1978 NBA Finals

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1978 NBA Finals
Washington Bullets Dick Motta 4
Seattle SuperSonics Lenny Wilkens 3
DatesMay 21–June 7
MVPWes Unseld
(Washington Bullets)
Hall of FamersSuperSonics:
Dennis Johnson (2010)
Jack Sikma (2019)
Bob Dandridge (2021)
Elvin Hayes (1990)
Wes Unseld (1988)
Lenny Wilkens (1989, player/1998, coach)
Darell Garretson (2016)
Earl Strom (1995)
Eastern FinalsBullets defeated 76ers, 4–2
Western FinalsSuperSonics defeated Nuggets, 4–2
← 1977 NBA Finals 1979 →

The 1978 NBA World Championship Series was the championship round of the National Basketball Association (NBA)'s 1977–78 season, and the culmination of the season's playoffs. The series featured the Western Conference champion Seattle SuperSonics against the Eastern Conference champion Washington Bullets. The Bullets defeated the SuperSonics in seven games to win their first NBA championship. Bullets power forward/center Wes Unseld was named MVP of the series. Before the Cleveland Cavaliers' Game 7 win at Golden State in the 2016 NBA Finals, this was the last time a road team had won Game 7 in the NBA Finals. The 1978 World Championship Series was the first NBA Finals series since the 1958 World Championship Series in which both teams had under 50 wins, and is the only NBA Finals to feature two teams with under 50 wins in an 82-game season.


Seattle SuperSonics[edit]

The Seattle SuperSonics had a disappointing start to the season, going 5–17 to begin with. Bob Hopkins, who replaced former Boston Celtics center Bill Russell as coach, was fired and Lenny Wilkens returned for a second tour of duty. The Sonics were led by center Jack Sikma, forwards Fred Brown, Paul Silas and John Johnson, and guards Dennis Johnson and Gus Williams. With Wilkens' experience being a key factor, the Sonics turned their season around, finishing with 47 wins and the fourth seed in the West. In the playoffs, they defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in a three-game miniseries, then upset the top-seeded and defending champion Portland Trail Blazers (who lost center Bill Walton in the second game of the series) in six games, before a six-game win over the Denver Nuggets in the Conference Finals sent them to their first of back-to-back NBA Finals appearances.

Washington Bullets[edit]

The Washington Bullets franchise made the Finals twice before in the 1970s, but were swept on both occasions, first by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971 when they were still in Baltimore, and then by the Cinderella Golden State Warriors in 1975. The Bullets kept some of the personnel from that 1975 team, including All-Stars Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes, but Dick Motta was now in his second year of coaching duty. The Bullets struggled with injuries during the season, but managed to finish with 44 wins, good for the third seed in the East. In the playoffs, the Bullets disposed the Atlanta Hawks in a two-game first round series, then ousted the San Antonio Spurs in six games, before making the finals again with a six-game win over the defending Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia 76ers.

From a KENS-TV Spurs broadcast in the San Antonio series after Washington took a 3-1 lead, Motta adopted the expression "The 'opera' isn't over 'til the fat lady sings" to warn Bullets fans against braggadocio. Motta also used an upbeat ostinato, "Wait for the fat lady!", to encourage the fans.

Road to the Finals[edit]

Seattle SuperSonics (Western Conference champion) Washington Bullets (Eastern Conference champion)
# Western Conference
1 z-Portland Trail Blazers 58 24 .707
2 y-Denver Nuggets 48 34 .585 10
3 x-Phoenix Suns 49 33 .598 9
4 x-Seattle SuperSonics 47 35 .573 11
5 x-Los Angeles Lakers 45 37 .549 13
6 x-Milwaukee Bucks 44 38 .537 14
7 Golden State Warriors 43 39 .524 15
8 Chicago Bulls 40 42 .488 18
9 Detroit Pistons 38 44 .463 20
10 Indiana Pacers 31 51 .378 27
11 Kansas City Kings 31 51 .378 27

