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1979 NBA Finals


1979 NBA Finals

1979 NBA Finals
Team Coach Wins
Seattle SuperSonics Lenny Wilkens 4
Washington Bullets Dick Motta 1
Dates May 20 – June 1
MVP Dennis Johnson
(Seattle SuperSonics)
Television CBS (U.S.)
Announcers Brent Musburger, Rick Barry, and Rod Hundley
Radio network KIRO (SEA)
Game 1: Darell Garretson, Ed T. Rush, and Ed Middleton
Game 2: John Vanak, Jack Madden, and Jim Capers
Game 3: Jake O'Donnell, Joe Gushue, and Hugh Evans
Game 4: Bob Rakel, Lee Jones, and Darell Garretson
Game 5: Jake O'Donnell, Joe Gushue, and Paul Mihalak
Hall of Famers SuperSonics:
Dennis Johnson (2010)
Elvin Hayes (1990)
Wes Unseld (1988)
Lenny Wilkens (1989, player/1998, coach)
Eastern Finals Bullets defeat Spurs, 4–3
Western Finals SuperSonics defeat Suns, 4–3

The 1979 NBA World Championship Series at the conclusion of the 1978–79 season were won by the Seattle SuperSonics defeating the Washington Bullets 4 games to 1. The series was a rematch of the 1978 NBA Finals which the Washington Bullets had won 4–3. Due to a better regular season record, the Bullets had home-court advantage.

Dennis Johnson of the SuperSonics was the Finals Most Valuable Player while Gus Williams of the SuperSonics was the top scorer, averaging 28.6 points per game.

Besides the Seattle Metropolitans victory in the Stanley Cup in 1917, this remained Seattle's only men's professional sports championship until the Seattle Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII.

Coincidentally, the series (along with the President of the United States (the SuperSonics were playing in Seattle, the largest city in the State of Washington, and the Bullets were representing Washington, D.C. albeit playing in nearby Landover, Maryland).


  • Background 1
    • Road to the Finals 1.1
    • Regular season series 1.2
  • Series summary 2
    • Game 1 2.1
    • Game 2 2.2
    • Game 3 2.3
    • Game 4 2.4
    • Game 5 2.5
  • Aftermath 3
  • Team rosters 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6


This was a rematch of the 1978 NBA Finals, which the Bullets won 4–3. Seattle made a key offseason trade sending Marvin Webster to the New York Knicks for Lonnie Shelton. Other than that, both teams' rosters stayed virtually intact. Unlike the previous year, both teams finished 1-2 in the NBA, with the Bullets topping the league at 54 wins; the Sonics with 52 wins. In the playoffs, Seattle defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 4–1 and the Phoenix Suns 4–3, while Washington had a much tougher road, eliminating the Atlanta Hawks in an unexpectedly tough seven-game series and coming back from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the San Antonio Spurs in seven. Both earned a first-round bye.

Road to the Finals

Seattle SuperSonics (Western Conference Champion) Washington Bullets (Eastern Conference Champion)
# Western Conference
1 z-Seattle SuperSonics 52 30 .634
2 y-Kansas City Kings 48 34 .585 4
3 x-Phoenix Suns 50 32 .610 2
4 x-Denver Nuggets 47 35 .573 5
5 x-Los Angeles Lakers 47 35 .573 5
6 x-Portland Trail Blazers 45 37 .549 7
7 San Diego Clippers 43 39 .524 9
8 Indiana Pacers 38 44 .463 14
8 Milwaukee Bucks 38 44 .463 14
8 Golden State Warriors 38 44 .463 14
11 Chicago Bulls 31 51 .378 21
1st seed in the West, 2nd best league record
Regular season
# Eastern Conference
1 z-Washington Bullets 54 28 .659
2 y-San Antonio Spurs 48 34 .585 6
3 x-Philadelphia 76ers 47 35 .573 7
4 x-Houston Rockets 47 35 .573 7
5 x-Atlanta Hawks 46 36 .561 8
6 x-New Jersey Nets 37 45 .451 17
7 New York Knicks 31 51 .378 23
8 Cleveland Cavaliers 30 52 .366 24
8 Detroit Pistons 30 52 .366 24
10 Boston Celtics 29 53 .354 25
11 New Orleans Jazz 26 56 .317 28
1st seed in the East, best league record
Earned first-round bye First Round Earned first-round bye
Defeated the (5) Los Angeles Lakers, 4–1 Conference Semifinals Defeated the (5) Atlanta Hawks, 4–3
Defeated the (3) Phoenix Suns, 4–3 Conference Finals Defeated the (2) San Antonio Spurs, 4–3

Regular season series

Both teams split the four-game series in the regular season:

