebounds. Webster was acquired by Seattle in a trade with the Nuggets, the same deal that brought Paul Silas to the team. After the 1978 season, Webster signed as a free agent with the New York Knicks.

This team played well before my time, but I've seen plenty of highlights of Brown, Sikma, Johnson, and Watts on YouTube and NBA TV. Did any readers out there see this team live? In person? Tell us about it in the comments section and feel free to use the comments as an open thread of barbershop debate of which is the greatest Supersonics team of all time.

Don't forget to vote in our poll and let us know where this team ranks among the top 22 Sonics teams!

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

Join Sonics Rising

You must be a member of Sonics Rising to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Sonics Rising. You should read them.

Join Sonics Rising

You must be a member of Sonics Rising to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Sonics Rising. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9347_tracker