Born: Racine, Wisconsin
D.C. Awards Criteria: Signed one of the worst contracts in NBA history, Is one of the biggest reasons why Seattle turned from a championship contender into a lottery team, he averaged just 3.1 rpg and 2.7 ppg
It’s interesting how one move can spark the downfall of an entire franchise. Just one simple trade can mean the difference between a championship and a lottery pick. For example; when the Detroit Pistons traded Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson, it turned Detroit from a championship contender to a rebuilding team. In turn, the trade helped catapult the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals. Just one deal, one move, sometimes thats all it takes. One of the greatest instances of this happening was when the Seattle Super Sonics signed Jim McIlvaine.
McIlvaine was drafted in the fifth round of the 1994 Draft by the Washington Bullets. He was never seen as more then a backup and defensive specialist. During his two years with the franchise he started just 6 games. He was seen to have a good bit of potential due to the strength of his defensive play and his 7’1 height. After two relatively quiet years with the Bullets, McIlvaine was gone. This is where the stoy gets a bit interesting.
The Seattle Super Sonics were entering the post season fresh off a deep playoff run that ended with an NBA Finals loss to the Chicago Bulls. They had two of the great players of the era in Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. Entering the offseason, Kemp and the Sonics were in the midst of a mild dispute over the nature of Kemp’s contract. Kemp thought he deserved star money and the Sonics were resistant to oblige. Regardless, Seattle was seen as just one or two pieces away, namely a center, from being a championship team. This is where McIlvaine comes into play.
Now maybe they saw him as a physically gifted athlete who would at least be an imposing presence. Maybe they saw potential in his sparing time off the Bullets bench. Maybe they were just plain confused. The question still remains on why the Sonics awarded career backup, Jim McIlvaine a 7 year 33.6 million dollar contract. It was as ludicrous then as it is now. Needless to say, this upset Shawn Kemp beyond belief. How could the Sonics give a scrub player such a big contract, yet not even talk about one of the great young stars in the league. This started a fallout that would leave a former championship contender in shambles.
Following the signing, Seattle had a major lack of chemistry. McIlvaine did nothing to help the situation by averaging just 4.0 rpg and 3.4 ppg as a full time starting center. McIlvaine was one of, if not, the worst center in the league. After the 1997 season, Seattle finally traded the unhappy Kemp away in a three team trade. Seattle received Vin Baker, the Cleveland Cavaliers received Kemp and the Milwaukee Bucks received Terrell Brandon and Tyrone Hill. The trade turned out to be disastrous for all three teams. All of the players involved combined for just 2 more All Star Appearances. The trade undoubtedly hurt Seattle the most because the team was just two years removed from a Finals appearance and 64 win season. Seattle never made it past the second round ever again, and in 2008 the team was relocated to Oklahoma City. McIlvaine only stayed in Seattle for two years and his best averages were from his first disastorous season. After two seasons as a Sonic, McIlvaine was traded to the Nets, where he played for three seasons until his retirement. Ironically, McIlviane retired two years before his infamous contract was set to expire.
McIlvaine was never the best, he was never a star and as a matter of fact he was never even good. He was just an average player who did what any person in his situation would have done and accepted a ridiculous sum of money. There are a myriad of players at McIlvaines talent level in the NBA, it was just that he was thrust into the limelight so everyone knew of his mediocrity. So today we salute you, Jim McIlvaine, a man who taught us that just one bad player can lead to the fall of a franchise.