Category Archives: Sonics

The Top 11: Seattle sports heroes, #6-2

Heroes #11-7 can be found here. They are as follows: 11, 1995 Mariners supporting cast; 10, Ichiro Suzuki; 9, Brandon Roy; 8, Mike Holmgren; 7, Lenny Wilkens.

6. Steve Largent. The former Seahawks wide receiver was arguably this city’s first superstar athlete. He became Seattle’s first true Hall of Famer in 1992, after a thirteen-year career that saw him leave the game in 1989 as the NFL’s career leader in receptions (819), reception yards (13,089), and touchdown receptions (100).

Despite the national accolades Largent received at the back end of his career, he arrived in Seattle inconspicuously in 1976 after a trade with the Houston Oilers. A star wideout at the University of Tulsa, Largent wasn’t selected until the fourth round of the ’76 NFL draft. Prior to the start of the regular season the Oilers sent Largent to the Hawks in exchange for a 1977 eighth-round pick. There may never have been a better trade in Seattle history.

Following his football career, Largent turned his national stardom into a successful foray into politics. Beginning in 1994, Largent served in the U.S. House of Representatives as a member of Oklahoma’s first district, but resigned his seat in 2002 when he took an unsuccesful run for the office of governor.

In addition to his records and Hall of Fame selection, Largent was also a seven-time Pro Bowler and was chosen as a member of the NFL’s 1980’s All-Decade Team.

5. Lou Piniella. When Piniella came to Seattle in 1993, interest in his Mariners ballclub piqued, but expectations remained low. In 1992, behind manager Bill Plummer, the Mariners had put together one of their worst seasons in history, finishing 64-98, despite a roster brimming with talent. With younger versions of Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez (the 1992 American League batting champ), Jay Buhner, and Randy Johnson, the Mariners were on the verge of putting it all together but needed a leader to show them the way. Piniella became that leader.

Piniella’s impact on the team was immediate. The team put together their first winning season in seventeen years of existence with an 82-80 finish in 1993. They took a nosedive in the strike-shortened season of ’94, finishing 49-63, but were bailed out in a sense when playoffs were cancelled anyways. The 1995 season brought renewed hope, new players, and a new attitude to the Kingdome. Sweet Lou managed to get the most out of his team that year, sending the Mariners to the playoffs for the first time in their history and essentially saving baseball in Seattle.

When he wasn’t winning ballgames, Lou was winning over fans and players alike with his on-field tantrums. He would throw bases, kick dirt, toss his hat, yell and scream all in a futile effort to change a seemingly bad call. It was one of his finer points.

Lou stuck with the M’s for seven seasons after that miracle ’95 run, but departed following the 2002 campaign to move closer to his home in Florida. Upon returning to the Emerald City with his visiting Tampa Bay Devil Rays club shortly thereafter, Piniella was greeted with a standing ovation and even gave addressed the crowd in red carpet fashion before the game.

Piniella is the manager that all Mariners skippers have been and forever will be compared to. He may not have won it all with this team, but he won over the fans of the city and kept a Major League team entrenched here for years to come.

4. Don James. When Don James resigned as head coach of the Washington football team prior to the 1993 season, he left college football as one of the last men in a dying breed. James was the type of head coach you rarely see in today’s game. His intensity and passion was visibly reflected on the field by his players, who, despite an age gap between mentor and tutor, played the disciplined, hard-nosed style of football that their coach demanded of them. James was a man who could command both fear and respect, which allowed him the luxury of eighteen solid seasons on Montlake as the leader of the Dawgs.

The Dawgfather emerged as the man to replace another icon, head coach Jim Owens, in 1975 after four years at Kent State University. He wasn’t the biggest name, nor had the most impressive resume, but at the age of 43 was ready to make the leap to a major Division-I school and happened to be the right guy at the right time.

James’ first two seasons at Husky Stadium were the definition of average. He compiled an 11-11 overall record over the ’75 and ’76 campaigns and couldn’t find a way to a bowl game. That all changed in 1977 when the Huskies rose to prominence, going 10-2 and becoming Rose Bowl champions. Following that season, James would take the Dawgs to 13 more bowls in his fifteen remaining years as head coach. His career apexed in 1991 when the Huskies won a share of the national championship.

Though he’s been retired for over fifteen years, the Huskies are still searching for the man to replace Don James. The team is now searching for their fifth head coach since James’ departure and to hear people talk about the Dawgfather, one would assume he had just resigned last week. Like Lou Piniella with the Mariners, James will now and forever be the coach that all other Husky coaches are compared to.

