The way Detlef Schrempf figures it, no way the Sonics should have lost to Houston in last season’s Western Conference semifinals.
Once the disappointment registered, though, the fitness nut who has lived in the shadow of a monstrous mountain much of his life set his sights on a slightly bigger climb than winning an NBA title.
Like Mount Rainier.
“It was awesome,” Schrempf said Monday, shaking his head at the memory of his mid-summer expedition.
Like anyone who has come to call Seattle home, Schrempf has craned his neck or squinted into the sun to observe the majestic snow-packed peak that dominates the Puget Sound skyline.
“Like everyone else, I’ve been fascinated by the mountain,” said Schrempf, a native German who graduated from Centralia High School and the University of Washington and finally found his pro career jump-started here in 1993 after the Sonics obtained him for Derrick McKey in a trade with the Indiana Pacers.
A perennial NBA Sixth Man Award winner, Schrempf came home to find a niche among the Sonic starters, becoming a three-time All-Star along the way. And, no less significant, Schrempf found Rainier looming over him again, too.
The notion to summit was in full brew despite hesitation from Schrempf’s wife, Mary, who was not pleased her husband had aimed himself toward a peak where more than a few have lost their lives during arduous treks, which can only be safely done in the peak of summer.
“I thought it was one of those climbs where you had to put your hooks into the wall,” Schrempf said. “When I found out that it was really just a tough hike while you’re roped up, I decided I wanted to make it up there.”
Despite crampons, gators, plastic boots and all, things did not exactly work out the way Schrempf envisioned. On July 26, one day after beautiful, clear blue skies had allowed Rainier to flaunt its behemoth physique, Schrempf and his climbing party found their ascent brutalized, and eventually halted, because of a windstorm.
Schrempf, along with former UW fraternity brother Robert Andrews and three others, started out at Paradise and climbed to base camp at Camp Muir.
“It was cloudy, but once we got above those clouds you could see Mount Adams and Baker,” Schrempf said. “About 45 minutes from Muir, though, the temperature dropped and the wind started blowing so hard it was knocking us down.”
Complicating matters was that Schrempf and Co. were wearing shorts and T-shirts - suitable gear for a sunny climb but insufficient for sub-freezing winds.
“I stopped and got my shells on,” said Schrempf, who acknowledged he made a monster haul at the downtown REI to outfit himself for the climb.
But no amount of gear could help Schrempf and his cohorts - some of whom did not put on warmer clothes until they got to Muir. By then, they were shuddering with cold and drinking hot tea to try to warm themselves.
By 10:30 a.m. the next day, the group had reached Disappointment Clever and the sun was beating down, melting the snowpack and presenting another dilemma. It was two hours to the summit and the group’s guide said it would be too risky to go on, since the crevasses could crack under the hot sun.
So, getting as high as 12,500 feet, Schrempf listened to reason and headed back down the mountain, leaving Rainier’s summit for another day.
Now, there’s this small matter of the Sonics’ 1997-98 season.
Schrempf, entering his 13th season and fourth with the Sonics, looks around at all the new faces - Dale Ellis, Jerome Kersey, Vin Baker, Greg Anthony and Aaron Williams - and knows this cast of experienced players is going to take time to get up to Sonic speed, especially on the offensive end where confusion has so far reigned.
The Sonics are deeper, for sure, and therefore improved. There’s too much firepower to call it less than an overall talent overhaul. But it will take time for them to come together.
“I think we can win the Pacific, but we have to win by committee,” Schrempf said.
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