Jack Sikma reflects on Hall of Fame career that started at Illinois Wesleyan
Illinois Wesleyan coach Dennis Bridges described Jack Sikma as a late-blooming farm boy. Now, he’s going to the Hall of Fame.
Jack Sikma was catching up on the morning news and enjoying a cup of coffee in his Seattle home when his phone rang April 2. It was John Doleva, the president and CEO of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Sikma was expecting his call. Surprisingly, in the midst of the moment of truth, Sikma found himself at peace regardless of the news Doleva had for the seven-time NBA All-Star.
Doleva told Sikma, a late-blooming farm boy from downstate Illinois who went to a Division III college before becoming an NBA champion, that he was elected to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Sikma thanked him, hung up his phone and told his wife, Shawn.
There was no major celebration, no bottles of bubbly were popped that morning. Sikma, who’s been said to have never lost his small-town values, was humbled by the honor and a little stunned.
“We were excited and happy and it was what you hope for,” Sikma said. “There wasn’t a lot of jumping around or anything like that but it was just fulfilling to me.”
About a half hour after the call, Sikma, 63, sat down alone and reflected on his 14-year playing career and 16-plus years of being an NBA coach, scout and consultant. He thought about the “Sikma move,” which was conceptualized in the small Illinois Wesleyan gym some 45 years ago and how his trademark maneuver is still used in the game today. He remembered telling coach Lenny Wilkens how Seattle wasn’t his first choice after the SuperSonics picked him eighth overall in the 1977 draft, though, it ultimately shaped his life and career for the better.
“I couldn’t help but think about the different times of my life,” Sikma said. “And what kept popping up is just so many people ... who have touched my life.”
One man, in particular, came to mind and that was his friend and former Illinois Wesleyan coach Dennis Bridges.
Sikma’s unimaginable ascension from Illinois Wesleyan to NBA legend started in rural St. Anne, Illinois.
Sikma has been playing basketball for as long as he can remember. The basketball hoop was either cemented into the driveway or nailed to the barn, he said.
Sikma had a large extended family. The annual Sikma reunion always turned into a basketball game which turned into Battle Royale.
“We went at it pretty hard,” Sikma said. “There were many bloody noses … but it didn’t stop us. You stuck some cotton up there or a Kleenex and you kept going.”
Growing up, Sikma’s dream was to be a starter for St. Anne High School’s varsity basketball team. His senior season, he was one of three Sikmas in the Cardinals’ starting lineup.
Jack was the most athletically talented of his family. He was tall and lanky. In his final two years of high school, he grew 10 inches, which made him more attractive to Division I schools like Illinois, Purdue and Kansas State.
But Sikma decided to go with his gut and committed to Illinois Wesleyan and Bridges, who promised to put the future NBA prospect in the best situation to get recognized by scouts.
Midway through his freshman season, Sikma was struggling to play in the low post. So Bridges came up with one of the most eccentric and effective maneuvers in basketball: The “Sikma move,” which is a reverse pivot away from the basket with the ball raised.
After each practice, Sikma and Bridges would be the last two in the gym. They worked 100 reps on each side until the unnatural move became effortless.
And when the lightbulb finally flickered on for Sikma, there was no turning back.
The move helped Sikma become the all-time leading scorer with 2,272 points at Illinois Wesleyan. During his four seasons, he led the Titans to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament in Kansas City, where Sikma put himself on the radars of several USA Basketball and NBA scouts.
In 1976, Sikma said he was one of only two non-Division I basketball players to be invited to the Olympic Trials. After barely missing the cut, Sikma came back recharged and motivated.
“That was the time that it really became clear to Jack that he was going to have a chance to go to the NBA,” Bridges recalled. “When he came back, he said: ‘Hey coach, I can play with those guys.’”
Sikma studied accounting in college and figured if basketball doesn’t work out he would pursue a career in business. But while his peers interned with accounting firms in Chicago, Sikma was in the gym honing his craft.
“That was my internship,” he said. “Your dream is to play basketball, your hope was that it’s the NBA.
“By the end of my junior year and I got invited to the Olympic Trials it became apparent that if I was ever going to invest in trying to become a better player and to work on my body and become physically prepared that was the time, so I dug in there.”
After the Sonics drafted him in 1977, Sikma’s signature move translated well to the NBA. In 1979, he won his only NBA title.
Sikma evolved as a shooter during his NBA career. He went from being a solid mid-range shooter to one of the league’s first stretch fives in his final three seasons with the Bucks. He finished with 17,287 points, 10,816 rebounds and 203 three-pointers made.
Sikma doesn’t have any regrets from his playing days — not even his ridiculous perm that his three sons make fun of him for. He’s still close with Bridges and many of his buddies from Illinois Wesleyan. Every spring, Sikma goes to Arizona with a group of his former teammates to watch the Cubs at spring training.
Bridges, 80, will be at Sikma’s Hall of Fame induction in Springfield, Massachusetts, this weekend. Sikma is happy he can share this moment with the first coach who believed in him.
“To be considered by your peers to be one of the best and worthy of the Hall of Fame is exciting, humbling,” Sikma said. “But most of all really rewarding and it’s going to be a special weekend and special night [not only] for me, but also for all those who have shared my journey.”