Henry Akin, one of the original Seattle SuperSonics, died last month.
After three weeks in hospice care, he died Feb. 16 at EvergreenHealth Hospice Care Center in Kirkland. He was 75.
Akin battled heart disease for most of his adult life and underwent open-heart surgery in 2011. His cause of death was heart and kidney failure, said his youngest daughter Amanda Chigbrow.
“My dad was a gentle giant with a really big heart,” Chigbrow said. “He cared deeply about his friends and family. He cared about social justice. And of course, he absolutely loved basketball.
“He didn’t have a long and illustrious career, but he loved being in the NBA and he’d tell us stories about playing back then. Those stories became ingrained in us. He’d stay up late into the night telling those stories. You just knew that was one of the most important times in his life.”
Born July 31, 1944, in Detroit, Michigan, the 6-foot-10, 225-pound center played two years (NCAA rules then prohibited freshman from participation) at Morehead State, a Division I school in Morehead, Ky. before transferring to William Carey College in Hattiesburg, Miss.
However, Akin never played for the Baptist school and was taken with the first pick in the second round (11th overall) in the 1966 NBA draft by the New York Knicks. He signed for $10,000 per year, plus a $1,100 bonus.
Akin appeared in 50 games as a reserve and averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds for the Knicks.
“To have that play out the way that it did was wonderful,” Akin said in 2008 story in the Everett Herald. “I got to spend a year in New York. I got to play with Willis Reed and Walt Bellamy, Dave Stallworth, Dick Barnett, Emmett Bryant and Howard Comize, Dick Van Arsdale.”
In the offseason, Akin was one of the 12 players taken in the 1967 NBA expansion draft by the Sonics.
“I got a phone call from (Sonics general manager) Don Richman telling me I’d been selected by Washington, he called it Washington back then,” Akin told the Herald. “I’m thinking ‘Washington, that’s only 90 miles down the road from New York, that’s not bad.’
“He said, ‘No, no, no. Seattle, Washington.’ Then we get the map out and my wife and I look and see where Seattle is and we say we’ll never get there.”
Akin was a reserve behind All-Star center Bob Rule while averaging 3.1 points and 1.6 rebounds during the 1967-68 season for a team that finished with a 23-59 record.
“Everybody knows Henry was a big guy that could really shoot the ball,” said Bob Weiss, an original Sonic. “It was a fun year because when you go to an expansion team like that, you’re all pretty much in the same boat. Most of you have been with teams, but hadn’t got to play too much. Then all of a sudden you get to a situation where you get another chance to play.
“Most of us were early in our careers. We were starting out trying to make the league in this new city that many us didn’t know, but embraced us like one of their own. … Henry was a fun guy. Nice guy to be around. Always had a good disposition.”
The next season, Akin played just two games with the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA and was forced to end a brief professional basketball playing career due to severe arthritis in his knees and ankles.
He returned to Seattle and worked five years as a scout for the Sonics before joining a big and tall retail clothing company as a salesman. Akins then worked 22 years at Boeing before retiring in 2010.
In recent years, Akin enjoyed salmon fishing and volunteered with the Shorecrest High School girls basketball program.
“I love girls basketball because it’s the way we used to play 30 years ago,” Akin told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2004.
Akin was married 54 years to his wife Diana and they settled in Lake Forest Park, where they raised three daughters Erin, Shannon and Amanda. He’s also survived by his sister Addamae and six grandchildren.
Family, friends and fans will gather at a memorial service May 21 at the Lake Forest Park Civic Club to celebrate Akin.
“It’s the greatest thing that ever happened to us,” Akin said when asked about being drafted by the Sonics. “It’s the most fortunate thing that ever happened to us. We’ve been here 41 years, raised three good kids, got six grandkids. Wouldn’t leave for nothing. Absolutely love it here.”