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Sports >  NBA

Sonics great Jack Sikma thrilled to come to Spokane to help Rise Above – and also pay tribute to Lenny Wilkens

UPDATED: Wed., July 14, 2021

By Jason Shoot The Spokesman-Review

Former Seattle SuperSonics great Jack Sikma is always on the search for a worthy cause.

Sikma learned ex-teammate and basketball Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens was to be honored for his charitable work at a Sunday dinner hosted by Rise Above, a nonprofit partnering with the Kalispel Tribe to empower Native American youths. Flanked by former Seattle players Dale Ellis and Spencer Haywood at the fundraiser, Sikma was pleased to accept an invitation.

“It’s all the positive things he’s done for the community,” Sikma said of Wilkens. “In Seattle for the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, he’s raised millions and millions and millions of dollars to make that possible and support young people. It’s just a common theme with Lenny.”

The event, held at the Kalispel Golf and Country Club, “was something I wanted to be at and support,” Sikma said, noting he shares a bond with Rise Above founder Jaci McCormack, who starred at Illinois State as a women’s basketball player. Sikma is a native of Wichert, Illinois, and was a NCAA Division III star at Illinois Wesleyan “1 mile down the street,” Sikma said.

Sikma met McCormack at a charity golf tournament hosted by Wilkens. They played in the same foursome, he said, and McCormack shared with Sikma her vision of what Rise Above intends to accomplish.

“(Rise Above) really is a mentoring program and a support program for young people,” Sikma said from his Seattle home Tuesday. “I always like to lend my time to organizations that are trying to get young people off to a good start. The more opportunities we can provide to supporting young people and helping them make good decisions and choosing positive directions in life is well worth it.”

Sikma, 65, acknowledged he once helped support speedskater Bonnie Blair’s Olympic career in the 1980s. Her brother, Rob, was Sikma’s fraternity brother at Illinois Wesleyan. Sikma had just started his professional career in Seattle as Blair’s Olympic career was developing.

“… And I just had an opportunity to support her and, of course, follow her career,” Sikma said.

Sikma said his he and his wife, Shawn Strickland, have more time to lend themselves to positive causes.

“I’m always looking for things with which I can help,” Sikma said. “And it keeps me out of my family’s hair.”

Selected eighth overall in the 1977 draft, Sikma starred for the Sonics for the next nine seasons. He averaged 16.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists over 715 games in Seattle before requesting a trade in 1986 that resulted in a move to Milwaukee, where he played another five seasons through age 35.

“I was frustrated,” Sikma said. “I felt a change of scenery would be good for me. I stepped forward and made a decision. I had five years in Milwaukee, and we had good teams. I still have great relationships from that time. My wife and I were starting a family and had young kids. … You can look back on decisions, but you can’t change them anymore. There are some things where maybe you should’ve considered it a little bit. We had a connection with Seattle, and we had decided it was where we were going to live. But all in all, it came to that decision, and I made it.”

There never was any long-standing animosity with the Sonics. Sikma’s No. 43 was retired by the franchise, and he served as an assistant coach in Seattle for several years.

Sikma said he is rooting for the Bucks as Milwaukee competes with Phoenix in the NBA Finals.

“I’m sure glad they won Game 3,” said Sikma, who won an NBA title with Seattle in 1979. “But that happens when you get to the Finals. You want to hold court at home and steal one on the road. They didn’t do that the first couple games, but I’m rooting for the fans of the city.”

Sikma still laments the Sonics’ move as a franchise to Oklahoma City, and he credited Milwaukee for not suffering a similar fate when the Bucks were at risk of relocating. Sikma remains hopeful Seattle can attract another NBA franchise.

“I’m waiting for the day when (NBA commissioner Adam Silver) brings it up and says something internally in the league is being considered,” he said.

With a reliable shooting stroke out to the 3-point line and from the foul line, the 6-foot-11 Sikma developed into one of the most skilled big men in the NBA. The league has evolved and emphasizes spacing and the 3-point shot , and Sikma believes his skill set would have translated well to the modern game.

“I do, but I will also tell you that the athletes are much better as far as skill sets physically – bigger, faster, stronger – and again that is happening in all sports,” he said. “It has to do with building better machines. … The science is better, nutrition is better, recovery is better, and preparation as far as preparing to play and taking care of the body.”

Sikma said European basketball influenced post players’ transition to a perimeter-oriented focus in today’s NBA. His son, Luke, is in his 10th season playing in Europe, the past six at Alba Berlin in Basketball Bundesliga in Germany.

“He’s a professional and held in high esteem,” Sikma said. “I’m proud of how he plays basketball and how he conducts himself.

“I considered maybe playing a year (in Europe) at the end of my career. I wish I had. That would have been a great life experience for me.”

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