3. Gary Payton. Most heroes complement their achievements with humility, affability, politeness, and a sense of respect for others. Not Payton. Built like the one and only foil to all that embodies heroism, GP was a loudmouth, trash-talking, in-your-face gamer who never took a play off. He built his reputation on attitude and intensity, and would eventually become arguably one of the greatest players in NBA history.

Big for a point guard, Payton, at 6’4″, was the second overall pick by the Sonics in the 1990 NBA Draft. Coming out of Oregon State University, the wiry Payton was expected to team up with power forward and 1989 first-round selection Shawn Kemp to form an inside-out, one-two punch. The duo would do just that over the course of the next seven years, taking the Sonics to the playoffs in the final five seasons they played together.

After Kemp’s departure in 1997, Payton would last almost six more years in Seattle before being traded for Ray Allen in the middle of the ’02-’03 season. To this day, Payton is among the top three in fourteen different major statistical categories in Sonics franchise history, including being the leader in points scored (18,207), steals (2107), assists (7384), and games played (999). Payton eventually went on to win an NBA championship with the Miami Heat in 2006, but still considers himself a Sonic at heart. He helped lead a rally this past year to keep the Sonics in Seattle, and continues to be a prominent figure in the Emerald City despite making his home in Las Vegas.

2. Edgar Martinez. Over the course of a professional career that began in 1982 and didn’t end until 2004, Edgar combined 22 years as a member of the Seattle Mariners organization with Hall of Fame numbers to become one of the most beloved sports figures in this city’s history.

He first appeared on the scene in 1987 as a pinch-runner, slender, with a mustache that resembled a small rodent. He wouldn’t crack the everyday lineup until 1990, after starting third baseman Jim Presley was traded to Atlanta. Over the course of the next fifteen seasons, Edgar would play in seven All-Star games, win five Silver Slugger awards, and collect two AL batting titles (1992 and 1995).

But even if you took away all the great years, the statistics, and the achievements, Edgar’s meaning to this city could simply be summed up in one moment. The Double.

The Double stands as one of the greatest moments in Seattle sports history. Like Joe Carter’s walk-off home run to win the 1993 World Series, Michael Jordan’s push-off jumper over Bryon Russell in the 1998 NBA Finals, or Dwight Clark’s “The Catch” in 1982, The Double was a once-in-a-lifetime play that came to define an entire team’s season in one instant.

1995. Game 5. American League Division Series. Bottom of the 11th inning. Down 5-4. Runners on first and second. The opponent was the hated New York Yankees. The pitcher was Yankee ace Jack McDowell, brought in out of the bullpen to close the door and send New York to the ALCS. Mariner second baseman Joey Cora stood on second, Ken Griffey, Jr. on first. Cora could score to tie the game on a single. Junior, with his speed, could possibly score on a double. Edgar emerged in the batter’s box and assumed his stance, hands held high, the head of the bat pointing towards the pitcher’s mound, left foot raised up from the ground, weight back, neck cocked, squinting. McDowell came set, checked the runners, and delivered. As if in slow motion, Edgar uncoiled from his statuesque pose and released his bat through the zone. Smoothly, effortlessly he connected with McDowell’s fastball. A line drive down the left field line. Cora scored easily. Here was Griffey, now, steaming around third base, being waved in by a frantic Sam Perlozzo. Yankee catcher Jim Leyritz positioned himself in front of the plate, awaiting a throw that would arrive too late. Edgar Martinez of all people had won the game and the series.

Our #1 hero will appear in tomorrow’s updates.

In your face, Seattle: PJ Carlesimo fired in OKC

PJ Carlesimo, head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was fired following the team’s 105-80 loss on Friday night to the New Orleans Hornets. The loss was the tenth straight for OKC, who is now 1-12 on the season.

Suffice it to say that Carlesimo choked as Sonics/Thunder coach. He can best be described as a fiery guy who hates everyone he works with. He never stops yelling, rarely lets up on the cussing, and has yet to make a friend out of any of his players in nearly two decades of NBA coaching. Carlesimo, like Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier in the NFL, is the epitome of a successful college coach that hasn’t been able to cut it in the pros.

When he wasn’t being choked out by one of his players, Carlesimo had created a Grand Canyon-sized divide between himself and the rest of the team with his intense personality. Arguably, he was hired as the coach of the Sonics in 2007 because management realized he would be dealing with a group of young, impressionable players who would be more susceptible to his teachings. Having had limited success with veteran players in the past, we now know that Carlesimo is incapable of coaching any professional players in a lead capacity and has likely headed up his last NBA team.