Series summary

Game Date Home team Result Road team
Game 1 Sunday, May 20 Washington Bullets 99–97 (1–0) Seattle SuperSonics
Game 2 Thursday, May 24 Washington Bullets 82–92 (1–1) Seattle SuperSonics
Game 3 Sunday, May 27 Seattle SuperSonics 105–95 (2–1) Washington Bullets
Game 4 Tuesday, May 29 Seattle SuperSonics 114–112 (3–1) Washington Bullets
Game 5 Friday, June 1 Washington Bullets 93–97 (1–4) Seattle SuperSonics

Game 1

May 20
Seattle SuperSonics 97, Washington Bullets 99
Scoring by quarter: 25–26, 25–33, 21–23, 26–17
Pts: Gus Williams 32 Pts: Larry Wright 26
Washington leads the series 1–0
Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland
Attendance: 19,035

The Bullets controlled the game and led by 18 in the fourth, but Seattle mounted a furious comeback to tie it at 97. Larry Wright, who had 26 points off the bench, drove to the basket as time ran down and had his shot blocked by Dennis Johnson, but the referees called a foul on Johnson. Wright went to the line with one second left and hit two of three foul shots (NBA rules at the time awarded an extra free throw attempt when a team was in the penalty foul situation) to win the game.[1]

Game 2

May 24
Seattle SuperSonics 92, Washington Bullets 82
Scoring by quarter: 28–23, 21–29, 19–14, 24–16
Pts: Gus Williams 23 Pts: Bob Dandridge 21
Series tied 1–1
Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland
Attendance: 19,035

Elvin Hayes had 11 points in the first quarter, but only nine the rest of the way as Seattle turned its defense up a notch, holding the Bullets to 30 points in the second half.

Game 3

May 27
Washington Bullets 95, Seattle SuperSonics 105
Scoring by quarter: 25–31, 19–24, 22–26, 29–24
Pts: Bob Dandridge 28 Pts: Gus Williams 31
Seattle leads the series 2–1
Kingdome, Seattle, Washington
Attendance: 35,928

Seattle dominated this game, which wasn't as close as the final margin indicated. Gus Williams scored 31 points, Jack Sikma had 21 and 17 rebounds, and Dennis Johnson had a fine all-around game with 17 points, 9 rebounds, and two blocked shots.

Game 4

May 29
Washington Bullets 112, Seattle SuperSonics 114 (OT)
Scoring by quarter: 16–24, 37–28, 28–32, 23–20, OT: 8–10
Pts: Three players 18 Pts: Gus Williams 36
Seattle leads the series 3–1

The Sonics won a close one in OT 114–112, staving off a late Bullets comeback behind 36 points by Gus Williams and 32 by Dennis Johnson. Williams and Johnson dominated the Bullets' guards all series, as they were plagued by poor shooting. Johnson also had four blocks in the game, the last on Kevin Grevey with 4 seconds left to ensure the Seattle victory.

Game 5

June 1
Seattle SuperSonics 97, Washington Bullets 93
Scoring by quarter: 19–30, 24–21, 23–18, 31–24
Pts: Gus Williams 23 Pts: Elvin Hayes 29
Seattle wins the series 4–1
Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland
Attendance: 19,035

Back home, Elvin Hayes had a hot first half, scoring 20, but injuries to starting guards Tom Henderson, Kevin Grevey and prolonged poor shooting by their replacements took their toll. Hayes had only nine points in the second half as Seattle closed out the series.[2]


Neither team made it back to the Finals the following season. The Bullets (39–43) were eliminated in the first round by the Philadelphia 76ers, while the SuperSonics (56–26) lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Conference Finals. Both the 76ers and Lakers faced off in the 1980 NBA Finals, a 4–2 Lakers win. Dick Motta, the Bullets coach, departed to take over the expansion Dallas Mavericks in the 1980–81 NBA season, while the SuperSonics traded 1979 Finals MVP Dennis Johnson for Paul Westphal, which hastened their downfall. Wes Unseld retired after the season, and Elvin Hayes concluded his final three NBA seasons with the team he started with, the Rockets. Lenny Wilkens would not make the finals again for the remainder of his coaching career; the closest he would advance was in the 1992 conference finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

As of the 2014–15 NBA season this was the last Finals appearance for the Bullets/Wizards franchise. The SuperSonics would not return until 1996. That would be their last Finals appearance, since they relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008, as the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder made it to the Finals in 2012.

Team rosters

See also


  1. ^ "Bullets take Wright turn to victory". St Petersburg Times (page 21). 21 May 1979. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  2. ^ "The ‘fat lady sings’ as Sonics lower final boom to rule the NBA". St Petersburg Times (page 23). 2 June 1979. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
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