4th seed in the West, 6th best league record

Regular season
# Eastern Conference
1 z-Philadelphia 76ers 55 27 .671
2 y-San Antonio Spurs 52 30 .634 3
3 x-Washington Bullets 44 38 .537 11
4 x-Cleveland Cavaliers 43 39 .524 12
5 x-New York Knicks 43 39 .524 12
6 x-Atlanta Hawks 41 41 .500 14
7 New Orleans Jazz 39 43 .476 16
8 Boston Celtics 32 50 .390 23
9 Houston Rockets 28 54 .341 27
10 Buffalo Braves 27 55 .329 28
11 New Jersey Nets 24 58 .293 31

3rd seed in the East, 9th best league record

Defeated the (5) Los Angeles Lakers, 2–1 First Round Defeated the (6) Atlanta Hawks, 2–0
Defeated the (1) Portland Trail Blazers, 4–2 Conference Semifinals Defeated the (2) San Antonio Spurs, 4–2
Defeated the (2) Denver Nuggets, 4–2 Conference Finals Defeated the (1) Philadelphia 76ers, 4–2

Regular season series[edit]

Washington won the regular season series 3–1.

Series summary[edit]

Game Date Home team Result Road team
Game 1 May 21 Seattle SuperSonics 106–102 (1–0) Washington Bullets
Game 2 May 25 Washington Bullets 106–98 (1–1) Seattle SuperSonics
Game 3 May 28 Washington Bullets 92–93 (1–2) Seattle SuperSonics
Game 4 May 30 Seattle SuperSonics 116–120 (OT) (2–2) Washington Bullets
Game 5 June 2 Seattle SuperSonics 98–94 (3–2) Washington Bullets
Game 6 June 4 Washington Bullets 117–82 (3–3) Seattle SuperSonics
Game 7 June 7 Seattle SuperSonics 99–105 (3–4) Washington Bullets

Bullets win series 4–3

Game summaries[edit]

Game 1[edit]

May 21
12:00 p.m. PDT
Washington Bullets 102, Seattle SuperSonics 106
Scoring by quarter: 31–25, 27–24, 26–24, 18–33
Pts: Kevin Grevey 27
Rebs: Elvin Hayes 9
Asts: Tom Henderson 7
Pts: Fred Brown 30
Rebs: Marvin Webster 14
Asts: Dennis Johnson 5
Seattle leads the series, 1–0
Seattle Center Coliseum, Seattle
Attendance: 14,098
  • No. 10 Darell Garretson
  • No. 17 Ed Rush

The Bullets, behind Kevin Grevey's 27 and Elvin Hayes's 21 points, held a 19-point lead in the fourth quarter at the Seattle Center Coliseum. But, the Sonics staged a comeback in front of the home crowd, led by "instant offense" guard Fred Brown. Brown scored 16 points in the last nine minutes to finish with 32 and give the SuperSonics the win.[1]

Game 2[edit]

May 25
9:00 p.m. EDT
Seattle SuperSonics 98, Washington Bullets 106
Scoring by quarter: 16–29, 36–27, 19–24, 27–26
Pts: Gus Williams 24
Rebs: Marvin Webster 12
Asts: Dennis Johnson, Silas, Williams 4 each
Pts: Bob Dandridge 34
Rebs: Wes Unseld 15
Asts: Henderson, Unseld 5 each
Series tied, 1–1
Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland
Attendance: 19,035
  • No. 7 Joe Gushue
  • No. 11 Jake O'Donnell

In an unusual 1-2-2-1-1 scheduling format, the next two games were played at the Capital Centre, the Bullets' home floor. Wes Unseld defended inside on Marvin Webster and Jack Sikma, pulled down 15 rebounds, and handed out five assists. This work enabled Bob Dandridge to score 34 points and Elvin Hayes 25 as the Bullets evened the series, winning their first NBA Finals game following nine consecutive losses.[2]

Game 3[edit]

May 28
1:30 p.m. EDT
Seattle SuperSonics 93, Washington Bullets 92
Scoring by quarter: 24–24, 25–23, 20–20, 24–25
Pts: Webster, Williams 20 each
Rebs: Paul Silas 14
Asts: Brown, Dennis Johnson, Sikma, Webster, Williams 2 each
Pts: Elvin Hayes 29
Rebs: Elvin Hayes 20
Asts: Bob Dandridge 6
Seattle leads the series, 2–1
Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland
Attendance: 19,035
  • No. 12 Earl Strom
  • No. 9 John Vanak

Dennis Johnson was superb on defense, blocking seven shots and holding Kevin Grevey to 1-for-14 shooting. Paul Silas, the SuperSonics' veteran leader off the bench, helped shut down the Bullets' big men.

