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Originally published Monday, December 8, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Obituary

Richard "Dick" Vertlieb helped found SuperSonics

Richard "Dick" Vertlieb, a promoter who became the Mariners' first general manager and helped bring the Sonics to Seattle, died Dec. 5.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Richard "Dick" Vertlieb, the promoter extraordinaire who helped put Seattle on the map of major sports franchises, died Friday in Nevada at age 78.

Mr. Vertlieb made history by putting together the group that scored Seattle's first major sports franchise, the SuperSonics, in 1967, where he started as a business manager.

In 1975, as general manager, the onetime stockbroker led the Golden State Warriors to an NBA championship, and in 1977 he became the Mariners' first general manager.

"I think he had something to do with every franchise in town," said promoter Bob Walsh. "He is a man that never really got the kind of credit he deserved for all the things that he did."

Mr. Vertlieb is remembered as passionate and somewhat eccentric by people he influenced during his career. He certainly made an impression on Hal Childs, the Sonics' first public-relations director. On Childs' second day in the job, Mr. Vertlieb spotted an error in a publicity brochure.

"I heard this terrible noise. Dick had looked at the flier, saw this mistake and screamed and put his fist through the wall," said Walsh. "I said, 'My goodness, what have I gotten into here?' "

But Childs and Mr. Vertlieb struck a lasting friendship and went on to work together on three different sports teams.

"One thing he lived by and really impressed me was whatever you promise a sponsor, someone in a deal or the season-ticket holders, always do a little bit more," said Childs, who is now retired and lives in the Bay Area.

Mr. Vertlieb was impulsive and energetic, and the games made him a bit antsy. "He used to spend a lot of time in the parking lot because he couldn't stand being inside. I remember running into him in parking lots all over the National Basketball Association," said Walsh.

During his tenure with the Warriors, "he could never stand to be around for the fourth quarter," said Childs. "He would get in his car and drive up and down the freeway, listening to the game on the radio." On one occasion, Mr. Vertlieb ran out of gas, he recalled.

Mr. Vertlieb "was a visionary; a lot of the things he thought about came to fruition," said Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus, who was hired by Mr. Vertlieb in 1977. But a big part of Mr. Vertlieb's legacy to Seattle — the Sonics — went away to Oklahoma City earlier this year.

But his son, Adam, who lived with him in Nevada, said his father's "biggest legacy was his relationship with my mother."

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Mr. Vertlieb deeply loved his wife, Joan, who died of cancer in 1988, his son said. Mr. Vertlieb also had a close relationship with his son, who remembers his father attending his high-school basketball games.

"He was the best father and my best friend," Adam Vertlieb said. "He was very passionate about his beliefs."

Ángel González: 206-515-5644 or agonzalez@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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