When it was over, the self-described "funny-looking black kid with red hair and freckles" returned to earth long enough to receive the award as the Most Valuable Player in the NBA playoffs. It had taken the Seattle SuperSonics a mere five games to wrest the championship from Washington, and Dennis Johnson had been operating far above the baskets, where 6'4" guards are seldom seen. He did everything but change the light bulbs in the 24-second clocks. He scored, rebounded, blocked shots and broke up three-man fast breaks—singlehandedly. As he said, "I did just about whatever I thought needed to be done."
As reporters crushed the 24-year-old third-year pro from Pepperdine who so suddenly had the basketball world brazenly comparing him with K. C. Jones, Walt Frazier or any other legendary defensive genius you can name, D.J. smoked a big cigar and wryly praised his teammates: "They deserve the award as much as I do, and they're all funny-looking too."
There was D.J.'s running mate, the balding Gus Williams, a 6'2", 25-year-old who made an art form of the one-man fast break, averaged 28.6 points in the finals and, together with Johnson, scored 256 of Seattle's 505 points in the series. There was 6'11", 23-year-old Center Jack Sikma, who not only took—and returned—as much kidney pummeling as Wes Unseld gave out, but also grabbed just about every big rebound and hit every big shot that one of the guards didn't. Sikma also blocked 16 shots, always, it seemed, at the right time.
And there was Forward John Johnson, looking like a tired old Mississippi bluesman, who led the Sonics in assists and held Bob Dandridge to 43% shooting, 6.7 points below his regular-season average. And the Big Beef—Lonnie Shelton and Paul Silas—who took turns spoiling another playoff for the Bullets' Elvin Hayes. Though the Big E averaged 20 points, he shot only 39%, and his combined fourth-quarter output amounted to a paltry 14 points.
Finally, there was Freddie Brown, the marvelous third guard, who has made a career of picking his spots. After playing rather poorly in the previous four games, Brown came off the bench in last Friday's 97-93 clincher to hit seven of 10, four of five in the final 13 minutes from—you guessed it—downtown, to put the Sonics in the lead. Then he poured champagne all over Commissioner Larry O'Brien and tauntingly chanted, "Fine me. Fine me."
That the SuperSonics are now champions of the NBA might shock those who remember the circus act under the whip and whistle of, first, Bill Russell and then Bob Hopkins a few years back. Lenny Wilkens replaced Hopkins in 1977 and built a team that, against these same Bullets a year ago, was good enough to come within a game of winning the title. By last week it was a superb club with relentless defense, a running, guard-oriented offense and backcourt talent unequaled in the NBA. "The difference from last year is maturity," said Wilkens. "Last year we were so young, we played on emotion. There were questions. Now we run strictly on confidence."
For Seattle, the emphasis has been on defense above all, and the final was a match between the league's two most physical teams. As John Johnson said, "Offense is like the weather. It comes and goes. Defense is constant. You don't need to be on. You just need to work."
Seattle defensed the Bullets brilliantly, four times holding them below 100 points, 18.7 fewer than their regular-season per-game average of 114.9. And unlike other so-called "defensive" teams, the Sonics did this not by slowing the game down to a frustrating crawl but by textbook, body-hugging defense. They were helped, of course, by prolonged miserable shooting of the Bullet guards, who were outscored and outshot by Seattle's 303 to 177 and 48% to 38%. This allowed the Sonics to drop a guard back to double-team Hayes or Dandridge whenever either had the ball.
"You know when I thought we had them?" Wilkens said. "When we came back from 18 points down in the fourth quarter in Game 1 in Washington. I really never worried after that." Seattle lost the opener 99-97 after Dennis Johnson barely fouled Larry Wright while sensationally blocking his last-second shot with the score tied.
Of course, a gambler who wanted to bet that the Sonics would win the next four would have found a few takers in Washington. Bullet fans were confident their team could repeat, although no team since the 1969 Celtics had been able to, and no team without Bill Russell had done it since 1954.