With 10 seconds remaining and the SuperSonics leading 93-90, Johnson's inbounds pass was stolen by Tom Henderson, who scored to make it 93-92 with five seconds left. Silas then stepped on the baseline trying to make the subsequent inbounds pass, turning the ball over to the Bullets. Bob Dandridge missed at the buzzer, however, and the SuperSonics picked up a victory on the road.[3]

Game 4[edit]

May 30
6:00 p.m. PDT
Washington Bullets 120, Seattle SuperSonics 116 (OT)
Scoring by quarter: 23–25, 25–31, 30–31, 28–19, Overtime: 14–10
Pts: Bob Dandridge 23
Rebs: Elvin Hayes 13
Asts: Tom Henderson 11
Pts: Dennis Johnson 33
Rebs: Marvin Webster 15
Asts: Paul Silas 6
Series tied, 2–2
Kingdome, Seattle
Attendance: 39,457
  • No. 14 Jack Madden
  • No. 6 Don Murphy

Game 4 was held in the Seattle Kingdome because the Seattle Center Coliseum was tied up with a mobile-home show. As a result, the Bullets had to contend with a then-record playoff crowd of over 39,000 fans.

The SuperSonics led by 15 with two minutes left in the third quarter. At this point, the Bullet guards, who had been victimized all series by Gus Williams and emerging star Dennis Johnson, started to assert themselves, especially reserves Charles Johnson and Larry Wright.

At the start of the final period, Dennis Johnson was elbowed hard in the ribs and left the game for a short time. With Charles Johnson, Wright, Mitch Kupchak and Bob Dandridge in the lineup, the Bullets stormed back and took a 103-101 lead with about 3.5 minutes left in the game. Dennis Johnson then returned and went on a barrage, scoring first to tie the game, blocking a Dandridge shot, getting an offensive rebound, and pushing the Sonics to a 104-103 lead with a foul shot. Johnson would finish with 33 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.

Dandridge answered with a three-point play that returned the lead to Washington, 106-104. Seattle got the ball back and tied it with "instant offense" Fred Brown's jumper from "downtown". With two seconds left, Dandridge got a good shot in the lane, only to have Johnson block it, forcing overtime. But then, Charles Johnson became an instant hero by hitting three quick shots in overtime to give the Bullets a 120-116 win. The Bullets had tied the series at two wins apiece.[4]

Game 5[edit]

June 2
6:00 p.m. PDT
Washington Bullets 94, Seattle SuperSonics 98
Scoring by quarter: 24–23, 17–29, 26–24, 27–22
Pts: Kevin Grevey 22
Rebs: Wes Unseld 14
Asts: Tom Henderson 6
Pts: Fred Brown 26
Rebs: Marvin Webster 13
Asts: John Johnson 7
Seattle leads the series, 3–2
Seattle Center Coliseum, Seattle
Attendance: 14,098
  • No. 7 Joe Gushue
  • No. 11 Jake O'Donnell

The SuperSonics returned to the Seattle Center Coliseum and eked out a close win. "Downtown" Freddie Brown had 26 points and Dennis Johnson 24 to carry Seattle to a 98-94 win and the series lead. The Bullets lost it at the line, making only 9 of 20 free throws in the second half. Even so, they cut Seattle's 11-point lead to two with less than two minutes to go before Jack Sikma hit three free throws down the stretch.[5]

Game 6[edit]

