This Week Then: Looking Back on the Seattle SuperSonics

Plus: This week's nautical anniversaries
| Updated: May 30, 2019

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Champion Team

Forty years ago this week, on June 1, 1979, the Seattle SuperSonics beat the Washington Bullets 97-93 in Washington, D.C., and brought home the team's first (and only) NBA championship. It was the city's first major professional-sports trophy since the Seattle Metropolitans hockey team won the Stanley Cup in 1917.

Basketball got its start in the city in 1893, when boys at the Seattle YMCA picked up on the new sport just 15 months after it had been invented in Massachusetts. Its popularity spread into local high schools and colleges, which produced noteworthy players like UW's "Stork" McClary and Seattle U's Elgin Baylor and the terrific twins, the "Flyin' O'Briens." In the 1960s, when Seattle finally made it into the basketball big leagues, team owners chose to name the franchise after the supersonic transport -- a fast and high-flying jet plane of the future that was then under development at Boeing. The SST never left the ground, but the Sonics (as they were soon called) took off and soared to great heights.

The team's first superstar was point guard Lenny Wilkens, who was acquired in 1968, but traded away in 1972. In 1973 basketball legend Bill Russell was hired as coach and brought the team to its first playoff games. But when Wilkens returned as head coach in 1977, he piloted the SuperSonics skyward towards the coveted championship.

In 1983 the franchise was sold to Barry Ackerley, and for the next 20 years the team experienced many ups and downs (mostly downs). Under his threat to move the team, the city transformed the Seattle Center Coliseum, whose leaky roof led to the only "rainout" in NBA history, into KeyArena in 1993. On June 2, 1996, the Sonics again made it into the NBA finals, but lost to the Chicago Bulls.

In 2001 the SuperSonics were sold to an investment group led by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. In 2006 Schultz sold the franchise to a group of out-of-towners led by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett. When the new owners demanded that the city underwrite a costly expansion and remodel of KeyArena, Seattle officials balked, which led to the team's departure to Oklahoma City in 2008. But earlier that year the Seattle Storm -- which had already won a WNBA Championship in 2004 -- was sold to four local women, much to the delight of Northwest basketball fans. Since then, the Storm has won two more championships, in 2010 and 2018, and point guard Sue Bird has become one of the most decorated players in the history of women's basketball.

Sailing Downstream

This week marks several nautical anniversaries, beginning with the steamship Fonduco, which was launched at Raymond on June 3, 1918. It was the first of five wooden steamships built that year to meet an urgent demand for vessels needed for battle during World War I. By the time the ship was fitted out, the war had ended and the Fonduco ended up moving cargo in the Caribbean for a few years before it was scrapped.

Another vessel that has an anniversary this week might still be afloat. On May 31, 1934, naval architect Edwin Monk Sr. launched the cruiser Nan at Redondo Beach on the Des Moines waterfront. The boat became a live-aboard home for his family for the next seven years, as well as the architect's office for a period. After Monk sold the Nan in 1941, it went through various owners and restorations and is rumored to still be in use in Germany.

This week also marks visits from two of America's noted military vessels. On May 31, 1933, the historic frigate USS Constitution, which fought in the War of 1812, arrived in Seattle as part of a national thank-you tour for those who donated money for its restoration, And on June 3, 1958, the nuclear submarine USS Nautilus stopped in Seattle en route to a top secret Cold War mission to transit the North Pole underwater. A leaking condenser threatened the mission, but crewmen donned civilian clothes and secretly scoured the city's gas stations for every can of Bar's Leak they could buy.

Finally, we note that on June 1, 1951, cross-sound travelers greeted the newly created Washington State Ferries system, after years of dealing with the fare increases and foibles of the privately owned Black Ball Line. WSF took over the Black Ball fleet, and in 1952 its first addition, a used ferry from Maryland, was purchased and renamed Rhododendron. By the 1960s the state was contracting for the construction of  new boats for its fleet, a practice that continues to this day.


Staying Steadfast

On June 1, 1909, the city of Ephrata incorporated in Grant County.  Less than a year later, a devastating fire swept through downtown, virtually wiping out the entire business district. According to local lore, the townsfolk found a cache of whiskey stored in the basement of a destroyed saloon, and drowned their sorrows with a big party.

Fairs of the Past:

Exactly two years after its groundbreaking ceremony, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition opened on June 1, 1909 to great success. During the fair's first week, Seattle welcomed a visit from the Japanese Navy, and hundreds of Japanese sailors toured the A-Y-P grounds. A half-century later, Seattle's second world's fair also welcomed some noteworthy visitors. On June 1, 1962, His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, toured the Century 21 Exposition, which he deemed quite enjoyable. 

Crash and a Blast

Seattle's first aviation disaster occurred on May 30, 1912, at the Meadows Race Track when an airplane crashed into the grandstand, killing one and injuring 21 others. Three years later, on May 30, 1915, a barge filled with 15 tons of gunpowder exploded in Elliott Bay. The concussion shattered or cracked between 5,000 and 7,000 separate sheets of glass throughout the city. Five weeks later, Emil Marksz, a German saboteur believed responsible for the blast, committed suicide in a Seattle hotel room.

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