1979 NBA Finals
The 1979 NBA World Championship Series was the championship series played at the conclusion of the National Basketball Association (NBA)'s 1978–79 season. The Western Conference champion Seattle SuperSonics played the Eastern Conference champion Washington Bullets, with the Bullets holding home-court advantage, due to a better regular season record. The SuperSonics defeated the Bullets 4 games to 1. The series was a rematch of the 1978 NBA Finals, which the Washington Bullets had won 4–3.
|Dates||May 20–June 1|
|Hall of Famers||SuperSonics:|
Dennis Johnson (2010)
Jack Sikma (2019)
Elvin Hayes (1990)
Wes Unseld (1988)
Lenny Wilkens (1989, player/1998, coach)
Darell Garretson (2016)
|Eastern Finals||Bullets defeat Spurs, 4–3|
|Western Finals||SuperSonics defeat Suns, 4–3|
Coincidentally, this series (along with the 1978 NBA Finals) was informally known as the George Washington series, because both teams were playing in places named after the first President of the United States (the SuperSonics represented Seattle, the most populous city in the state of Washington, and the Bullets represented Washington, D.C., albeit playing in nearby Landover, Maryland).
This is the most recent time that a Western Conference team based outside of Texas or California has won an NBA title, and the last of only two occasions alongside the 1976–77 Portland Trail Blazers when a team from the present-day Northwest Division has won the league title, which is by 26 years the longest league championship drought for any division of the four major North American sports leagues.[note 1] Since then, the following Western teams have gone on to win an NBA title: the Los Angeles Lakers (ten times), the San Antonio Spurs (five times), the Golden State Warriors (three times), the Houston Rockets (twice), and the Dallas Mavericks (once). The remaining eighteen titles since 1980 have been won by Eastern Conference teams.[note 2]
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 FinalsEdit
|Seattle SuperSonics (Western Conference champion)||Washington Bullets (Eastern Conference champion)|
1st seed in the West, 2nd best league record
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 seriesEdit
Both teams split the four-game series in the regular season:
|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|
|Seattle SuperSonics 97, Washington Bullets 99|
|Scoring by quarter: 25–26, 25–33, 21–23, 26–17|
|Pts: Gus Williams 32
Rebs: John Johnson 11
Asts: Dennis Johnson 7
|Pts: Larry Wright 26|
Rebs: Wes Unseld 12
Asts: Tom Henderson 6
|Washington leads the series 1–0|
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.
9 p.m. EDT
|Seattle SuperSonics 92, Washington Bullets 82|
|Scoring by quarter: 28–23, 21–29, 19–14, 24–16|
|Pts: Gus Williams 23
Rebs: Jack Sikma 13
Asts: D. Johnson, J. Johnson 6 each
|Pts: Bob Dandridge 21|
Rebs: Elvin Hayes 14
Asts: Bob Dandridge 5
|Series tied 1–1|
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.
Outside of the two metropolitan areas of the competing teams, as well as Baltimore and Portland, the game was shown on tape delay beginning at 11:35 Eastern and Pacific/10:35 p.m. Central and Mountain. This was the first of six championship series games shown by CBS on tape delay over a three-season span. Four of the six games in the championship series two years later were shown on tape delay outside of the markets of the competing clubs.
|Washington Bullets 95, Seattle SuperSonics 105|
|Scoring by quarter: 25–31, 19–24, 22–26, 29–24|
|Pts: Bob Dandridge 28
Rebs: Unseld, Hayes 14 each
Asts: Bob Dandridge 5
|Pts: Gus Williams 31|
Rebs: Sikma 17
Asts: D. Johnson 9
|Seattle leads the series 2–1|
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.
|Washington Bullets 112, Seattle SuperSonics 114 (OT)|
|Scoring by quarter: 16–24, 37–28, 28–32, 23–20, Overtime: 8–10|
|Pts: Three Players 18
Rebs: Unseld 16
Asts: Tom Henderson 8
|Pts: Gus Williams 36|
Rebs: Sikma 17
Asts: John Johnson 13
|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.
|Seattle SuperSonics 97, Washington Bullets 93|
|Scoring by quarter: 19–30, 24–21, 23–18, 31–24|
|Pts: Gus Williams 23
Rebs: Sikma 17
Asts: John Johnson 6
|Pts: Elvin Hayes 29|
Rebs: Elvin Hayes 14
Asts: Bob Dandridge 7
|Seattle wins the series 4–1|
 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.
|GP||Games played||GS||Games started||MPG||Minutes per game|
|FG%||Field-goal percentage||3P%||3-point field-goal percentage||FT%||Free-throw percentage|
|RPG||Rebounds per game||APG||Assists per game||SPG||Steals per game|
|BPG||Blocks per game||PPG||Points per game|
- Seattle SuperSonics
- Washington Bullets
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 2019, this remains the last Finals appearance and ConferenceFinals appearance for the Bullets/Wizards franchise. The SuperSonics would not return until 1996. That would be their last Finals appearance in Seattle, as they relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008 and were renamed as the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder played in the 2012 NBA Finals, where they lost to the Miami Heat in 5 games.
The city of Seattle did not win another men's professional sports championship until the National Football League's Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII on 2 February 2014. The next time Seattle played Washington for a championship was in the 2018 WNBA Finals, when the Seattle Storm swept the Washington Mystics in 3 games to win their third overall championship. Coincidentally, as of 2018 the Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals are the only two Major League Baseball franchises that have never played in a World Series.
|1978–79 Seattle SuperSonics roster|
|1978–79 Washington Bullets roster|
- By comparison, the longest divisional title drought in the National Football League is twelve seasons by the AFC South; in Major League Baseball nine seasons (as of 2017) by the National League East, and in the National Hockey League seven seasons by the Atlantic Division.
- Six Eastern Conference teams from six different states have won NBA Championships since 1980: the Chicago Bulls (six times), the Boston Celtics (four times), the Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat (thrice each), and the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers (once each)
- "Bullets take Wright turn to victory". St Petersburg Times (page 21). 21 May 1979. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
- "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.
- "1978-79 Seattle SuperSonics Roster and Stats | Basketball-Reference.com". Basketball-Reference.com. Retrieved 2018-07-23.