The Oklahoma City Thunder have had a controversial history, playing their first 41 seasons as the Seattle SuperSonics before an acrimonious move in 2008.
Who knew the origin of a franchise could be controversial?
But when one looks at the lineage of the Oklahoma City Thunder, there will inevitably be squawks. Leave out the history of the Seattle SuperSonics and there will be complaints. Include the history of the Seattle SuperSonics and, well, there will be complaints.
It is the Kobayashi Maru for NBA historians.
For the case of this exercise, examining the 25 best players to play for the franchise, I’m going to side with the current history books (although these can change; see, Charlotte Hornets and New Orleans Pelicans for more evidence) and include the Sonics.
So, with that preface out of the way … .
The Oklahoma City Thunder franchise was born in December 1966, when Los Angeles businessmen Sam Schulman and Eugene Klein were awarded an expansion franchise for Seattle.
Schulman was the leader of the ownership group and served as the head of team operations until selling the team in 1983 to Barry Ackerley.
Ackerley sold the franchise in 2001 to a group headed by Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, who sold the club to a group headed by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett in October 2006.
Bennett moved the club to Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season.
As part of the settlement of a lawsuit between the Bennett ownership group and the city of Seattle, the colors, logo and SuperSonics nickname–along with banners, trophies and retired jerseys–would remain in Seattle.
The franchise history moved with the club to its new home on the Great Plains, but that could change if a future franchise winds up in Seattle.
Schulman named the team after Boeing’s recently awarded contract for the Boeing 2707, which was to be the first American supersonic transport. It was later scrapped in 1971.
The basketball team fared better.
In 1977-78, the Sonics reached the NBA Finals for the first time, losing to the Washington Bullets in seven games. The following year, Seattle reversed its fortunes, beating the Bullets to win what is to date the franchise’s only NBA title.
The Sonics fell short for most of the next two decades, reaching the Western Conference Finals in 1980, 1987 and 1993 before breaking through to the NBA Finals again in 1996, losing to the Chicago Bulls.
That would be it for Seattle in terms of deep playoff runs.
After moving to Oklahoma City, the Thunder reached the Western Conference Finals in 2011 and advanced to the NBA Finals in 2012, where they fell to the Miami Heat.
The Thunder missed the playoffs in 2014-15, but returned with a vengeance in 2015-16, knocking off a 67-win San Antonio Spurs club in the second round, but losing a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals against the 73-win Golden State Warriors.
The franchise has reached the 60-win mark four times, topped in 1995-96 when the Sonics were 64-18. The team won 63 games in 1993-94, 61 in 1997-98 and 60 in 2012-13.
The club record for losses was set in the franchise’s final season in Seattle, 2007-08, when the Sonics stumbled to a 20-62 record—the only 60-loss campaign on the books for the team.
In 49 seasons, the team has made the playoffs 28 times and has an overall winning percentage of .539 (2,139-1,831), fifth-best among active franchises.
The team has had 13 general managers/personnel decision-makers in its history. The longest serving of those is current general manager Sam Presti, who was hired in June 2007, just surpassing the tenure of Bob Whitsitt (May 1986-June 1994).
The franchise has had two Executive of the Year winners. Zollie Volchok won the honor in 1982-83 and Whitsitt was named in 1993-94.
Lenny Wilkens, who coached the team twice (1969-72 and 1977-85) is the club’s all-time leader in wins, posting a record of 478-402 in 11 seasons and going 37-32 with one title in the postseason.
George Karl was 384-150 in parts of seven seasons, with a 40-40 postseason mark; Scott Brooks went 338-207 from 2008-15 and was 39-34 in the playoffs; Nate McMillan was 212-183 from 2000-05 and was 8-8 in the postseason; and Bernie Bickerstaff coached the team to a 202-208 mark from 1985-90, going 12-15 in playoff action.
Current coach Billy Donovan went 55-27 and 11-7 in the playoffs during his first campaign
Brooks was the lone Coach of the Year recipient in team history, winning the award in 2009-10.
Most of the team’s time in Seattle was played in the building known most recently as KeyArena at Seattle Center (also known as the Seattle Center Coliseum).
The Sonics did play at the Kingdome from 1978-85 and at the Tacoma Dome in 1994-95, while renovations were being completed at KeyArena.
Chesapeake Energy Arena, previously known as the Ford Center and Oklahoma City Arena, has housed the Thunder since their arrival in Oklahoma City.
The franchise has never had the No. 1 overall draft pick in its history, but picked second twice during its time in Seattle. The team has had the No. 3 pick four times, selected fourth three times and had the fifth overall pick twice.
Here are the 25 best players in the history of the Seattle SuperSonics and Oklahoma City Thunder. Players had to have appeared in 150 games and averaged a minimum of 20 minutes per game for the team to qualify for this list.