Greatest of All-Time: The 1989 Seattle Supersonics

Over the next few weeks Sonics Rising will be running reviews of the 22 Seattle Supersonics teams that made the playoffs. Up now, the 1989 Sonics.

Edited by Tiffany Villigan

The 1989 Sonics would be the last team Bernie Bickerstaff would take to the playoffs before being fired at the end of the 1989-1990 season. The '89 Sonics won 47 games, which was good enough for a fourth seed in the Western Conference.

These Sonics brought to the table a formidable offense, ranking in the top ten of points-scored-per-game (112.1) and offensive rating.

In the 1988 draft the Sonics selected PG Gary Grant from Michigan in the first round and combo guard Corey Gaines from Loyola Marymount in the second round. Before the season started, Grant was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in a package that would bring big man Michael Cage to the Sonics. Gaines would also not play for the Sonics; after being placed on waivers, he was acquired by the New Jersey Nets and would go on to play in the NBA for five seasons. Most recently, Gaines was the head coach of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, a position he held from 2008 to 2013.

So much for that draft. The Sonics did, however, acquire guard Avery Johnson from the Palm Beach Stingrays of the United States Basketball League (USBL). Johnson went undrafted in the 1988 draft after a college career with stops at New Mexico Junior College, Cameron, and Southern. The "Little General" would play for the Sonics from 1988-1990, and went on to enjoy a successful 16-year NBA career as a pass-first, defensive point guard. He won the 1999 NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs and had his number 6 jersey retired by them as well. Johnson went into coaching afterwards and became the fastest coach to reach 150 wins while coaching the Dallas Mavericks. He led the Mavericks to the 2006 NBA Finals (where they lost to the Miami Heat) and most recently coached the Brooklyn Nets in 2012.

This 1989 Sonics team would be led by the veterans already in place, with guys like Dale Ellis, Xavier McDaniel, and newly acquired big man Michael Cage leading the charge. Ellis had arguably the best year of his career during the 1988-89 season and was the only Sonic voted to appear in the All-Star Game that season. He averaged a career-high in points-per-game that season as well, with 27.5. Ellis also made his way onto the All-NBA third team that year.

Another Sonic that had a great year was a young point guard named Nate McMillan, who averaged 9.3 assists-per-game that season, a career-high for him and good enough to rank in the top five among the league leaders in that stat.

In the playoffs, the Sonics would face the Houston Rockets in the first round and beat Hakeem Olajuwon and company 3-1 in a best-of-five series.

In the Western Conference Semi-Finals, the Sonics would once again run into the Showtime Lakers, the same team that had swept them two seasons ago in the conference finals. It was like déjà vu as the Sonics were again swept by Magic Johnson and the Lakers in four games, bringing an end to a decade of mixed success for the Sonics.

Here's how the roster and stats shaped out for this Sonics team:

ROSTER

No.

Player

Pos

Ht

Wt

Exp

College

42

Greg Ballard

SF

6-7

215

10

University of Oregon

44

Michael Cage

PF

6-9

224

4

San Diego State University

41

Mike Champion

SF

6-10

230

R

Gonzaga University

3

Dale Ellis

SG

6-7

205

5

University of Tennessee

15

Avery Johnson

PG

5-10

175

R

Southern University and A&M College

53

Alton Lister

C

7-0

240

7

Arizona State University

20

John Lucas

PG

6-3

175

12

University of Maryland

34

Xavier McDaniel

SF

6-7

205

3

Wichita State University

31

Derrick McKey

SF

6-9

205

1

University of Alabama

10

Nate McMillan

PG

6-5

195

2

North Carolina State University

23

Olden Polynice

C

6-11

220

1

University of Virginia

35

Jerry Reynolds

SG

6-8

200

3

Louisiana State University

40

Russ Schoene

PF

6-10

210

3

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

4

Sedale Threatt

PG

6-2

175

5

West Virginia University Institute of Technology

STATS

Player

G

GS

MP

FG%

3P%

FT%

TRB

AST

STL

BLK

PPG

Dale Ellis

82

82

3190

.501

.478

.816

342

164

108

22

27.5

Xavier McDaniel

82

10

2385

.489

.306

.732

433

134

84

40

20.5

Derrick McKey

82

82

2804

.502

.337

.803

464

219

105

70

15.9

Michael Cage

80

71

2536

.498

.000

.743

765

126

92

52

10.3

Alton Lister

82

82

1806

.499

.000

.646

545

54

28

180

8.0

Sedale Threatt

63

0

1220

.494

.367

.818

117

238

83

4

8.6

Nate McMillan

75

74

2341

.410

.214

.630

388

696

156

42

7.1

Jerry Reynolds

56

0

737

.417

.200

.760

100

62

53

26

7.6

Russ Schoene

69

1

774

.387

.382

.807

165

36

37

24

5.2

John Lucas

74

8

842

.398

.265

.701

79

260

60

1

4.2

Olden Polynice

80

0

835

.506

.000

.593

206

21

37

30

2.9

Avery Johnson

43

0

291

.349

.111

.563

24

73

21

3

1.6

Greg Ballard

2

0

15

.125

.000

1.000

7

0

0

0

3.0

Mike Champion

2

0

4

.000

.000

0

0

0

0

0

0.0

There are some clips of this team on YouTube, but outside of that, I never saw them play. The '89 team sounded like a fun team that scored a lot of points with guys like McMillan, X-Man, Lister, Cage, and Ellis. Did you see this team play? Share your memories, thoughts, and debate which Sonics team was the greatest of all-time in the comment section. And don't forget to vote!

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