June 4
1:30 p.m. EDT
Seattle SuperSonics 82, Washington Bullets 117
Scoring by quarter: 21–19, 14–28, 26–37, 21–33
Pts: Fred Brown 17
Rebs: Marvin Webster 12
Asts: Gus Williams 6
Pts: Elvin Hayes 21
Rebs: Elvin Hayes 15
Asts: Greg Ballard 6
Series tied, 3–3
Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland
Attendance: 19,035
  • No. 10 Darell Garretson
  • No. 6 Don Murphy

Game 6, in Washington, was all Bullets, 117-82. With the Washington backcourt continuing to struggle, Bullets coach Dick Motta inserted Greg Ballard at forward and moved Bob Dandridge to guard, a risky move considering Dandridge had played very little guard. Ballard and Dandridge produced a run that gave the Bullets a 12-point lead at the half. Washington scored 70 points in the second half, and the SuperSonics weren't up to that pace. Mitch Kupchak added 19 points, and Ballard had 12 points and 12 rebounds. The 35-point margin of victory was an NBA Finals record that stood until the 1998 NBA Finals Game 3 (96-54, 42 points).[6]

Game 7[edit]

June 7
6:00 p.m. PDT
Washington Bullets 105, Seattle SuperSonics 99
Scoring by quarter: 31–28, 22–17, 26–21, 26–33
Pts: Dandridge, Charles Johnson 19 each
Rebs: Wes Unseld 9
Asts: Wes Unseld 6
Pts: Marvin Webster 27
Rebs: Marvin Webster 19
Asts: Gus Williams 5
Washington wins the series 4–3
Seattle Center Coliseum, Seattle
Attendance: 14,098
  • No. 14 Jack Madden
  • No. 12 Earl Strom

Dennis Johnson, who before the 1977-78 playoffs was a relatively unknown guard from Pepperdine University, had grown into a star in this series in front of a national TV audience. However, DJ would miss every one of his 14 shots in this game. Fellow guard Gus Williams was a bit more accurate, shooting 4-for-12. SuperSonics big men Marvin Webster scored 27 points and Jack Sikma 21 to take up the slack, and that kept it close.

With 90 seconds left, Seattle whittled the lead from 11 points down to four, but Mitch Kupchak came up with a three-point play. Fred Brown, who finished with 21 points off the bench, hit a short jumper, then Paul Silas got a tip-in to cut it to 101-99. Silas then fouled Wes Unseld, a 55-percent shooter from the line during the playoffs. He hit two free throws, and moments later Washington sealed it with a Bob Dandridge dunk, 105-99.

Charles Johnson and Dandridge each scored 19 points for the Bullets, while Elvin Hayes fouled out with 12 points, a development that brought a couple of needling questions from the writers about his past failures in the playoffs and Hayes' cheerful comeback "Whatever else they can say about me, they also got to say E's a world champion. E wears the ring." Unseld would be named Finals MVP.[7]

After the climactic Game 7 victory, Motta celebrated with his team wearing a beer-soaked The Opera Isn't Over 'Til The Fat Lady Sings T-shirt. He said, "What made the championship so great was that we weren't supposed to win it. We came a long way. Most people didn't give us a chance, but I felt all along we could. I really did."[8]

Player statistics[edit]

  GP Games played   GS  Games started  MPG  Minutes per game
 FG%  Field-goal percentage  3P%  3-point field-goal percentage  FT%  Free-throw percentage
 RPG  Rebounds per game  APG  Assists per game  SPG  Steals per game
 BPG  Blocks per game  PPG  Points per game
Washington Bullets
Washington Wizards statistics
Seattle SuperSonics
Seattle SuperSonics statistics


Television coverage[edit]

Nationwide TV coverage of the 1978 NBA finals was broadcast by CBS Sports, with Brent Musburger (All Games) on play-by-play and Rick Barry (All Games), Steve Jones (Game 1), recently retired John Havlicek (Games 2, 4 and 7), Gus Johnson (Game 3) and Keith Erickson (Games 4 and 5) on color commentary. Locally, the 1978 NBA Finals was broadcast by CBS affiliates: WTOP-TV in Washington, D.C. and KIRO-TV in Seattle, Washington.

