The favorite trivia question among many Seattle SuperSonics basketball fans is, what do Dennis Johnson, Fred Brown and Bruce Seals have in common?
Answer: They are the only Sonics left from last year's team.
Just as dramatic and complete as Seattle's personnel upheaval has been its rise to the top of the Western Conference of the National Basketball Association.
Several trades, designed more to get rid of some undesirable characters than to acquire other players, and Lenny Wilkens' ability to mold a bunch of nervous, disgruntled individuals into a happy family have helped transform the Sonics into the best young team in basketball.
The Sonics played with poise and confidence that belied their inexperience in doing away with Los Angeles, Portland and, finally, Denver. The Sonics were in control of all three of those series and expect to be in control of the Washington Bullets when they meet in the NBA finals beginning Sunday at Seattle Coliseum. "There are a number of reasons we are where we are," said Paul Silas, one of only four Sonics with more than two years of Professional experience. "Lenny is certainly a factor, but we have a lot of good people here and we couldn't have done what we did without good folks."
It took quite a bit of doing to get "the good folks," but Wilkens knew what he wanted and he went out and got them. The pieces have fit together so well that the rest of the league wonders how it could be that easy.
"I could name a million times when I never thought this organization would ever be a winner," said Brown, a seven-year Sonic. "And there were times last year and even early this year when practically every one on the team wanted out."
A number of them got their wishes.
This is how the Sonics built a championship team in ine season:
Owner Sam Schulman told last year's coach and general manager, Bill Russell, that he was tired of paying him $250,000 a year for mediocre teams. He wanted Russell to give up one of his two jobs. Russell balked, and an agreement was finally worked out, with Russell retiring with one year left on his five-year contract.
Russell's assistant, Bob Hopkins, took over as coach. Les Habeggar, former head coach at Seattle Pacific College became Hopkins' assistant and Wilkens was named director of player personnel.
Wilkens' first move was to trade center Tom Burleson, guard Bob Wilkerson and a No. 2 draft pick to Denver for Marvin Webster, Silas and Ellie Wise. Then in last year's draft, the Sonics picked 6-foot-11 Jack Sikma from Illinois Wesleyan as the eighth player in the first round.
Wilkens saw in Webster what Russell saw in Burleson and he got Silas to protect the frail Webster underneath and give the Sonics more respect defensively.
The Sonics' next move was last September when they waived deadweights Bob Love, Willie Norwood, Frank Oleynick and Nick Weatherspoon.
Then, in October, they put Dean Tolson and Wise on theinjured list, signed Gus Williams as a free agent and acquired Johnny Johnson from Houston for two second-round draft choices. They didn't have to give up any players or draft choices for Williams.
In November, they acquired Wally Walker from Portland for a No. 1 and a No. 2 draft choice and traded Mike Tolson and Wise on the injured list, Green to San Antonio for two second round draft picks.
But Hopkins was lost as coach. The team was disorganized and the starting lineup of Slick Watts, Brown, Seals, Silas and Webster didn't work well together. Morale was low.
By Nov. 30, the Sonics had lost 17 of their 22 games, the second worst record in the NBA. Hopkins was relieved and Wilkens took over with the option of returning to the job of personnel director at the end of the season.
Wilkens got rid of one irritant, Watts, for a No. 1 draft choice and composed a starting lineup of Sikma, Johnny Johnson, Williams, Dennis Johnson and Webster.Seattle won 18 of its next 21 games and 70 percent of its games the rest of the season.
There are no complaints under Wilkens.
"He talks and we listen," said Dennis Johnson.
"We are here because we involve everybody," Brown said. "I'm great, Gus is great, Marvin is great, but we don't exploit that individual greatness. We become great as one. No one can cheat against us because we don't come at you as individuals, but as five."
Walker, who played for the world champion Portland Trail Blazers las season, says Seattle and Portland are dissimilar in size, "but the reasons for success are the same - running, playing good defense and playing together.
"Everyone respects Lenny's knowledge and we know if we listen we'll be okay. So we listen."
The Sonics' style is simple. They play a team game based on quickness, cohesiveness and balance. Williams was their leading scorer with an 18.1 average. Seven Sonics averaged in double figures.
In the six-game Denver series, Webster, Dennis Johnson, Johnny Johnson, Williams and Brown (twice) took turns leading the scoring.
Seattle loves to run, pushing the ball up court quickly and taking the first open 15-footer. Most of the scoring comes from the backcourt, where Williams, Brown and Dennis Johnson accounted for 55 points a game in the Denver series.
Even though they have won 20 in a row at the Seattle Coliseum, including eight straight playgoff games, the Sonics are not without weaknesses. Their patterned offense leaves something to be desired.
Sikma is inconsistent and questionable shooter. Williams is uncontrollable at times and the team tends to get complacent.
Defensively, the Sonics are sound. They play a complicated, switching defense and have the 7-1 Webster to stand in the middle and intimidate.
"We don't have any hangups about anything on this team," Webster said. "There's no jiving behind anybody's back or any of that. Nobody's personality has to be compromised or anything. We just go out and play basketball."