1979 NBA Finals

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1979 NBA Finals
TeamCoachWins
Seattle SuperSonics Lenny Wilkens 4
Washington Bullets Dick Motta 1
Dates May 20–June 1
MVP Dennis Johnson
(Seattle SuperSonics)
Television CBS (U.S.)
Announcers Brent Musburger, Rick Barry, and Rod Hundley
Radio network KIRO (SEA)
WJMD (WSB)
Referees
Game 1: Darell Garretson, Ed T. Rush, and Ed Middleton
Game 2: John Vanak, Jack Madden, and Jim Capers
Game 3: Jake O'Donnell, Joe Gushue, and Hugh Evans
Game 4: Bob Rakel, Lee Jones, and Darell Garretson
Game 5: Jake O'Donnell, Joe Gushue, and Paul Mihalak
Hall of Famers SuperSonics:
Dennis Johnson (2010)
Bullets:
Elvin Hayes (1990)
Wes Unseld (1988)
Coaches:
Lenny Wilkens (1989, player/1998, coach)
Officials:
Darell Garretson (2016)
Eastern Finals Bullets defeat Spurs, 4–3
Western Finals SuperSonics defeat Suns, 4–3
NBA Finals

The 1979 NBA World Championship Series was the championship series played at the conclusion of the National Basketball Association (NBA)'s 1978–79 season. The Western Conference champion Seattle SuperSonics played the Eastern Conference champion Washington Bullets, with the Bullets holding home-court advantage, due to a better regular season record. The SuperSonics defeated the Bullets 4 games to 1. The series was a rematch of the 1978 NBA Finals, which the Washington Bullets had won 4–3.

Dennis Johnson of the SuperSonics was named as the NBA Finals MVP, while Gus Williams of the SuperSonics was the top scorer, averaging 28.6 points per game.

This was Seattle's second men's professional sports championship, following the Seattle Metropolitans' Stanley Cup victory in the 1917 Stanley Cup Finals.

Coincidentally, this series (along with the 1978 NBA Finals) was informally known as the George Washington series, because both teams were playing in places named after the first President of the United States (the SuperSonics represented Seattle, the most populous city in the state of Washington, and the Bullets represented Washington, D.C., albeit playing in nearby Landover, Maryland).

This is the most recent time that a Western Conference team based outside of Texas or California has won an NBA title, and the last of only two occasions alongside the 1976–77 Portland Trail Blazers when a team from the present-day Northwest Division has won the league title, which is by 26 years the longest league championship drought for any division of the four major North American sports leagues.[note 1] Since then, the following Western teams have gone on to win an NBA title: the Los Angeles Lakers (ten times), the San Antonio Spurs (five times), the Golden State Warriors (three times), the Houston Rockets (twice), and the Dallas Mavericks (once). The remaining eighteen titles since 1980 have been won by Eastern Conference teams.[note 2]

Background[edit]

This was a rematch of the 1978 NBA Finals, which the Bullets won 4–3. Seattle made a key offseason trade sending Marvin Webster to the New York Knicks for Lonnie Shelton. Other than that, both teams' rosters stayed virtually intact. Unlike the previous year, both teams finished 1-2 in the NBA, with the Bullets topping the league at 54 wins; the Sonics with 52 wins. In the playoffs, Seattle defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 4–1 and the Phoenix Suns 4–3, while Washington had a much tougher road, eliminating the Atlanta Hawks in an unexpectedly tough seven-game series and coming back from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the San Antonio Spurs in seven. Both earned a first-round bye.

Road to the Finals[edit]

Seattle SuperSonics (Western Conference champion) Washington Bullets (Eastern Conference champion)
# Western Conference
Team W L PCT GB
1 z-Seattle SuperSonics 52 30 .634
2 y-Kansas City Kings 48 34 .585 4
3 x-Phoenix Suns 50 32 .610 2
4 x-Denver Nuggets 47 35 .573 5
5 x-Los Angeles Lakers 47 35 .573 5
6 x-Portland Trail Blazers 45 37 .549 7
7 San Diego Clippers 43 39 .524 9
8 Indiana Pacers 38 44 .463 14
8 Milwaukee Bucks 38 44 .463 14
8 Golden State Warriors 38 44 .463 14
11 Chicago Bulls 31 51 .378 21

1st seed in the West, 2nd best league record

Regular season
# Eastern Conference
Team W L PCT GB
1 z-Washington Bullets 54 28 .659
2 y-San Antonio Spurs 48 34 .585 6
3 x-Philadelphia 76ers 47 35 .573 7
4 x-Houston Rockets 47 35 .573 7
5 x-Atlanta Hawks 46 36 .561 8
6 x-New Jersey Nets 37 45 .451 17
7 New York Knicks 31 51 .378 23
8 Cleveland Cavaliers 30 52 .366 24
8 Detroit Pistons 30 52 .366 24
10 Boston Celtics 29 53 .354 25
11 New Orleans Jazz 26 56 .317 28