National coverage[edit]

Nationwide radio coverage of the 1978 NBA Finals was broadcast by Mutual, with Tony Roberts on play-by-play and Hubie Brown on color commentary.

Local market coverage[edit]

The flagship stations of each station of each team carried their local play-by-play calls. In Washington, D.C., WTOP-AM carried the series, with Frank Herzog on play-by-play. In Seattle, KOMO, carried the series with Bob Blackburn on play-by-play.


The NBA received much criticism over the fact that the seven-game series was stretched out over 18 days, presumably for television; it remains the longest playoff series (in total number of days) ever played in any sport. (Even the 1989 World Series, interrupted for ten days by an earthquake, lasted only 15 days. However, that series ended in a sweep and, had it gone the full seven games, would have lasted 19 days).

Both teams met again in the 1979 finals, which Seattle won four games to one.

Team rosters[edit]

Washington Bullets[edit]

1977–78 Washington Bullets roster
Players Coaches
Pos. No. Name Height Weight DOB (YYYY-MM-DD) From
F 42 Ballard, Greg 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) 215 lb (98 kg) Oregon
G 45 Chenier, Phil 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) 180 lb (82 kg) California
SF 10 Dandridge, Bob 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) 195 lb (88 kg) Norfolk State
F 35 Grevey, Kevin 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) 210 lb (95 kg) Kentucky
G 14 Henderson, Tom 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) 190 lb (86 kg) Hawaiʻi
C 11 Hayes, Elvin 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m) 235 lb (107 kg) Houston
PF 25 Kupchak, Mitch 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m) 230 lb (104 kg) North Carolina
G 15 Johnson, Charles 6 ft 0 in (1.83 m) 170 lb (77 kg) California
C 44 Pace, Joe 6 ft 10 in (2.08 m) 220 lb (100 kg) Coppin State
F 41 Unseld, Wes 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) 245 lb (111 kg) Louisville
G 32 Wright, Larry 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) 160 lb (73 kg) Grambling State
Head coach

  • (C) Team captain
  • (DP) Unsigned draft pick
  • (FA) Free agent
  • (S) Suspended
  • Injured Injured

Seattle SuperSonics[edit]

1977–78 Seattle SuperSonics roster
Players Coaches
Pos. No. Name Height Weight DOB (YYYY-MM-DD) From
G 32 Brown, Fred 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) 182 lb (83 kg) 1948–08–07 Iowa
F 30 Fleming, Al 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) 215 lb (98 kg) 1954–04–05 Arizona
G 10 Hassett, Joe 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) 180 lb (82 kg) 1955–09–11 Providence
G 24 Johnson, Dennis 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) 185 lb (84 kg) 1954–09–18 Pepperdine
F 27 Johnson, John 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) 200 lb (91 kg) 1947–10–18 Iowa
F 45 Seals, Bruce 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m) 210 lb (95 kg) 1953–06–18 Xavier (LA)
F/C 43 Sikma, Jack 6 ft 11 in (2.11 m) 230 lb (104 kg) 1955–11–14 Illinois Wesleyan
F/C 35 Silas, Paul 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) 220 lb (100 kg) 1943–07–12 Creighton
F 42 Walker, Wally 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) 190 lb (86 kg) 1954–07–18 Virginia
C 40 Webster, Marvin 7 ft 1 in (2.16 m) 225 lb (102 kg) 1952–04–13 Morgan State
G 1 Williams, Gus 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) 175 lb (79 kg) 1953–10–10 USC
Head coach

  • (C) Team captain
  • (DP) Unsigned draft pick
  • (FA) Free agent
  • (S) Suspended
  • Injured Injured

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "1978 NBA Finals – Game 1". Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  2. ^ "1978 NBA Finals – Game 2". Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  3. ^ "1978 NBA Finals – Game 3". Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  4. ^ "1978 NBA Finals – Game 4". Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  5. ^ "1978 NBA Finals – Game 5". Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  6. ^ "1978 NBA Finals – Game 6". Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  7. ^ "1978 NBA Finals – Game 7". Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  8. ^ "When Washington Went to the Opera". NBA.com. Retrieved 8 April 2003.

External links[edit]