Last night, NBA TV was showing Game 6 of the 1996 NBA Finals. It’s the 20th year anniversary of the series, which ended 20 years ago yesterday. I suppose that’s where this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series will go: the 1996 NBA Finals.
How I first came across this moment? I first came across the moment on the evening of June 2, 1996…when my beloved SuperSonics finally closed it out in 7 against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals. Our prize was the 72-win, Eastern Conference champion Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the Finals 3 nights later.
What it meant to me then? The ’96 Finals had a couple of different meanings to me back then. First, it was the feeling of euphoria. We had suffered some heartbreaking endings to the previous seasons—the Game 7 loss to the Suns in the 1993 Western Conference Finals, winning 63 games and losing to the 8-seed Denver Nuggets in ’94, and getting mollywhopped by the Lakers in ’95—so getting to the championship series was actually a great feeling as a fan. The other feeling was that of disappointment. We won 64 games that year and were probably the best defensive team in the NBA. We swept the 2-time defending champion Houston Rockets out of the playoffs. We had the original “Lob City” with Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp…long before Chris Paul was serving them up to Blake Griffin for the Clippers. I had every expectation of us winning the title but Michael Jordan and those Chicago Bulls dominated us on their way to the 4th NBA championship.
What it means to me now? 20 years later, so much has changed. The SuperSonics don’t even exist anymore. They were stolen by Oklahoma City after the Starbucks dude sold them to Clay Bennett. Watching that game last night hurt my feelings. That’s literally the last time the Sonics played for a championship. The closest we ever got to that stage again was thwarted by Tim Duncan’s shot off the glass with 5-tenths of a second remaining. My heart still hurts for the SuperSonics and what happened in the ’96 Finals…especially after what happened in the years to follow.