In the late 1970s, let's just say the NBA was a much different league than it is now.
It was an organization filled with cocaine, brawls, and big hair. It could have easily been featured on an episode of Starsky and Hutch. I'm sure with the stress of all the bad press, then-NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien had to have been on some heavy blood pressure meds.
Or some strong whiskey.
CBS also did the league no favors by tape-delaying playoff and NBA Finals games late at night. You heard me right: if you lived in a West Coast city, like Los Angeles, Portland, Vegas or Seattle, the NBA Finals would sometimes come on at 11:30 at night, recorded.
So much for those M*A*S*H reruns.
But things weren't all bad in hoops land. If you lived in the Pacific Northwest, odds were a lot of fans were enjoying basketball. In 1977, led by happy-go-lucky hippie Bill Walton (before the feet and ankle injuries decided to play voodoo on his career), the Portland Trail Blazers went from chumps to champs in one year by beating Dr. J and the 76ers for their first (and to this day only) NBA title.
Up north in Seattle, another franchise's fortunes seemed to turn around as well.
Until 1978, the Sonics were stuck in limbo land. They had made the playoffs for the first time in 1975, going 43-39, going to the West Semifinals, only to fall to eventual champion Golden State. They had a real superstar in Spencer Haywood, who was the first true star for Seattle, making the All-Star game four consecutive times from 1972-1975, and despite the fact he missed 14 games in 1975, he still averaged 22 points a game to go along with 9 rebounds.
Haywood was like that hot girlfriend that you never thought would fall for you, but did. Sure, it feels great, but thoughts of "Will she leave me for someone better?" always permeate your brain. You are always reminded to enjoy the good times while they last, because they won't be around forever.
After the 1975 season, the Sonics shipped that hot girlfriend to the New York Knicks for Gene Short (who was the Knicks' first round pick that year) and $1.5 million in cash. Haywood continued to shine in New York, then bounced around between New Orleans, the Lakers and the Washington Bullets, where he wrapped up his career in 1983. (It must be noted that not only was he a good basketball player, but he also married supermodel Iman, so he had that going for him.)
With the loss of Haywood, the Sonics tried to fill the void with Tommy Burleson, who did well but could never be hot girlfriend #2. He was more like the second Becky from "Roseanne": a solid replacement, but not someone that could help bring you an NBA Championship.
The Sonics realized this and made a trade with Denver that sent Burleson, Bobby Wilkerson and a 1977 second-round pick to the Nuggets for Marvin Webster (who made a big impact in the Sonics' 1978 Western Conference Championship team), Paul Silas, and Willie Wise. Then, a few days later, the Nuggets moved Burleson to Kansas City for Brian Taylor and a first-round choice. The swap for Webster proved to be a smart move, in the short term. After the 1977-78 season, Webster went to the New York Knicks, where he seemed to have a Vin Baker-like career slide. He suffered numerous injuries, and was out of the league by 1987.
After the departures of Haywood, Burleson and Webster, it would seem like the Supersonics just had bad luck with centers. In 1977, the team dipped in the standings and missed the playoffs with a 40-42 record. Coach and GM Bill Russell definitely felt unlucky, realized that he wasn't going to be able to turn Seattle into the team that mirrored his classic Celtic squads of the 1950s and '60s, and came to an agreement with owner Sam Schulman to mutually part ways.
Enter Jack Sikma.
It was as if the basketball gods proceeded to give the Sonics a huge kiss on the lips when Sikma was drafted in 1977. An All-American from Illinois Wesleyan, Sikma was a rebounding and blocking machine that provided the Sonics some much needed presence in the center position, especially if they were going to stand up to the Kareems and Elvin Hayes of the world.
Sikma proved to be a potential hot girlfriend #2 in 1978, grabbing just under 9 rebounds a game, and adding 11 points a contest, as Seattle was edged out of the Finals by Washington in 7 games. It was definitely a promising start to a nice career for the jolly blonde giant.
1979 proved to be no fluke for Sikma, as he made the All-Star team, all the while grabbing 12.4 rebounds a game and raising his scoring average to 15.6. This time, the Sonics weren't going to be denied, as they thwarted the villains from D.C. in a title rematch, four games to one.
Pretty soon, Seattle fans rejoiced and made Sikma, Dennis Johnson, "Downtown" Freddie Brown, Gus Williams and head coach Lenny Wilkens the Kings of Seattle. I'm sure none of these guys paid for a meal anywhere in the city, nor had trouble getting free drinks.
At least he got to see Iman naked.
Sikma had his best statistical year in 1981-82, when he averaged 12.7 rebounds to go along with almost 20 points a game. He made the All-Star game every year from 1979-1985, establishing himself as not only one of the best defensive players in the NBA, but also as one of the guys who made the Sonics the main ticket in town during this time.
Take that, Wally Walker.
After years of pleasing the Northwest faithful with his work ethic and defensive prowess, Sikma decided he wanted to win another NBA Championship. So GM Bob Whitsitt decided to trade the blonde bomber to Milwaukee for Alton Lister.
"[Alton Lister is] the first move in rebuilding this team," Whitsitt told the LA Times in 1986.
Not exactly a sign of someone having ESP.
Sikma would continue to perform well for Milwaukee, continuing to block and rebound very well into the early 1990s. He retired from the NBA in 1992 and ended up as a trusted assistant coach for Rick Adelman in both Minnesota and Houston, where he taught Yao Ming the finer points of playing center. He also coached in Seattle for a while under head coaches Nate McMillan, Bob Weiss and Bob Hill before both he and fellow assistant Detlef Schrempf were wished well in their future endeavors.
What Jack Sikma provided to the Sonics was invaluable. While Spencer Haywood was an exciting superstar in his day, he lacked the leadership and knowledge of how to win. In his defense, he was very, very young at the time, and still trying to get adjusted to life in the NBA. Sikma, however, always expressed a winning pedigree and knew how to get his teammates to play hard night in and night out.
Jack Sikma was definitely hot girlfriend #2.