The only real bad thing about all this is that Seattle fans had to deal with Carlesimo throughout the Sonics turbulent final season. Who knows what a different coach would have been able to attain with a young, talented group like the neo-Thunder have. Now that Carlesimo’s out, the future looks bright for the one-time Sonics. In your face, Seattle.

The Top 11: Seattle sports heroes, #11-7

It’s only natural to follow up a list of villains with a list of heroes, so here are the Top 11 in Seattle history.

11. 1995 M’s Supporting Cast. Alex Diaz. Rich Amaral. Chad Kreuter. Bob Wolcott. Mike Blowers. Dan Wilson. Doug Strange. Luis Sojo. Joey Cora. Unless your last name was Griffey, Buhner, Martinez, or Johnson, chances are there aren’t too many people outside the state who had any idea you were on this team. But the 1995 Seattle Mariners were led by an ensemble cast of characters that seemingly produced a new hero every night.

Diaz, a serial head-first diver, and Amaral, utility speedster, spent three months platooning in center field when Griffey went down with a broken wrist. Kreuter, a lifelong backup backstop, laid down a game-winning squeeze to score Amaral in a late-season game. Strange hit a walk-off jack and proved a reliable pinch-hitter off the pine. The 21-year-old Wolcott took the hill for Game 1 of the ALCS. Sojo hit an inside-the-park “grand slam” in the one-game playoff against California. Blowers tied a Major League record with three salamis in one month. Wilson had a breakout sophomore season to kick start his All-Star career. Cora wept, and we loved it.

There were more, too, and we loved them all. You’d never know that they were the team that didn’t win it all. But they fell one series short of the championship. And we don’t care. We still loved them. We still do.

10. Ichiro Suzuki. For eight years, Ichiro has patrolled the outfield for the M’s and in those years he has done the following: Won an MVP award (2001), won the 2001 Rookie of the Year, won eight consecutive Gold Gloves, been named to eight consecutive All-Star teams, won an All-Star Game MVP (2007), had eight consecutive seasons of 200+ hits, set the Major League record for hits in a season (262, in 2004).

If nothing else, Ichiro has proven to be consistently good. Yeah, he may not be the world’s most personable guy, but one laser-beam throw to gun a runner trying to take an extra base helps us forget that.

9. Brandon Roy. B-Roy may be on temporary loan to Portland, but he’s a Seattleite at heart. He grew up in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, attended Garfield High School, then put on a show at the University of Washington before taking his game to the NBA. On any given game night at Hec Ed, a large number of fans still rock Roy’s #3 jersey proudly. And in a city which has a longstanding basketball rivalry with their neighbors to the South, Brandon’s #7 Blazers jersey is sported all around town.

Roy’s smooth skills and natural athleticism helped him lead the Huskies to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances. During the ’05-’06 season, he took home the Pac-10 Player of the Year, beating out Cal forward Leon Powe. In that same year, he knocked down two unforgettable game-tying threes in the same game, against a tough Arizona team at Hec Ed.

Post-college, Roy was selected sixth overall in the 2006 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, who then made the colossal mistake of sending him to Portland in exchange for guard Randy Foye. Roy would go on to win Rookie of the Year honors in near-consensus fashion for the ’06-’07 season. In ’07-’08, he made his first All-Star team and became the unquestioned leader of a young Blazers team with the departure of one-time superstar Zach Randolph.

The Brandon Roy show may no longer be playing in Seattle, but B-Roy will always be one of Seattle’s heroes, no matter where he goes.

8. Mike Holmgren. The head coach of the Seattle Seahawks may be enduring a turbulent farewell tour, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s one of the most successful coaches in this city’s history. As the only Hawks coach to take a team to the Superbowl, Holmgren will forever be the guy that future Seahawks coaches are compared to. Though he carved his niche in Green Bay with the Packers, Holmgren has actually had a longer tenure in Seattle, now in his tenth season.

A West Coast guy, Holmgren is a native of the Bay Area and got his professional coaching start with the San Francisco 49ers. From there he went on to greater success with the Pack, but has remained grounded in Seattle for the past decade.

In addition to being the on-field leader of the Hawks, Holmgren’s tenure with the team began in dual capacity, as he was also the General Manager. In fact, he largely built the 2005 Superbowl team himself, contributing players such as Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander, Bobby Engram, Steve Hutchinson, Darrell Jackson, Jerramy Stevens, and Josh Brown, to name a few.

Holmgren may not go out a winner, but long after he’s gone, it’s his success that will be remembered in Seattle.