1st seed in the East, best league record

Earned first-round bye First Round Earned first-round bye
Defeated the (5) Los Angeles Lakers, 4–1 Conference Semifinals Defeated the (5) Atlanta Hawks, 4–3
Defeated the (3) Phoenix Suns, 4–3 Conference Finals Defeated the (2) San Antonio Spurs, 4–3

Regular season series[edit]

Both teams split the four-game series in the regular season:

October 25, 1978
Washington Bullets 92, Seattle SuperSonics 121
January 23, 1979
Seattle SuperSonics 103, Washington Bullets 100
February 18, 1979
Washington Bullets 105, Seattle SuperSonics 94
February 23, 1979
Seattle SuperSonics 110, Washington Bullets 132

Series summary[edit]

Game Date Home team Result Road team
Game 1 Sunday, May 20 Washington Bullets 99–97 (1–0) Seattle SuperSonics
Game 2 Thursday, May 24 Washington Bullets 82–92 (1–1) Seattle SuperSonics
Game 3 Sunday, May 27 Seattle SuperSonics 105–95 (2–1) Washington Bullets
Game 4 Tuesday, May 29 Seattle SuperSonics 114–112 (3–1) Washington Bullets
Game 5 Friday, June 1 Washington Bullets 93–97 (1–4) Seattle SuperSonics

Game 1[edit]

May 20
Seattle SuperSonics 97, Washington Bullets 99
Scoring by quarter: 25–26, 25–33, 21–23, 26–17
Pts: Gus Williams 32
Rebs: John Johnson 11
Asts: Dennis Johnson 7
Pts: Larry Wright 26
Rebs: Wes Unseld 12
Asts: Tom Henderson 6
Washington leads the series 1–0
Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland
Attendance: 19,035
Referees: Rush, Middleton

[1]

The Bullets controlled the game and led by 18 in the fourth, but Seattle mounted a furious comeback to tie it at 97. Larry Wright, who had 26 points off the bench, drove to the basket as time ran down and had his shot blocked by Dennis Johnson, but the referees called a foul on Johnson. Wright went to the line with one second left and hit two of three foul shots (NBA rules at the time awarded an extra free throw attempt when a team was in the penalty foul situation) to win the game.[2]

Game 2[edit]

May 24
9 p.m. EDT
Seattle SuperSonics 92, Washington Bullets 82
Scoring by quarter: 28–23, 21–29, 19–14, 24–16
Pts: Gus Williams 23
Rebs: Jack Sikma 13
Asts: D. Johnson, J. Johnson 6 each
Pts: Bob Dandridge 21
Rebs: Elvin Hayes 14
Asts: Bob Dandridge 5
Series tied 1–1
Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland
Attendance: 19,035
Referees: Madden, Capers

Elvin Hayes had 11 points in the first quarter, but only nine the rest of the way as Seattle turned its defense up a notch, holding the Bullets to 30 points in the second half.

Outside of the two metropolitan areas of the competing teams, as well as Baltimore and Portland, the game was shown on tape delay beginning at 11:35 Eastern and Pacific/10:35 p.m. Central and Mountain. This was the first of six championship series games shown by CBS on tape delay over a three-season span. Four of the six games in the championship series two years later were shown on tape delay outside of the markets of the competing clubs.

Game 3[edit]

May 27
Washington Bullets 95, Seattle SuperSonics 105
Scoring by quarter: 25–31, 19–24, 22–26, 29–24
Pts: Bob Dandridge 28
Rebs: Unseld, Hayes 14 each
Asts: Bob Dandridge 5
Pts: Gus Williams 31
Rebs: Sikma 17
Asts: D. Johnson 9
Seattle leads the series 2–1
Kingdome, Seattle
Attendance: 35,928
Referees: O'Donnell, Gushue

Seattle dominated this game, which wasn't as close as the final margin indicated. Gus Williams scored 31 points, Jack Sikma had 21 and 17 rebounds, and Dennis Johnson had a fine all-around game with 17 points, 9 rebounds, and two blocked shots.

Game 4[edit]

May 29
Washington Bullets 112, Seattle SuperSonics 114 (OT)
Scoring by quarter: 16–24, 37–28, 28–32, 23–20, Overtime: 8–10
Pts: Three Players 18
Rebs: Unseld 16
Asts: Tom Henderson 8
Pts: Gus Williams 36
Rebs: Sikma 17
Asts: John Johnson 13
Seattle leads the series 3–1
Seattle Center Coliseum, Seattle
Attendance: 14,098
Referees: Garretson, Rakel

[3] The Sonics won a close one in OT 114–112, staving off a late Bullets comeback behind 36 points by Gus Williams and 32 by Dennis Johnson. Williams and Johnson dominated the Bullets' guards all series, as they were plagued by poor shooting. Johnson also had four blocks in the game, the last on Kevin Grevey with 4 seconds left to ensure the Seattle victory.

