Blazermania has been moved 145 miles north. It is now known as Supermanta or Sonicsteria as unassuming Lenny Wilkens has transformed the Seattle Supersonics into the new heartthrobs of the Pacific Northwest.
The Sonics, hottest team in the National Basketball Association the second half of the season, dumped the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs and have a two-games-to-one lead over the defending champion Portland Trail Blazers in their Western Conference semifinal series.
The fourth game of that series will be tomorrow night in a sold-out Seattle Coliseum.
In the other Western Conference semifinal series, Milwaukee will try to pull even at two games apiece with Denver tonight in Milwaukee.
Although the young Bucks have surprised many this season, the present story in the NBA is Seattle. The Sonics have a chance to make it all the way to the NBA final.
Five months ago NBA followers would have laughed themselves silly at the mention of Seattle even getting to the first round of the playoffs. The situation was so bad that many fans had stopped going to the games, something that had never happened before.
Seattle had a 5-17 record, meaning the Sonics were better than the New Jersey Nets and no one else. Nervous Bob Hopkins was the coach. Paul Silas, Bruce Seals, Mike Green, Slick Watts and Freddy Brown were the starters and attandance was down almost 2,000 from the previous year.
Since Wilkens took over, the Sonics have gone 42-18 regular season record was the sixth best in the NBA.
Wilkens, player personnel director before taking over as coach, changed the entire starting lineup, going with rookie Jack Sikma and Johnny Johnson as forward, Marvin Webster at center and Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson at guard. Their average age is 24.6 years.
He later traded Green and Watts.
Seattle won its first six games under Wilkens and the young Sonics have been improving since.
"It's a miracle and I deserve it to happen to me," said Sam Schulman, team president, who has tried everything imaginable, without success until now, to make the Sonics a winner.
It may seem like a miracle, but Wilkens has made the Sonics good quickly by relying on four basic ingredients - youth, simplicity, patience and togetherness.
The Sonics were a tense and bickering team under Hopkins. Under Wilkens they are loose and happy.
As a player, Wilkens was smooth, cool and always in control of the game. This is a trait he has transmitted to his team. It uses a simple offense designed to showcase the guards, and no team has three better, but so different, guards than the Sonics.
Williams the playmaker, was a disgruntled free agent who played at Golden State last year. He is a penetrator who averaged 18.1 points a game during the regular season and 20.5 during the playoffs. Most of his effectiveness is a result of his quickness.
Dennis Johnson, the other guard, is in his second year from Pepperdine, and at 6-foot-4, is a defensive specialist. Offensively, he likes to take his defender low and simply jump over him.
The third guard is the inimitable Brown. There is not better streak shooter in the league and his 16.6 average made him the highest scoring non-starter in the league. He was fifth in the NBA in shots-per-minute played, one every minute and a half.
The 6-11 Sikma was the No. 1 draft choice from Illinois Wesleyan. Seattle traded last year's center Tom Burleson and Bobby Wilkerson to Denver for Webster and Silas. Those are the rebounders defenders and intimidators needed to complement the back court firepower of the Sonics.
Small forward Johnny Johnson came from Houston for two second round draft choices.
Although Wilkens made changes, they made things easier, and there was not an entirely new system to learn. Under Hopkins, the Sonics had eight or nine options on their plays, leaving little room for free lancing. There was no order for subsitutions.
Wilkens cut a number of options to two or three; he gave the guards the free rein he had as a player and he set a regular substitution pattern.
He brings in Brown for either guard and Wally Walker for Johnny Johnson and Silas for Sikma. He then brings Sikma back to give Webster a rest.
He says simply:
The Wilkens' difference has brought the fans back. Attendance has increased an average of 1,400 since he took over and the playoff games have been sellouts.
Seattle has won 15 straight home games and are 30 and 3 at home under Wilkens.
With Bill Waltono of Portland out with a fractured ankle, Seattle is putting it to the Trail Blazers. In their 99-84 victory Sunday in Seattle, the Sonics outrebounded Portland 71-to-40.
If Seattle get by Portland the Sonics will play the winner of the Milwaukee-Denver series. Seattle won three of four from each in the regular season.