7. Lenny Wilkens. Lenny has one thing that no other coach in Seattle’s history can claim: a major professional sports championship. He was the leader of the 1979 Sonics that won it all, cementing his legacy in the community that had embraced him.

A native of Brooklyn, Wilkens arrived in Seattle in 1968 following a stint with the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks. From 1969-1972, Wilkens guided the fledgling Sonics team both on and off the court as player-coach. While he wasn’t a superstar player for the Sonics, Wilkens did bring immediate respectability to the young franchise before departing in 1972 for Cleveland.

In 1977, Wilkens returned to the city where his coaching career began and took the reins once again. After a Finals loss in 1978 to the Washington Bullets, the Sonics took to the floor against those very same Bullets again in the ’79 championship. This time Seattle came out on top and Wilkens was hailed as a hero.

In 1985, Wilkens’ Seattle coaching career came to an end, and he’s been on a world tour ever since. Over the past two decades, Lenny has coached in Cleveland, Atlanta, Toronto, and New York. However, he has maintained his home here in the Pacific Northwest and now looks to finally be calling it quits after three years out of coaching and a Hall of Fame career intact.

The Top 11: Seattle Sports Villains, #1

Our number one villain is much different than the other ten villains already on this list. While villains 11-2 are generally disliked and disdained, our number one villain will now and forever be out and out hated in Seattle. On the day our number one villain meets his maker, the only tears shed by Seattleites will be those of joy. This is a man who hijacked one of our city’s landmarks. He removed forty-one years of civic history and planted it in a city so foreign to many of us that it may as well be the outer reaches of hell. He lied. He cheated. He stole. He broke the hearts of many and erased memories that future generations will never get to have. A bad guy amongst bad guys, our number one villain is Clay Bennett.

Seattle was first introduced to Clayton Bennett on July 18, 2006. From the moment the two parties met, mutual tension embraced the relationship. We first laid eyes on each other when Bennett emerged stage left in the midst of a Howard Schultz press conference announcing the sale of the Sonics. Schultz the seller greeted Bennett the buyer, and with a handshake to seal the changing fate of our municipality, Seattle was doomed.

As soon as Bennett entered the room it was as if Satan himself had penetrated the gates of Heaven. We knew something was very wrong. Bennett was every evildoer from every movie we’d ever seen. A two-timer, a big business man who’d made his fortune doing things that most of us with consciences could never attempt. Plus he had the southern drawl and a vernacular unfamiliar to us. Here was Yosemite Sam on steroids, minus the mustache, guns ablazing ready to loot us for one of our most prized treasures.

Over the course of the next two years, Bennett would make empty promises in print and on local radio stations. He’d attempt to put together a half-assed plan for a new arena. He’d hire legendary Sonic Lenny Wilkens in a front-office capacity as a token gesture to the fans. He’d stand in front of the state legislature and bullshit his way through a series of fabrications about a plan to keep our team in this region permanently. See, it would be one thing if Clay-Clay and his boys waltzed in and took our team quickly and, in a relative sense, painlessly. But no, instead they felt the need to lead us on when we all knew what was coming. They took our legends and our memories, put them on a pedestal, and embarrassed them for all to see. They slowly destroyed our franchise from the inside out, making the team inaccessible to fans and media, replacing local broadcasters with Oklahomans, and putting a minor-league product on the court, all as means of distancing themselves from fans.

The second Clay Bennett purchased our team, it legally became his. He could have hightailed it to Oklahoma City right then and there. But instead he felt the need to prolong his act, to torture us with promises and guarantees, before ultimately executing the fan base of Seattle after his plan of deception had been completed. He had accomplices: David Stern and Howard Schultz, to name two. He had a victim: the city of Seattle. He had a well-thought out plan and a motive: to move the team to Oklahoma City. This was murder in the first-degree from a man capable of nothing less. Clay Bennett, a liar, a thief, a con artist, a killer, and Seattle’s number one villain in sports.

The Top 11: Seattle sports villains, #6-2

The recap of villains #11-7, which can be found here: 11, Jim McIlvaine; 10, Shaun Alexander; 9, David Stern; 8, Erik Bedard; 7, Jeff Smulyan.

6. Tyrone Willingham. There’s a theory in dating that says if you aren’t very good looking, then you better have a great personality to make up for it. Apparently Paint-Dry Ty felt he was either the exception to this rule growing up, or was one hell of a sexy guy. Either way, the soon-to-be former head coach of the Washington Huskies football team has had without a doubt one of the most scrutinized tenures of any coach or manager in Seattle sports history, thanks in large part to two factors: his complete lack of personality and his inability to win ballgames.

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