Game 5[edit]

June 1
Seattle SuperSonics 97, Washington Bullets 93
Scoring by quarter: 19–30, 24–21, 23–18, 31–24
Pts: Gus Williams 23
Rebs: Sikma 17
Asts: John Johnson 6
Pts: Elvin Hayes 29
Rebs: Elvin Hayes 14
Asts: Bob Dandridge 7
Seattle wins the series 4–1
Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland
Attendance: 19,035
Referees: O'Donnell, Gushue

[4] Back home, Elvin Hayes had a hot first half, scoring 20, but injuries to starting guards Tom Henderson, Kevin Grevey and prolonged poor shooting by their replacements took their toll. Hayes had only nine points in the second half as Seattle closed out the series.[5]

Player statistics[edit]

Legend
  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
Seattle SuperSonics
Player GP GS MPG FG% 3FG% FT% RPG APG SPG BPG PPG
Washington Bullets
Player GP GS MPG FG% 3FG% FT% RPG APG SPG BPG PPG

Aftermath[edit]

Neither team made it back to the Finals the following season. The Bullets (39–43) were eliminated in the first round by the Philadelphia 76ers, while the SuperSonics (56–26) lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Conference Finals. Both the 76ers and Lakers faced off in the 1980 NBA Finals, a 4–2 Lakers win. Dick Motta, the Bullets coach, departed to take over the expansion Dallas Mavericks in the 1980–81 NBA season, while the SuperSonics traded 1979 Finals MVP Dennis Johnson for Paul Westphal, which hastened their downfall. Wes Unseld retired after the season, and Elvin Hayes concluded his final three NBA seasons with the team he started with, the Rockets. Lenny Wilkens would not make the finals again for the remainder of his coaching career; the closest he would advance was in the 1992 conference finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

As of the 2017–18 NBA season this remains the last Finals appearance, and indeed the last Conference Finals appearance, for the Bullets/Wizards franchise. The SuperSonics would not return until 1996. That would be their last Finals appearance in Seattle, since they relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008 and were renamed as the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder played in the 2012 NBA Finals, where they lost to the Miami Heat in 5 games.

The city of Seattle did not win another men's professional sports championship until the National Football League's Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII on 2 February 2014. The next time Seattle played Washington for a championship was in the 2018 WNBA Finals, when the Seattle Storm swept the Washington Mystics in 3 games to win their third overall championship. Coincidentally, as of 2017 the Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals are the only two Major League Baseball franchises that have never played in a World Series.

Team rosters[edit]

Seattle SuperSonics[edit]

Seattle SuperSonics roster
Players Coaches
Pos. No. Name Height Weight DOB (YYYY-MM-DD) From
C 21 Awtrey, Dennis 6 ft 10 in (2.08 m) 235 lb (107 kg) Santa Clara
SG 32 Brown, Fred 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) 182 lb (83 kg) Iowa
SG 10 Hassett, Joe 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) 180 lb (82 kg) Providence
SG 24 Johnson, Dennis 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) 185 lb (84 kg) Pepperdine
SF 27 Johnson, John 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) 200 lb (91 kg) Iowa
C 23 LaGarde, Tom 6 ft 10 in (2.08 m) 220 lb (100 kg) North Carolina
SF 22 Robinson, Jackie 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) 200 lb (91 kg) UNLV
PF 8 Shelton, Lonnie 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m) 240 lb (109 kg) Oregon State
C 43 Sikma, Jack 6 ft 11 in (2.11 m) 230 lb (104 kg) Illinois Wesleyan
PF 35 Silas, Paul 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) 220 lb (100 kg) Creighton
SG 11 Snyder, Dick 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) 207 lb (94 kg) Davidson
SF 42 Walker, Wally 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) 190 lb (86 kg) Virginia
PG 1 Williams, Gus 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) 175 lb (79 kg) Southern California
Head coach

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

[6]

Washington Bullets[edit]

Washington Bullets roster
Players Coaches
Pos. No. Name Height Weight DOB (YYYY-MM-DD) From
SF 42 Ballard, Greg 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) 215 lb (98 kg) Oregon
SG 45 Chenier, Phil 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) 180 lb (82 kg) California
C 40 Corzine, Dave 6 ft 11 in (2.11 m) 250 lb (113 kg) DePaul
SF 10 Dandridge, Bob 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) 195 lb (88 kg) Norfolk State
SF 35 Grevey, Kevin 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) 210 lb (95 kg) Kentucky
PG 14 Henderson, Tom 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) 190 lb (86 kg) Hawaiʻi
PF 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
SG 15 Johnson, Charles 6 ft 0 in (1.83 m) 170 lb (77 kg) California
SG 22 Phegley, Roger 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) 205 lb (93 kg) Bradley
C 41 Unseld, Wes 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) 245 lb (111 kg) Louisville
PG 32 Wright, Larry 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) 160 lb (73 kg) Grambling State
Head coach

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

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ By comparison, the longest divisional title drought in the National Football League is twelve seasons by the AFC South; in Major League Baseball nine seasons (as of 2017) by the National League East, and in the National Hockey League seven seasons by the Atlantic Division.
  2. ^ Six Eastern Conference teams from six different states have won NBA Championships since 1980: the Chicago Bulls (six times), the Boston Celtics (four times), the Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat (thrice each), and the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers (once each)

References[edit]

External links[edit]