Former Sonics express confidence NBA will return to Seattle

Gus Williams poses during his playing days with the Seattle Supersonics. - Courtesy Photo
Gus Williams poses during his playing days with the Seattle Supersonics.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

It might be the most iconic memory in the history of Seattle professional sports.

As time expired during the 1979 NBA Finals, Sonics guard Gus Williams heaved the ball toward the ceiling of the Capital Centre as teammates rushed toward him to celebrate Seattle’s 97-93 win at Washington to secure the championship.

“That was the highlight of my career,” said Williams, who played Monday during the Detlef Schrempf Golf Classic at McCormick Woods Golf Course.

Now Williams and others are hopeful that future generations of fans in the Puget Sound region have an opportunity to watch the NBA again. Seattle has not had a team since the Sonics relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008, where they now are known as the Thunder. It appeared that might change when a group led by Chris Hansen purchased the Sacramento Kings in January, but their bid to own and relocate the team to Seattle was rejected in May during the NBA Board of Governors meeting in Dallas.

“It was very disappointing that Chris Hansen and the group he put together fell a little sort,” said Williams, who averaged 20.3 points per game in six seasons for the Sonics before he was traded in 1984. “I’m as disappointed as anyone.”

But Williams, who lives in his native New York, expressed confidence that the league will return within five years to Seattle. He said the strong support displayed by Hansen’s ownership group and fans were noticed.

While seemingly in contrast, disappointment and optimism were buzzwords among former Sonics. Forward Nick Collison, who was a first-round pick by the Sonics in 2003 and lives on Lake Washington during the offseason, said he followed the potential relocation of the Kings closely and said he heard from several players throughout the league who were hopeful that Seattle would land the Kings.

Brent Barry, a guard who averaged 11.3 points per game for the Sonics from 2000-04, also has followed Seattle’s efforts to regain a team. Barry, who now is an NBA TV analyst, even stumped for star forward LeBron James to declare that he wanted to “start a team in Seattle” when he became a free agent in 2010. James ended up signing with the Miami Heat, where he recently won his second straight NBA championship.

“I think anybody who has played for this team has optimism that a team will return to Seattle,” Barry said. “I have a lot of great memories playing here and being part of a really proud franchise.”

That does not mean Barry is happy with how Hansen’s effort to relocate the Kings ended. NBA commissioner David Stern allowed Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, a former standout point guard with the Phoenix Suns, to put together a competing offer to purchase the Kings from the Maloof family and keep it in California’s capital. Once Hansen’s bid to buy the team was denied, Vivek Ranadivé led a group that purchased the team.

“I almost hate to talk about that subject after the way things shook out,” said Barry, adding that he hopes Adam Silver’s “first priority” is to find a team for Seattle when he succeeds the retiring Stern in February.

Detlef Schrempf, who averaged 16.6 points per game as a forward for the Sonics from 1993-99, preached patience.

“It’s obviously not happening right now, but it’s not over,” he said. “Chris’ plan was three to five years and it’s on target.”

Tim Montemayor, who works for KGO Radio in San Francisco, recently tweeted that appears to be a “working plan” to return the NBA to Seattle.

“Several NBA sources in the know tell me there have been productive talks on expansion in Seattle,” Montemayor wrote June 12 on Twitter. “As the league preps for a new TV deal they have discussed a timetable but have not settled the issue.”

Collison said he “knows as much as anyone else” and Barry and Williams both said they do not have any knowledge about Seattle gaining an expansion team or another franchise relocating to the market. Schrempf said his confidence that Seattle will have a team again stems from his interaction with Hansen, a San Francisco hedge-fund manager who grew up in Seattle rooting for the Sonics.

“I think he’s done all the right things,” he said, noting that Hansen has purchased several plots to build a new arena in Seattle’s Sodo area. “I think he’s great for our community. I’m excited about it.”

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