It was a long time ago that the Sonics won the NBA title. It may be almost as long before Seattle sees NBA basketball again.
Until then, we’ll have Thursday. The boys are back in town.
The 1979 champions return in the 40th anniversary year of their triumph over the Washington Bullets in a reunion celebration at the 84th annual MTR Western Sports Star of the Year at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Seattle Sheraton.
Presented by the Seattle Sports Commission, the longest-tenured event of its kind in the U.S. will also hand out awards in seven categories, including three voted on by the public: Male Athlete of the Year, Female Athlete of the Year and Sports Star of the Year.
A limited number of tickets remain and can be purchased online at sportsstaroftheyear.org.
Reunion participants include coach Lenny Wilkens and players Jack Sikma, Gus Williams, Fred Brown, Paul Silas, Wally Walker, Tom LaGarde, Dennis Awtrey and Dick Snyder, and trainer Frank Furtado.
Joe Hassett is on the road with his alma mater, Providence College, for whom he provides radio commentary for the men’s basketball team, and can’t get to Seattle. Three luminaries from the title team, Dennis Johnson, Lonnie Shelton and John Johnson, are deceased.
The title was the first for a Seattle team in the modern pro sports era. It came a year after the Sonics started 5-17 and replaced coach Bob Hopkins with Wilkens. The Sonics went 42-18 thereafter, dominating the West but losing the 1977-78 Finals to the Bullets.
Wilkens made key changes in the 1979 season. He moved Brown to sixth man behind Williams and Dennis Johnson in the backcourt, and moved power forward Sikma to center when a knee injury ended the season of Tom LaGarde. Once Shelton became a starting forward with John Johnson, they finished 52-30 and beat the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns in the West playoffs before dispatching the Bullets 4-1 in the Finals.
The subsequent victory parade drew more than 200,000 to downtown Seattle.
Some belated national recognition is finally developing. Sikma, a seven-time All-Star in a 14-year career in Seattle and Milwaukee, is a candidate for the Naismith Hall of Fame. The selection process is underway for the Class of 2019, which will be inducted into the shrine in Springfield, MA., in September.
The process is more obscure than the same honors for football and baseball.
Sikma’s candidacy has advanced through the North American screening committee, which required votes from seven of its nine members.
He’s now being considered by the 24 members of the Honors Committee, consisting of Hall of Famers, basketball executives and administrators, members of the media, and other experts in the game. Eighteen votes are required for enshrinement.
The class of 2019 will be announced during All-Star Weekend in Charlotte Feb. 15-17.
Sikma is ranked fifth among eligible players in a win-share formula at basketball-reference.com. In 2015, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton analyzed Sikma’s numbers and made the case they were hall-worthy.
Meanwhile at the Sheraton Thursday, some honorees are already known.
The following winners of the event’s four annual awards were selected by the Seattle Sports Commission’s event committee, composed of representatives of pro sports franchises and college athletic departments, businesses active in sports, sports historians and media members.
ROYAL BROUGHAM AWARD
Presented to an individual for a lifetime of achievement in sports and who
exemplifies the spirit of our state.
In her 17-year WNBA career, Sue Bird has proven herself to be among the best women players of all time. The Seattle Storm’s savvy point guard has won two NCAA titles, four World Cup gold medals, and four Olympic gold medals, in addition to playing a key role in all three of the Storm’s championships.
“Sue is a true Seattle sports champion,” said Alisha Valavanis, CEO and general manager of the Seattle Storm. “Her impact off the court has been equally as significant as her accomplishments on the court.
“Sue began giving back to the Seattle community long before the awards and accolades started to mount. She embodies the very best of professional sports and we are fortunate she dons the yellow and green jersey.”
PAUL G. ALLEN AWARD
Presented to an individual who has made a significant or compelling philanthropic contribution.
The last of the original Seahawks employees, Sandy Gregory joined the franchise as a public relations assistant in 1976. She retired in June 2018 as senior director of legends, team history and special projects. She was the heart and soul of the team’s community outreach, earning praise from past and present players whose charity events she helped stage.
“Sandy was instrumental in my career,” said Seahawks LT Walter Jones, Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2014. “Often, fans forget about behind-the-scenes people. I know for sure that my life was easier because of how easy she was to work with. Sandy is not just staff, she is family. I am extremely honored to be able to witness her get the recognition she deserves.”
WAYNE GITTINGER INSPIRATIONAL YOUTH AWARD
Presented to an inspirational young athlete who has overcome major medical obstacles to inspire others.
When he was 6, Elijah Hagstrom of Renton was diagnosed with stage-four cancer in his liver and lungs. He spent nearly a year hospitalized at Seattle Children’s, undergoing 10 rounds of chemotherapy and having most of his liver removed. He has done more than survive the ordeal. Now 9, he and his team recently completed their football season – fittingly, as champs.
“This event is more than just honoring Elijah,”said Ed Hagstrom, Elijah’s father. “It’s about creating a special memory I’ll forever cherish. Because I live with the thought that Elijah’s cancer could come back, every captured memory is extremely precious to me. This means more than words can express.”
KEITH JACKSON AWARD
Given to a member of the media for excellence in communicating the sports
stories of our state.
The awkwardness of the selection will be treated Thursday night by medication available at the hotel bar. Line forms to the right.