SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Jack Sikma backstepped and smiled as he entered the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday night.
The former Sonics center, a master of the reverse pivot, was among 12 new inductees — including ex-Sonics guard and coach Paul Westphal — to enter the Hall.
“It’s been quite a day, and quite a weekend,” said Sikma, who was presented with his Hall of Fame blazer Thursday.
Addressing the crowd at Symphony Hall on Friday night, he paid special tribute to Seattle.
“Thank you to all the die-hard Sonic fans who proudly support the green and gold,” Sikma said. “What a thrill it was to play in front of you.
“There’s a hole in Seattle that needs to be filled. Speaking for all Sonic fans, it’s our greatest hope that the NBA will soon find a pathway to bring a Sonics franchise back to Seattle. It is time.”
Sikma joins an elite induction class that featured some of his contemporaries. This year’s group included former teammate Sidney Moncrief, whom he played with during his final seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks; International Committee selection Vlade Divac; as well as former coach Del Harris, who received the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I played against so many good centers,” Sikma said. “Vlade’s the 15th Hall of Fame center I’ve played against. It was a great time period for me to play and the fact that I’m recognized here now is the cherry on top.”
A 6-foot-11, 230-pounder with curly blond locks for much of his career, Sikma’s look was backed by a lethal backstep jumper that routinely froze the opposition.
He quickly redefined the role of the center from that of a defensive stalwart into an offensive sharpshooter, becoming one of the game’s most accurate shots for a big man, both in the collegiate and professional ranks.
A seven-time NBA All-Star (1979-85) and a world champion with the Sonics in 1979, Sikma netted 17,287 points in his 14-year NBA career.
After helping Seattle clinch its first Western Conference title his rookie season, Sikma spearheaded the Sonics to their first and only NBA championship in 1979.
The curls might have straightened, but the spirit of that championship remains strong as ever.
“It was quite a place to play and a great fan base,” Sikma said. “We lost in the seventh game (of the 1978 NBA Finals) the year before. That was really when the tidal wave turned as far as (fans) being crazy about the Sonics.”
After spending his rookie season playing in the cozy confines of the Coliseum, the squad moved into the massive Kingdome the following season.
“It changed the atmosphere a little bit, but we were still a really good team and had a chance to win it all,” Sikma said. “There were some big games where I think we had 40,000 people in the Kingdome.”
Sikma credits coach Lenny Wilkens with putting it all together. Despite inheriting a 5-17 club during the 1977-78 season, the bench boss guided an interesting mix of young guns and grizzled veterans back to the Finals for a second consecutive year — and a rematch with the Washington Bullets.
“We were really focused to get back,” Sikma said. “Like any playoff run, there was a game or two that we had to dig out (of), but we got enough to get back.
“Once we got back and it was (against) the Bullets, the memory of the year before really helped us to focus. We were really aggressive the whole series and left no stone unturned. That was 40 years ago, and we won.”
It was while playing college ball at Illinois Wesleyan that Sikma first developed his trademark backstep pivot shot, at the urging of coach Dennis Bridges.
“It was just an experiment after my freshman season,” said Sikma, a two-time first-team NAIA All-American and Academic All-American (1976, 1977).
Already a good shooter, Sikma learned to work the wing, quickly becoming comfortable facing the basket. He thrived on exploring the added space.
“Dennis Bridges was totally committed to my development as a late-blooming 6-foot-11, 195-pound specimen,” a joking Sikma told the crowd. “It was clear I needed a post game. After some experimenting, we decided on the inside pivot because of my body type and shooting skill: Create space, be a threat to shoot, high release point and use a counter to keep the defense honest.”
“Sounds easy, but it wasn’t,” he added. “It took time and repetition. I still hear Coach from the sidelines yelling ‘do your move, do your move.’ Thanks, Coach, for your commitment, the success of the Sikma Move and more importantly your lifelong friendship.”
Although it was viewed as unorthodox, the move was a highly effective way of getting his points across, and the results on the court were all that mattered.
“You had the skyhook, the dream shake, (Kevin) McHale had the up-and-under — they made it all look good, so it was effective,” he said. “If I tried to do the skyhook or up-and-under, you’d probably think that’s not a good move, but it all has to do with how effective you are doing it.”
In addition to his fancy footwork, Sikma also holds the distinction of being the only center in NBA history to lead the league in season free-throw percentage (.922), a feat he accomplished in his first of five seasons playing for the Bucks in 1987-88.
Around that time, Sikma also got to showcase his range from three-point land.
“People don’t remember this with Jack, but coach Don Nelson was the first to emphasize three-point shots for big men,” said Moncrief, Sikma’s teammate from 1986-87 to 1988-89. “He put Jack on the perimeter to take the big man out of the lane so we could make plays. Jack was a good three-point shooter.
“If you take his post game, his ability to shoot the in between, his free-throw shooting — which was very high for a big man and his three-point shooting, he was a very capable offensive weapon.”
As he looks back on his legacy, Sikma remains humbled.
“I never started my NBA career thinking about the Hall of Fame,” he said. “But as time went on, I continued to establish myself, thinking about the next year trying to compete and again just let it lay. It laid for 28 years, because I retired. But I just appreciate the recognition now.”
Other inductees: Bobby Jones, Chuck Cooper, Carl Braun, WNBA legend Teresa Weatherspoon, coach Bill Fitch, contributor Al Attles, the Tennessee A&I men’s teams of 1957 to 1959 and the Wayland Baptist women’s teams of 1948 to 1982.
He joins eight former Sonics in the Hall of Fame, including Wilkens, Dennis Johnson, David Thompson, Patrick Ewing, Gary Payton, Sarunas Marciulionis, Spencer Haywood and Ray Allen.