On November 9, 1989, the Milwaukee Bucks beat the visiting Seattle SuperSonics 155-154 in five overtimes. It tied for the second-longest NBA game of all time.
The teams may have been mediocre; the was action was anything but. This autumn battle on the hardwood included constant lead changes, a dizzying number of points, and, oh, the extra periods had their own level of drama. Each overtime closed with clutch baskets or choked free throws, until one side managed to outlast the other, both broken by the game-and-a-half they had just endured.
Played mere hours after the Berlin Wall came crumbling down, the game itself was the fourth of the season for both teams; both were 2-1 entering the contest. Seattle was beginning a Midwest swing, while Milwaukee was in the midst of a five-game home stand.
It was a back-and-forth affair at the youthful Bradley Center in downtown Milwaukee throughout, with the Bucks leading 19-17 after one quarter, and then the SuperSonics answering with a 53-50 lead at the half. Milwaukee then built an 84-78 advantage entering the fourth frame.
Seattle rallied back though, and with 37 seconds left in regulation, the visitors grabbed a 103-102 lead. Milwaukee forward Fred Roberts then hit one of two free throws to tie before Sonics forward Xavier McDaniel missed a 12-footer just before the buzzer, sending the game into overtime.
In the first tie-breaking session, Seattle only made one basket from the field, a tying effort from reserve forward Brad Sellers with five seconds left. Alvin Robertson of the Bucks had a chance to put the game on ice just before Sellers’ score, but he dribbled the ball off his legs and out-of-bounds.
In the second overtime, Milwaukee had another opportunity to win, but center Jack Sikma missed his first free throw of the season (he had been 9-for-9 in the first three games) and point guard Jay Humphries failed to sink a pair of his own with 3.2 to go, the score knotted at 120-all. Humphries was a career 78-percent free throw shooter at the time of the game and hit all his three other foul shots in the game.
By the third extra period, the teams were running out of players; each had lost a pair of players to fouls, including the Bucks’ starring sixth man Ricky Pierce. At the end of that overtime, a Dale Ellis layup tied the game 127-127 with two seconds remaining. Ellis repeated his heroics in the next frame, hitting a 20-foot jumper to tie the contest at 138 with 12 seconds left.
Finally, in the fifth overtime, Milwaukee had had enough of Seattle’s hanging around. With 1:11 left in what would be the final frame, Tony Brown sank a 3-point shot to break a 146-146 deadlock. Robertson and Humphries then added two points apiece via the foul line and Jeff Grayer’s layup made it 155-146, seemingly putting the game out of Seattle’s reach.
But nothing seemed out reach to the SuperSonics. Not on this wild and crazy night.
Behind a steely resolve that had kept the game going for five overtimes, Seattle mustered one more rally in the final 34 seconds, trimming the nine-point deficit to 155-152. But then McDaniel’s last-gasp 3-pointer as time expired clanged off the far end of the rim. That miss sealed the Sonics’ fate, even though McDaniel was fouled on the attempt. It wouldn’t be until 1994 that a foul on a 3-point shot merited three free throws, so his two makes from the line with no time left were nothing more than an exhibition.
All told, the game lasted four hours and 17 minutes, finishing just one minute before midnight local time. The only NBA game that had lasted longer was the Indianapolis Olympians 75-73, six overtime victory over the Rochester Royals in 1951. The five overtimes tied with the Syracuse Nationals’ 125-123 win over the Anderson Packers in 1949. This latest endurance test was, however, the longest NBA game since the league had begun using a 24-second shot clock in 1954.
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Rep the SuperSonics.
As for individual efforts, Ellis’ career-high 53 points on 18-of-39 shooting led the way for the SuperSonics and all scorers. His 69 minutes played set an NBA record. McDaniel had the next best night with 37 in one minute less than Ellis and teammate Derrick McKey scored 24. Sedale Threatt’s 12 points represented the only other SuperSonic with a double-digit point total.
The Bucks were more balanced, with eight players in double figures. Pierce had a career-high 36 points on 15-of-21 shooting, while Robertson scored 28 and Sikma 23.
Two double-doubles were had. McDaniel’s 37-point output was supplemented with 13 rebounds while Humphries put up 11 points and dished out 10 assists to Buck teammates.
Like many before and after it, the game might not have needed extra periods if one team had executed better from the charity stripe. Seattle shot 40-of-60 (76.7 percent) from the free throw line while Milwaukee did better with their gifted shots and hit 39-of-49 (79.6 percent). The teams combined for 228 field goal attempts and three players from each squad ended up fouling out before the final buzzer.
To tell you the truth, the game leaves me kind of speechless. It was just a unique, very hard-fought game and I’m extremely proud of the way our players held up.
