But the Sonics, too, have weary veterans: Johnson (a 12-year man) and Pierce (11 years) have yearned for a ring longer than Barkley has (nine years), and, like Barkley, neither player has ever reached the NBA Finals. When Pierce was asked on Saturday how it felt to be the latest obstacle in the path of Barkley's title pursuit, he said quietly but forcefully, "He doesn't want it any worse than we do."
At best the Sonics are a mix of youth and experience. At worst they are made up of players perhaps slightly past their prime ( Johnson and Pierce) and players who have not yet reached their prime ( Kemp and second-year guard Gary Payton). It is an odd mix but an effective one. "No one ever talks about our competitiveness," Karl says. "We're fighters. We fight each other, we fight the opponent."
That's a trait that the Sonics are determined to portray. "Don't draw too many conclusions from whatever happens early," Cage said of the Sun-Sonic series. "This series is going to take a while."