Former Sonics GM Zollie Volchok dies at 95
Volchok was in charge when the Sonics won NBA championship in 1979.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Gary Volchok knows how he'll begin and end the eulogy for his father Zollie, one of the architects of the Sonics team that won the 1979 NBA title.
The middle part of his address is giving him trouble. How do you condense nine decades of a man who became a pioneer in Northwest sports and entertainment into a few paragraphs?
"Zollie Volchok was not only my father, a husband, a grandfather and a great grandfather, he was my best friend," reads the opening line of Volchok's eulogy. "We talked every day."
Their conversations ended Sunday when Volchok died. He was 95.
He'll be remembered as president and general manager of the Sonics. However, he got his start as an entertainer, promoter and co-owner of a roller-derby team.
Born Zalmon Marcola Volchok on Sept. 22, 1916, in Salem, Ore., he graduated from the University of Oregon in 1939 and served in the Navy during World War II before moving to Seattle.
He founded the Northwest Releasing Corporation in 1952 and brought vaudeville acts to the Northwest.
Volchok built the company into one of the largest talent-booking agencies in North America.
In 1966, Los Angeles businessman Sam Schulman bought the expansion Sonics and offered Volchok the position of supervisor of operations.
Volchok held many titles during his tenure with the Sonics, including president and general manager. Still, he delegated basketball operations to coaches Bill Russell and Lenny Wilkens and focused on marketing.
Volchok had limited knowledge of the NBA, but he understood the entertainment element of professional basketball better than anyone at the time.
The Sonics were one of the first NBA teams to provide halftime acts. Volchok created a slew of promotions and attendance soared. The demand for tickets prompted the Sonics to move from the Seattle Coliseum to the cavernous Kingdome.
During the 1979-80 season, the team averaged 21,725 fans at home games.
On the court and in the stands, the Sonics thrived.
In a 2009 Seattle Times interview Volchok described the relationship between Seattle and its NBA team as "unbridled love affair because we had a bunch of guys that were very approachable for the fans.
"It's never that easy to win a championship, and when you do, you want to savor it. Certainly we had a great team, and when I say great team, I mean the guys really worked hard and worked together."
Volchok won the NBA Executive of the Year award in 1983.
He owned 5 percent of the franchise when Schulman sold the team to Barry Ackerley on Oct. 14, 1983.
Volchok retired from the NBA and lived in Mercer Island. He's survived by his wife of 72 years, Sylvia, and sons Gary, Michael and Tony.
An open memorial service is set for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Temple DeHirsch Sinai in Seattle.
Gary Volchok described his father as an old-school promoter who knew how to put on a good show.
The last line of Volchok's eulogy reads: "A heart only beats so many times in one's life and my father's heart beat each time for everyone all the time."
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @percyallen.
Information in this article, originally published Feb. 27, 2012, was corrected Feb. 28, 2012. A previous version of this story misspelled the last name of Sam Schulman, the former owner of the NBA's Seattle SuperSonics.