Sonics legend Detlef Schrempf: ‘I didn’t realize we were such an underdog’ vs Bulls in 1996 NBA Finals
The 1996 NBA playoffs were a whirlwind for the Seattle Sonics.
After finishing the regular season 64-18 to take the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed in the postseason, then getting past Sacramento and Houston in the first two rounds with just one loss, they matched up against the Utah Jazz in the conference finals. What ensued was a seven-game struggle, with the Sonics coming out on top in the decisive contest at home after two straight losses to the Jazz had evened the series at 3-3.
Detlef Schrempf, the Sonics’ starting small forward at the time, called that series with the Jazz a “bloodbath” while reminiscing with 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton on Thursday morning. And when the dust settled, he and his teammates looked up, all of the sudden in Chicago set to face a record-setting Bulls team led by Michael Jordan.
“I had forgot that the Bulls went 72-10 that year because we had a really good year,” said Schrempf, who like many has been watching ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary, including last Sunday’s episode that profiled Seattle’s 1996 NBA Finals trip. “I didn’t realize we were such an underdog.”
That’s certainly the picture that was painted not only in “The Last Dance” but even in the media at the time of the series. One of the more memorable clips shown in that episode of the documentary is from the NBA on NBC pregame broadcast before Game 1 where Bob Costas said many were calling it the “biggest mismatch in NBA Finals history.” And that’s even though the Bulls had just eight more wins in the regular season than the Sonics and Seattle had even split the season series between the two teams 1-1.
“Back then we just played,” said Schrempf, noting that the Sonics had short rest between their Game 7 win over the Jazz and Game 1 vs. the Bulls, who had been waiting at home after sweeping the Orlando Magic. “Now they’re saying, oh, people were saying we were gonna get swept – I forgot about that.”
The Sonics didn’t get swept, winning two games after falling behind 3-0 but ultimately losing Game 6 in Chicago as the Bulls clinched their fourth NBA championship in six seasons.
Regardless of the perception of the Sonics’ NBA Finals trip, Schrempf said one thing stands out to him about “The Last Dance”: It’s an accurate inside look at the league he played in.
“The times were different. You were not that friendly to each other back then,” he said.
Schrempf, who starred for Centralia High School and the UW Huskies before his pro career, was a three-time All-Star in the NBA, including twice with the Sonics. He looks back fondly on his time with his hometown NBA team.
“We averaged over 60 wins for five years. … That’s a great feeling when you step on the court thinking, ‘If we just play solid we’re gonna win.’ Not many teams have that,” he said.
“Those days, we thought we could win every game.”
Det’s Superstars for COVID-19 Relief
During his interview with Clayton, Schrempf detailed his ongoing fundraiser for the Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation called Det’s Superstars for COVID-19 Relief. It’s an online auction where you can bid on all kinds of sports, music and pop culture memorabilia as well as experiences with well-known figures. Donations have been provided by names like Bill Murray, Shaquille O’Neal and Edgar Martinez, and there’s even a chance to win a golf date with both Schrempf and Charles Barkley. For more details and to bid on items, click here.
You can hear Schrempf share the story behind the fundraiser and much more in this podcast of his interview with Clayton.