Who is the greatest player in the history of the Seattle SuperSonics? The answer to this is easy. Gary "The Glove" Payton.
However, if the question was who was the second, third, or fourth best player, the answer becomes a little less obvious. Names thrown around could include Shawn Kemp, Gus Williams, Lenny Wilkens, or to some younger fans, even Ray Allen. However, one name that would never be mentioned would be that of Bob Rule.
Drafted in the second round of the 1967 NBA Draft, the 6-9 center was part of the inaugural Sonics squad and wasted no time making his name known. In 1968, he made the NBA All-Rookie team. He followed that with his first 20 PPG, 10 RPG season the next year, in which he also scored 37 points in one game against Bill Russell, arguably the greatest defensive player in the history of basketball. By 1970, after another fine season, he was recognized as an All-Star for the first time.
Rule could have and should have probably been the first legitimate franchise cornerstone in team history. He was young, talented, and part of a team that had steadily improved in each of his first three years. However, his career was shattered soon after. A torn Achilles ended his fourth season just four games in and his career was never the same after that. In November 1971, he was traded to Philadelphia and became a forgotten man to those in the Emerald City.
But what if Rule had never been hurt? How would he be remembered among all those who donned the green and gold? For one, in his brief time in Seattle, he posted averages of 21.4 PPG and 10.0 RPG, both of which rank in the top four in team history. Additionally, he's one of only two Sonic players to have career averages of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, the other being Spencer Haywood, a Sonic legend in his own right.
If Rule had not been injured and was able to sustain his stellar play for an extended period of time, there is no doubt that he would be mentioned in the same way other Sonic greats like Kemp, Haywood, and Jack Sikma are. And what's scary to think is how much better he could have been. Though only a small sample, in the four games he played in the 1970-71 season before tearing his Achilles, he recorded 29.8 PPG and 11.5 RPG in 35.5 MPG. Considering his past seasons and his age, there's no reason to think he would not have been able to come close to those numbers over the course of an entire season.
As maybe fate's idea of a joke, the year Rule was sidelined also happened to be Haywood's first year with the team. As a result, Seattle fans never really got to witness how an in-their-prime Haywood and Rule would have performed together. In a game where team success is so reliant upon having dominant big men, a Haywood-Rule tandem could have made Seattle a contender throughout a decade in basketball that was post-Russell but still awaiting Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
There's really no way of knowing just how good Rule would have been, how successful Seattle would have been, or how we as fans would remember him years later. However, when thinking about how talented he was in his early years, and what he and Haywood could have done in a period when the NBA was weak, Rule could very well have been the best player in team history outside of Gary Payton.
If he were the second best player in Seattle history, would Rule have been good enough to be considered an NBA great? Think of it this way: only five players were top ten in scoring in both the 1968-69 and 1969-70 seasons. Elvin Hayes -- Hall of Fame. Jerry West -- Hall of Fame. Billy Cunningham -- Hall of Fame. Oscar Robertson -- Hall of Fame. The fifth player? Bob Rule.
Oh, what could have been...
Note: This is Max's first piece for Sonics Rising, and we're excited to have him on the team! -- Big Chris