NBA Finals: Relive Washington Wizards 1977-78 NBA championship

Jun 15, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; A view of the NBA Finals logo before game five of the 2014 NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 15, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; A view of the NBA Finals logo before game five of the 2014 NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

The Washington Wizards fell short of reaching the 2017 NBA Finals, making now the perfect time to revisit and recollect the memories of the Washington Bullets 1977-78 NBA championship season.

The unavoidable 2017 NBA Finals featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors for the third consecutive year is underway and even though the Washington Wizards failed to reach this year’s NBA Finals, now is a perfect time to look back on the Wizards lone NBA championship during the 1977-78 season.

Back then, the Wizards were named the Washington Bullets, a team name fans reminisce about endlessly. The 1977-78 championship roster was headed by Dick Motta with some of the greatest players in NBA history including Hall of Famers Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes, and former Bullets’ greats Phil Chenier. The roster also carried distinguished players like small forward Bob Dandridge, 6-foot-9 forward Mitch Kupchak, former Kentucky Wildcat Kevin Grevey and guard Tom Henderson.

1977-78 Washington Bullets
Elvin Hayes328140.17.917.4.4514.06.3.63413.
Bob Dandridge307537.07.515.9.4714.45.6.7885.
Wes Unseld318033.
Tom Henderson267530.94.510.5.4322.43.2.7462.
Mitch Kupchak236726.35.911.5.5124.26.0.6976.
Kevin Grevey248126.
Phil Chenier273626.05.612.5.4433.03.8.7902.
Larry Wright237020.
Charles Johnson283920.
Greg Ballard237612.
Phil Walker21409.
Joe Pace24498.

Provided by View Original Table

The Bullets battled through numerous injuries during their improbable path to the NBA Finals including a regular season game against the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 22, 1978 when just seven Bullets suited up to play. Meanwhile, the Bullets were in the midst of their worst losing streak of the season. From Jan. 11 to Feb. 17, the Bullets played 13 road games in a span of 17 games where they lost 13-of-17 games that dropped their record to just a game above .500 at 28-27.

Leading up to the 1977-78 NBA Finals

The Bullets were able to overcome their mighty stretch of defeats to conclude the regular season with 44 wins and 38 losses, good enough for the third seed in the 1977-78 NBA playoffs. As the third seed, the Bullets were paired in a three-game series with the Atlanta Hawks that included players like John Drew, Steve Hawes, Armond Hill and Charlie Criss.

Despite a strong series performance from Drew, the Hawks were unable to contain Bullets’ forward Kevin Grevey who scored a combined 58 points in two games to sweep the Hawks 2-0.

The 1978 playoff bracket featured the top six teams from each conference, with the top two seeds earning a first-round bye. As a result, the Bullets next opponent George the “Iceman” Gervin and the San Antonio Spurs, the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Gervin was phenomenal throughout the East semifinals as he averaged a series-high 33.2 points per game including a 46-point performance in Game 2. Granted Gervin’s dominance, the Bullets, led by veterans Elvin Hayes and Dandridge, who both combined for 248 points in the East semis to advance to the East Finals.

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Awaiting in the East Finals was the Bullets next competitor the Philadelphia 76ers that consisted of names like former Wizards head coach Doug Collins and Hall of Famer Julius Erving, aka, “Dr. J.” As the No. 1 seed, the 76ers was heavily favored against the No. 4 seed Bullets.

Game 1 of the East Finals was a thriller that entailed a Collins’ buzzer beater to force overtime.

Despite Collins’ shot that forced overtime at The Spectrum arena, the Bullets were able to outscore the 76ers 13-8 to triumph in Game 1. Philadelphia avoided a 2-0 hole by winning Game 2 to tie the series 1-1 as the series shifts to the friendly confines of Capital Centre.

After a pair of wins at home, the Bullets suddenly possessed a 3-1 series lead and was just a game away from reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 1975 where they fell to Rick Barry and the Golden State Warriors. Eventually, the Bullets won Game 6 to take the series against the 76ers 4-2 to advance to the NBA finals against the Western Conference powerhouse Seattle Supersonics.

1978 NBA Finals: Washington Bullets vs. Seattle Supersonics

The 1977-78 Seattle Supersonics finished the regular season 47-35 which resulted in the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson, two-time All-NBA player Gus Williams and Fred “Downtown” Brown were just some of the potent Supersonics to meet the Bullets in the 1978 NBA Finals.

Notwithstanding the Bullets more than comfortable lead at 19 points in Game 1 of the finals, the Wisconsin native dropped 30 points as the Sonics pulled away in the final quarter and outscored the Bullets 33-18 to jump out to a 1-0 lead.

The Bullets traveled back home for Game 2 led by the daunting Wes Unseld who hauled down 15 rebounds and five assists in 34 minutes. Unseld held the Baltimore native Marvin Webster to 10 points and Game 2 and was a force, paving the way for a 34-point performance by Dandridge to knot the series at one a piece.

The Sonics proceeded to a 3-2 series lead before the Bullets tied the series at 3-3, forcing the historic Game 7 in Seattle.

In a true team effort, six Bullets players scored in double figures with Dandridge and unsung hero Charles Johnson lead all scorers with 19 points apiece. However, the five-time All-Star Unseld took the spotlight and earned the well-deserved 1978 Finals MVP after the center recorded 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists in Game 7 to power the Bullets to their first ever NBA championship.

Must-see images and video of 1977-78 Washington Bullets championship season

The Fat Lady Sings by The Washington Post (PDF version via DC sports artist Paul Nichols)

"A Pictorial History of the Washington Bullets 1977-78 Championship Season from washingtonwizards"

1978 NBA Finals Game 7 Bullets vs. Sonics

The Washington Bullets had a good year in 1978 via Cody Arrington

1978 NBA Finals Game 5 Bullets/Sonics Intro via Todd Grant

Elvin, Wes, & the 1978 Bullets – The Greatest Washington Team Ever via Reddit

"Elvin, Wes, & the 1978 Bullets – The Greatest Washington Team Ever from washingtonwizards"

Next: Monumental support for Phil Chenier as petition grows

The city of Washington, D.C. hasn’t experienced an NBA championship in nearly 40 years. Will the Washington Wizards win an NBA championship in the next five years? Make sure to leave your comments below as the 2017 NBA Finals comes to an end and the Golden State Warriors are crowned champions.