Everyone likes lists, which is why here at SSN we’ve created the Top 11. The Top 11 is a weekly listing of the greatest 11 Somethings to ever occur in Seattle sports history. Our Top 11 is much like a Top 10 list only one better…and 11 is also the number once worn by such Seattle icons as Edgar Martinez, Detlef Schrempf, and Marques Tuiasosopo, so it can do no wrong. Without further ado, on to the list.
11. Jim McIlvaine. It’s hard to do anything wrong when you don’t do anything, but Jim McIlvaine did all he could to disprove that theory during his short stint in Seattle. McIlvaine, the 7’1″ shot-blocking waste of space that he was, came to the Emerald City in 1996 thanks to a horrible decision on the part of the Sonics front office. Given a four-year, $34 million contract by the club, McIlvaine was supposed to be the guy to take the team to the next level, the perfect complement to the likes of Schrempf, Gary Payton, and Shawn Kemp. Instead, Big Jim (really at no fault of his own) set off a catastrophic series of events that drove the franchise into the ground and ultimately led in the Sonics’ departure from Seattle twelve years later. How did all this happen? Let’s review.
When McIlvaine was given his large contract, it hurt the feelings of both Shawn Kemp and the Sonics fan base, who were big Shawn Kemp supporters. Kemp was looking for a pay increase following a 1995-1996 season in which he led the team to the NBA Finals. The front office instead used the money they could have given Kemp to sign Big Mac, which left the Reign Man fuming. Following the conclusion of the ’96-’97 season, Kemp was traded to Cleveland in a three-team deal that brought serial drinker Vin Baker to Seattle. Baker’s tenure was marred by alcoholism and underperformance. In the following decade, the team would make the playoffs just once (in 2005) before being passed around like a bad venereal disease amongst ownership groups and ultimately landing in Oklahoma City.
Can we blame Big Jim for all this? Probably not, but there’s no doubt he played a role in the Sonics demise. That first season, ’96-’97, would be McIlvaine’s best, as he recorded career highs in points (3.8 PPG), rebounds (4.0 RPG), and blocked shots (2.0 BPG) before regressing from that point forward. After only two seasons in Seattle, McIlvaine departed in 1998 at the age of 25. He retired from basketball at age 28 after playing a total seven years in the NBA.
10. Shaun Alexander. Five years from now, we probably won’t remember Shaun as a villain. But in the present day, Alexander is still greeted with casual disdain, if for no other reason than the fact that he underperformed miserably in the final years of his tenure with the Seahawks. Alexander was the 19th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft and proved to be a consistent back in his first five seasons with the club. That all changed in 2005 when he went out of his mind crazy good, setting the NFL mark for touchdowns in a season (28, since broken by LaDainian Tomlinson), as well as posting career highs in rushing yards (1,880) and rushing attempts (370). Alexander was arguably the leader of a team that wound up in the Superbowl that season, and he would win the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award as well. Oh, and full disclosure, it also happened to be a contract year. Just thought I’d throw that in.
Following that miracle season, Shaun would never be the same guy again. In March ’06, not two months after the Hawks Superbowl appearance, he was rewarded for his performance with an eight-year, $62 million dollar contract despite the fact that he was set to turn 29 years old in August. The 2006 season that followed was an injury-laden disappointment in which Alexander only appeared in 10 games, posting 896 rushing yards and a mere seven TD’s. To add insult to injury, Alexander’s TD mark recorded just one year prior was broken by San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson who mustered 31 TD’s on the year to set the new standard.
Promising solid returns in 2007, Alexander again faltered, this time in extended periods of duty. Appearing in 13 of the team’s 16 games, the one-time stalwart could only manage 716 yards and four touchdowns. The media and fans questioned Alexander’s desire after signing such a large contract, and Shaun did little to endear his critics by taking a “me-first” attitude in the public spectrum. His on-field play became the subject of severe criticism when it appeared that he was taking dives and avoiding contact when running the ball, suggesting he wasn’t giving 100% during games. The scrutiny followed Alexander into the postseason and on April 22, 2008, the Seahawks released their one-time feature back just two years into his eight-year deal.
9. David Stern. While everyone else on our list has direct ties to the city, Stern is more of a wildcard. Like the Emperor in Star Wars, the NBA commissioner is really just the bad guy behind the bad guy. We know he’s technically more powerful than the REAL bad guy, but that doesn’t change the fact that he could get his ass taken down at a moment’s notice by any of the other villains he’s dealing with. Stern only emerged as a villain within the past two years; for the previous two decades he had caused us no harm. Not content with the way NBA basketball was operating in Seattle, Stern butted in and sided with owner Clay Bennett, citing his preference to have the team move to Oklahoma City rather than stay put in the only market they’d ever been a part of.
After making a brief trip to Seattle last year, Stern chastised city and state leaders as well as the fans, asserting that Seattleites didn’t care about NBA basketball. Later, it was discovered that he had exchanged seemingly improper e-mails with Bennett regarding the pending relocation of the Sonics franchise, a claim Stern vehemently denied.
In the end Stern got his way as soon as the Sonics left town, and then like a little trash-talking girl on the playground, tried his best to make amends with our city once everything had worked out in his favor. Stern may only be the ninth biggest villain on our list, but I guarantee he’s in the top three of “guys you won’t see in Seattle in the next ten years.”
8. Erik Bedard. For those of you who have seen the movie Major League II, you, like me, are aware that Erik Bedard is the second coming of Indians catcher Jack Parkman, albeit a much quieter version. Like Parkman, Bedard is a flat-out dick to everyone he could possibly be nice to. He stiffs the media and treats interviews like most people treat hemorrhoids. He’s virtually invisible to the fan base, but when he happens across a potential fan, he issues the cold shoulder and ignores anyone who might want to make his acquaintance. However, unlike Parkman, Bedard isn’t nearly as good of a baseball player. Sure, he could be a good baseball player, and that’s why the Mariners acquired him…for a mere All-Star relief pitcher and four top prospects. But the fact is in his five full seasons in the bigs, the supposed ace has compiled a pedestrian 46-38 win-loss record to go along with his 3.81 career ERA. His Achilles heel (outside of personality) appears to be durability. Bedard has never gone over 200 innings pitched in his five seasons and managed only 81 IP in an injury-laden 2008 season. His contract will be up after the 2009 campaign and it remains to be seen if the Mariners will be able to trade him prior to that.
7. Jeff Smulyan. Smulyan is one guy who, for the most part, has fallen off Seattle’s radar over the years, though he remains one of the greatest villains of our generation. For those of you who don’t remember, Smulyan was the majority owner of the Seattle Mariners from 1989 until 1992, when he sold the team to Nintendo. During his brief venture into the world of sports ownership, Smulyan did everything he could to piss off the city of Seattle. Not unlike Clay Bennett, Smulyan had desires of relocating the Mariners to Florida, where they would play in the brand new Tropicana Dome (the current home of the Tampa Bay Rays). However, unlike Bennett, Smulyan had no ties to the Florida region so his passion wasn’t to move the team for the sake of moving it, but rather to make money off the relocation. When it occurred to him that prying the baseball team from the city it had called home for fifteen years wouldn’t be as easy as he thought, he gave up and turned it over to a group of investors led by Nintendo owner Hiroshi Yamauchi. Yamauchi and Nintendo have maintained control over the team ever since ’92, while Smulyan has disappeared from the public eye. At age 60 now, he is currently the CEO of Ennis Communications, a radio, television, and magazine publishing company based in Shelbyville, Indiana.
* Villains 6-1 will be appearing in next week’s updates.