By Connie McDougall
Photos by Rod Mar and
Jeff Reinking/NBA Photos
Frank and Sarah Furtado worked together in SPC's Athletic Department and
then for the Seattle Sonics.
Frank, Sarah and Sonics General Manager Wally Walker gathered in front of
the new Furtado Center to talk with visitors.
At halftime of the Sonics and Utah Jazz game on February 23, SPU Athletic
Director Tom Box (left) and Alumni Director Doug Taylor presented Frank with
a copy of the endowment established by the Sonics to provide scholarships
for SPU physical education students with financial need.
Frank and Sarah Furtado
met in the farming town of Ripon, California. They came from entirely
different cultures. She was the very-American daughter of a Free Methodist
minister, and he was the Roman Catholic son of a Portuguese immigrant. Frank
remembers his first meal at Sarah's house: "The food was so bland —
chicken and dumplings!" Sarah was likewise perplexed by the Mediterranean
feasts in the Furtado household.
The Korean War separated the two when Frank was trained by the U.S. Navy as a medic. After the conflict
ended, they married, moving to Seattle so he could attend Seattle Pacific
College. "Sarah attended one year and loved it," recalls Frank. They lived
in "married" housing, a place with few amenities. "We cut a hole in the wall
between apartments to share a phone with our neighbor," he laughs.
Frank decided he wanted to be a coach and teacher like SPC Track and Field
Coach Ken Foreman. "I became a Foreman disciple," says Frank. "He was a
master teacher and so inspirational."
After his graduation in 1960, Frank and Sarah moved south so he could earn a
master's degree in exercise science at the University of Oregon. Frank coached for
two years at George Fox College
before returning to Seattle Pacific, where he was the wrestling coach and
Sarah managed the Athletic
Department. "She was the glue that held us together," recalls Soccer
Coach Cliff McCrath.
Ron Sorensen, a 1970 graduate and former Falcon wrestler, clearly remembers
the rigors of Frank Furtado's training. "We did our 'daily doubles' morning
and night, and then ran around Green Lake."
Sorensen adds that Furtado was known for his big heart.
"He gave spiritual guidance to these guys, many of whom weren't Christians.
He showed us that he cared about us."
In 1970, Sarah was wooed away by the Sonics. "I told Frank that they
actually have petty cash there, so I didn't have to buy the coffee!" she
says. Four years later, Frank followed, becoming the Sonics trainer.
Exciting, yes, but he discovered the young
organization was ill-equipped. "Not even an ice-making
machine," he says. "On my way to work every day, I'd stop at a store and
pick up bags of ice."
The Sonics eventually coalesced into a top NBA team, yet it was like family
to the Furtados in those days, especially the players. "Sarah loved them,"
Frank says. "She was their gal."
The home of Seattle's NBA team
has always had a utilitarian title: the Sonics Practice Facility. On
February 23, 2001, it got a new name, with roots that stretch across the
Atlantic to Portugal.
The facility is now The Furtado Center, named for Seattle Pacific University
alumni Frank and Sarah Furtado.
February 23 was also declared "Frank and
Sarah Furtado Day" by Seattle Mayor Paul Schell. And that evening, at an SPU
reception, the couple was again recognized with the announcement of a
$26,000 endowment established by the Sonics in the Furtado name, providing
scholarships to future students.
These accolades and many more acknowledge the Furtados' long associations
with the Sonics and the University. Both husband and wife had careers at
Seattle Pacific before moving on to the NBA. Sarah worked for 26 years as a
Sonics executive assistant, the front-office lifeline for eight general
managers. Frank, also a 26-year Sonics veteran, is the team's recently
retired athletic trainer, twice named NBA Trainer of the Year.
In addition to professional success, the two created a living legacy: three
children, Frank III, Michelle and Cherie; and two grandchildren, Robbie and
Jessica. "I never would have imagined all this," Franks admits, "never in a
And Frank was their man. Former Sonics
player and now Head Coach Nate McMillan calls Frank "Doc," because Furtado
so often fixed his battered body. "He knows everything I've been through,
and he would never let me give up," says McMillan, adding that Furtado was
always meticulous, sometimes stern, and deeply caring. "No one has a clue
how much he did for us."
In addition to the team's health, Furtado was responsible for the Sonics
travel — luggage, tickets, even wake-up calls. "Very few trainers in
the NBA take all that on," says McMillan.
Another former Sonic, Dale Ellis, has his own nickname for Frank Furtado:
"Godfather — because he's just like an old Italian godfather," Ellis
laughs. "He commanded respect, and you know, you don't want the healer mad
at you. In this game, people come and go, but Frank touched a lot of
people's lives. I'll never forget him."
The Furtados look back on their own lives with astonishment and gratitude.
"It was always about the work," Frank says, telling the story of a young man
who once asked him how he "networked" his way to the top. "It wasn't about
networking," Furtado explains. "From the beginning, at Seattle Pacific and
with the Sonics, we just did the best job we could. We were so enamored by
what we were doing, it never occurred to us that we couldn't succeed."
Frank never left injured players behind at home. He didn't want anyone
else treating them. They were his players.
Seattle Sonics Head Coach
Frank is one of the most ego-less people I've ever met. ... The players
came to him and spilled their guts. He was their advisor, naturally a
counselor. I never heard him say a bad thing about anyone.
Marc St. Yves,
Seattle Sonics Equipment Manager
Our daughter Cherie worked in the Sonics Ticket Office and mailroom; our
son worked as a ball boy. Ever since we started, we loved the Sonics and
they've been a part of our family.
Sarah can work at anything. She's a people person; I'm not. She's the one
who worked with all the Sonics movers and shakers, not me.