Milwaukee’s head coach
Years after the game, McDaniel said to VICE that he went straight to his hotel room afterwards and passed out after feeling like they “played for 24 hours straight.” Ellis remarked that he felt was “running in mud” towards the end of the game. Buck coach Del Harris told the press after the game that his back gave out sometime around the third overtime.
Seattle would stay in the area for the next two games, losing 109-102 to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, and then beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 108-97 before heading back to the Pacific Northwest.
The remainder of the year, the SuperSonics hovered around mediocrity, peaking at three games over .500 following a win against the Golden State Warriors on February 25. They wrapped up the 1989-90 season with an even 41-41 record. Despite equaling the Houston Rockets’ win-loss record, Seattle missed out on the playoffs due to tiebreakers.
Milwaukee would stay at home for its next three games and snagged a pair of victories against the San Antonio Spurs and the Orlando Magic. The team would be plagued by injuries the rest of the way, including two to leading scorer Pierce, who hurt his groin and shooting wrist at separate points during the year.
Record-wise, though, the Bucks did better than the SuperSonics and finished 44-38, good for the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed. The road stopped in the first round of the playoffs, however, as Milwaukee dropped three of four to Chicago.
Among the players, Milwaukee’s Pierce probably had the best season despite missing over 20 games to injuries. His average of 23 points per game without a start is an NBA record, and he picked up the league’s sixth man of the year honors. The next year Pierce would make the All-Star game before the Bucks traded him to the SuperSonics for Ellis, the high-points scorer of the five-overtime game. Robertson starred defensively for Milwaukee in 1989-90 and wound up on the NBA All-Defensive Second Team.
For Seattle, Ellis paced the offense by averaging 23.5 points in 55 games over the course of the 1989-90 season. His teammate McDaniel put up 21.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
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Read more about the Bucks.
As for other players involved in the marathon, Nate McMillan and Avery Johnson have spent time in the head coaching ranks of the NBA. McMillan has had stints with Portland and Indiana while Johnson guided Dallas to three straight 50-plus win seasons. Johnson later coached the Nets during their final two years in New Jersey and their first in Brooklyn.
No NBA game has gone to five overtimes since Milwaukee and Seattle’s thriller; however, there were six four-overtime contests in the following 30 years:
- Phoenix 140, Portland 139 (2019)
- Atlanta 139, Utah 133 (2019)
- Detroit 147, Chicago 144 (2015)
- Atlanta 142, New York 139 (2017)
- Chicago 168, Atlanta 161 (2019)
- Portland 140, Denver 137 (2018)
Ellis and McDaniel continue to share the top two spots for most minutes played in a single game (69 and 68 minutes, respectively). The closest a player has come since is Vince Carter, who was on the court for 63 minutes when his Toronto Raptors lost 119-118 in three overtimes against the Sacramento Kings in 2001.
We all grow up with playground ball where you just keep going all day trying not to lose because then you sit down and wait. In the NBA, your body generally knows what to expect, but that was like being a kid on the playground, just keep going until you drop.
Seattle shooting guard and the game’s leading scorer with 53 points
A little over 15 minutes of the game has been uploaded to YouTube:
Not many still images of the game are around. However, this shot of Rick Pierce driving to the basket against Derrick McKey is pretty nice:
There’s also this photo of Xavier McDaniel driving against Pierce, which is of decent quality:
Milwaukee made some great plays when they had to make them and we made some when we had to make them. They earned the win, but it’s too bad someone had to lose.
Seattle’s head coach
- Early in the 1989-90 NBA season, the Milwaukee Bucks outlasted the Seattle SuperSonics 155-154 in five overtimes.
- With 1:11 remaining in the fifth overtime, Tony Brown broke a 146-146 deadlock with a 3-point shot to give the Bucks a lead they’d never relinquish.
- Both teams finished the year around the middle of the pack in the NBA: Milwaukee exited the playoffs in the first round while Seattle missed out on the postseason due to tiebreakers.
- “Bucks outlast Sonics in 5 OTs”, Milwaukee Sentinel via GenealogyBank
- “SO-O-O-O-O LONG, SONICS – BUCKS FINALLY WIN IN 5 OVERTIMES”, The Seattle Times, November 10, 1989 via NewsBank
- “Five Overtimes Later; Bucks Beat SuperSonics”, The Washington Post, November 10, 1989 via ProQuest
- “This Week In History: Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle Sonics stage 5OT classic”, NBA.com
- “Bucks Defeat SuperSonics In 5 Overtimes”, The New York Times
- “N.B.A. Adopts New Rules”, The New York Times
- “Seattle SuperSonics at Milwaukee Bucks Box Score, November 9, 1989”, Pro-Basketball-Reference.com
- “155-154: The Inside Story of a Five-Overtime NBA Classic”, VICE