Slick Watts: The Game I’ll Never Forget

[The old Basketball Digest ran a series called “The Game I’ll Never Forget.” We’ve already run a few entrees. Let’s try one more. This entry comes from the hustling Slick Watts, beloved for his bald pate, jaunty headband, and inspired guard play for the Seattle SuperSonics during the 1970s.

Here’s the one game that Slick Watts will remember above all others, “even, if I live to be 85 years old.” He’s 70 years old now.]


When I go down to Seattle SuperSonics games people will ask me, “Do you remember that game? I’ll never forget that game. That was the first game I ever saw. I’ve been a Sonics fan ever since.” 

The game they’re talking about was against the Detroit Pistons in the 1975-76 season. There was something like 34 seconds left, and we were down by six points. The fans were getting up and leaving the building. There was no way for us to win that game. The shot clock had the full 24 seconds on it—and the Pistons had the ball. 

Back in those days, I was real quick and no matter where I went, the ball would just jump into my hands. So, I was able to make three steals and tie the game up with three seconds to go. Then I made a shot at the end to win the game. 

That game was so memorable to the people in Seattle and the fans of the team that someone went out and wrote a song about that game. It was called, “Slick Is His Name, Let Him Play His Game.” They used to play it in the city when I was really popular back in the 1970s. I’ve got the 45 record. When I visit schools, I take it with me sometimes. It’s a little country song. I forget some of the words, but it goes something like this: 

There were three seconds left and playing basketball. 

The score was tied 107-all. 

The coach called timeout to slow the pace

But only Slick had a smile on his face. 

Slick is his name, let him play his game

Let him play his game

Let him play his game

We had a close-knit team in Seattle. Fred Brown, Tom Burleson, Leonard Gray, Bruce Seals–we had a good team. Of course, coach Bill Russell was the man. Back in those days, he was definitely the man. He came in riding on a big white horse. He had just won his 11 championships with the Boston Celtics. He was a tough cookie. I often tell people, “I played better than I was. When you played for Mr. Russell, you did exactly what he said.” 

For instance, one night I got 39 points against the Washington Bullets. He called me into the dressing room and said, “Boy, who do you think you are? If you ever shoot that much again, you’ll never play again on my team.” I was 15-of-18 from the field that night and here he was, cursing me out. 

He was the big papa of the house. His philosophy was for 48 minutes, he wanted you to forget your wife, what movie you wanted to go see, your girlfriend, everything. For 48 minutes, give it all you got. I liked playing for him because that was my philosophy too. 

The Pistons were pretty good. I remember they had Curtis Rowe, Bob Lanier, Archie Clark, and Dave Bing [Note: Bing had been traded to Washington]. 

“They were leading with less than a minute to go, but my wife told me that she could tell that I had not given up, that I kept looking up and staring at the clock. The people were all starting to leave the building, but she sat there real cool. She said that she could feel that something was going to happen. And I did, too. 

On the first steal, from the great Bing, I was lucky to bounce one off his leg. Then Clark came up, I was able to get one off of him. Rowe came up and tried to make a pass, but I jumped up and I was able to take it out of his hands. Then we put a press on. One of their passes hit Burleson’s knee and I dove on the floor and was able to get that one too. 

It was like that playoff game where Reggie Miller had all those steals against the New York Knicks. Bang! Bang! Bang! It was just like that. 

Then Russell called a timeout. He told Brown that he wanted him to take the last shot. In the huddle, I said, “No sir. I want to shoot it.” Russell said, “Boy, if you don’t do what I say, I’ll take you out.” 

I said, “I just made three steals, made the last six points to tie the game up. Why are you telling me someone else is going to get the last shot?” He said, “Well, I’m going to make you bring it in.” 

But to me, it was almost like something had to happen for all those balls to be jumping up into my hands. It was almost like the ball was willed into my hands. It was just that never-say-die attitude that I had. I was a hard worker when I played. I did a lot of scratching and clawing. Don’t give up. Don’t die. Don’t stop believing in yourself. Anything can happen if you don’t give up. 

Look at the way the ball kept popping into my hand in this game. I said, “No, I can’t let it get away. We got it this close. I’ve got to take the last shot.” 

So we inbounded the ball. There were three seconds left and everybody just froze. I broke up to almost to the center line and turned that bad boy loose and it went in. It was amazing. Really amazing. 

We were 26-29 before we beat the Pistons, but from that point on, we went 17-10. That win turned our season completely around. It gave us a shot of energy. 

Now that’s the game I’ll never forget, even if I live to be 85 years old.

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