I admit I haven’t paid much attention to the NBA finals this year. But thanks to a USC alumni club dinner in Seattle last spring, I won a bid to have lunch with Slick Watts.
This week, I finally used that El Gaucho gift certificate and treated Slick to a steak meal. It was cool. I had to do a double-take when he gave me an autographed photo of him playing back in the day. At the age of 62 — “38 years from 100!” he says —Watts is thinner now, but his face and signature shaved head look exactly the same.
My Seattle Times colleague (and Sonics/Slick Watts superfan) Bill Kossen came with me to the lunch. Watching and listening to the two of them riff about Watts’ old teammates and training regimen made me imagine a very different Seattle. Sure, I watched Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton play in televised NBA games growing up, but I didn’t know much about the Sonics’ earlier years when they were really on top.
Watts has swagger. He also has wit and a common sense about him that intrigues me. I mean, here’s a guy who played for the love of the game (making as little as $15,000 per year; as much as $130,000), went without pay when he was injured, and stayed in Seattle long after his pro basketball days ended to teach P.E. to elementary kids in an inner-city school. Certainly doesn’t fit with the image I have of today’s mega-wealthy NBA stars.
“I’m not rich, but I’m rich with time,” says Watts, who has replaced basketball with tennis, golf, and time with his family (and a labrador retriever puppy). He also started The Watts Foundation, which raises money to fund scholarships for underprivileged kids to pursue extracurricular activities.”That’s NBA life without NBA money.”
I couldn’t leave the meeting without asking Slick about Seattle’s failed attempts to get another NBA team. I was surprised to hear him say he’s glad the Sacramento deal didn’t work out.
Does he have a message for heartbroken, NBA-less Seattleites?
“Stay in the ship with Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer. The expansion team is on its way… We’re gonna be the first on the list, and we won’t feel like we stole somebody else’s team,” he said. “There’s no way in the world the NBA is going to let a billionaire walk out of their life.”
What about the new arena idea? He says he likes it: “My grandbabies have gotta see a new arena! Not one that’s for dinosaurs.”
This blog post, originally published at 6 a.m. on June 21, 2013, was corrected at 1 p.m. The headline on an earlier versions misquoted Slick Watts saying, “The extension team is on its way.”