By Lew Witham
Lew Witham of Seattle is a retired administrator for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In 1993, he captained the winning team in KIRO radio’s College of Jock Knowledge tournament.
Those were the days … When my mother would happen to catch a glimpse of the Sonics game I was watching, and openly wonder how a certain player’s shorts could be slipping off. They weren’t, of course. It was only the illusion created by the most humorous feature in the history of NBA uniform design — the thick, horizontal stripe bisecting our team’s skimpy shorts.
In the inaugural season of our Sonics, 1967-68, more than that was humorous. Take the physique of Al “Super Twiggy” Tucker, or the bull-in-a-China-shop play of Tommy “Crash” Kron. Or for that matter, the usual performance level of the team itself.
One night in November, Thanksgiving night 1967, was one rapturous departure from all else dotting that first season’s dreary landscape. It calls to mind Larry Merchant’s comment that boxing is “the theater of the unexpected.” Actually, all of sport can be so described, and that was certainly the case that long-ago turkey day.
As often happened in the old-school NBA, four teams were featured in a holiday doubleheader. In separate games, the league obviously planned to serve up meals on a platter to the hometown defending NBA champion Philadelphia 76ers and the league’s other great team, the Boston Celtics. The Celtics, when eliminated by Philly in the previous year’s playoffs, had lost their hold on the NBA championship trophy they had held since 1959.
But on that Thanksgiving night 46 years ago, the Celtics and Sixers set out to deal with the expected anemic efforts of expansion brothers, Seattle and San Diego. The Rockets of San Diego ended the evening by properly fulfilling their role of easy foil, as Philly romped. But what happened in that evening’s curtain-raiser between Boston and Seattle was a different story, not long remembered unless you were one of a handful who, like I, listened in amazement as the unthinkable unfolded.
Oh, I could mention that Walt Hazzard had never been such a consummate court general, or that center Bob Rule was apparently not intimidated by the great Bill Russell. What I won’t mention is the possibility that a belly full of turkey had must have quelled the usual competitive fire of the Celtics. But none of that could adequately put into context the incredulous intonation of Sonics voice Bob Blackburn at the halftime buzzer: “The Seattle SuperSonics 75, the Boston Celtics 31!
At that moment I, old enough to be fully familiarized with Celtics legend and young enough to dream recklessly, felt nothing less than ecstasy. The Sonics’ first big victory over a big-time opponent was already a certainty! This monumental achievement would surely mark a turning point in a young season, which to that point had garnered us only five wins in 20 games.
That win was, of course, a monumental fluke. But does that really matter to a kid who arguably derived as much joy from that fluke as Celtics fans did from recapturing their championship trophy several months down the line?
The final score was, for the record, 133-106.
The Sonics’ offense remained on fire, scoring another 133 the following night against Oscar Robertson’s Cincinnati Royals. The Royals, alas, put up 153. My dream of a dramatic playoff run for our spanking new Sonics got the reality check it needed.
Looking anywhere for solace, I later reminded anyone who cared to listen that we waxed the San Diego Rockets in that season’s final standings, 23 wins to 15.
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