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Portland Trail Blazers

A professional basketball team in the Western Conference of the NBA.

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A Team for Those Who Prefer the Road Less Traveled

  • Sep 22, 2012
Rating:
+4
Whodda thunk it? Once you get north of California, the basketball-crazed west coast has but one team representing it. That, of course, wasn't always the case. The pacific northwest once had three teams of its own, great local sports rivalries, when it also had the Seattle Supersonics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Thunder_Rolls.html) and Vancouver Grizzlies (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...o_Roar_to_Speak_of.html). But those two teams were removed and went, respectively, to Oklahoma City and Memphis. So now there's one team left, the Portland Trail Blazers, to placate three major metropolitan areas and two states.

The Blazers are one of those teams with a small but fervently devoted fan base. There's a tight relationship between the team and its fans which is nicknamed Blazermania, and the team has been one of the NBA's biggest draws for a very long time. Blazers fans tend to rank near the top of a lot of those NBA fan devotion lists, right up there with fans of the Utah Jazz. They had a sellout streak which ran for 18 years, and a strong case can be made that it only ended in part because the team switched venues. The team is in no danger of being moved; it has an ironclad contract with the city of Portland which would keep them in the city even in the event of a sale.

Things weren't always like that for the Blazers, though. The Portland Trail Blazers were created in 1970, to go with the Cleveland Cavaliers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Cl...All_LeBron_s_Fault.html) and Buffalo Braves (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...lipped_and_Trimmed.html). When the team held their naming contest, they actually had to throw out the most popular entry, which for once was a very good and appropriate name. The sports-loving public wanted to call the team the Portland Pioneers, but that name was already taken by the teams over at Lewis and Clark College. So the name Trail Blazers was selected, with 172 entries.

In the first season, the Blazers won 29 games and drew poorly. From 1970 to 1974, the team never got over that original 29-win barrier, and in fact they won the first draft pick twice during the span. In 1972, they used the pick on LaRue Martin, who played in the NBA for four years, averaging 5.3 points per game and retiring with a grand total of 1430 career points to his name. Every team makes draft mistakes, but this one is notable because Bob McAdoo, one of the great centers in NBA history, was available. Buffalo snatched him up and was off on a series of playoff runs, and McAdoo, late in his career, finally played for an NBA champion when he joined the Lakers in the 80's. It wasn't the only time the Blazers royally fucked up in the draft.

Their second first-round pick came in 1974, and they grabbed Bill Walton from UCLA. That WAS a good draft decision; Walton went on to lead the Blazers to the 1977 NBA title before leaving Portland as a free agent in 1979 as a free agent. His career took him to the San Diego Clippers and he eventually landed with the Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html), where he played on the mighty 1986 squad which is often considered the greatest team in NBA history. Walton was the player who helped the Blazers beat the 29-win mark they set in their inaugural season, though they still weren't posting winning records. In 1976, their coach, Lenny Wilkens, was fired and replaced by Dr. Jack Ramsey. The ABA merger also happened to get finalized that year, and the team grabbed Maurice Lucas in the dispersal draft. In the 1977 season, Ramsey, Walton, and Lucas led the Blazers to a great 49-33 record, the first winning record in the team's history. Upon making the playoffs for the first time, they found themselves with the beginner's luck of the Irish. Beating the Chicago Bulls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html) and Denver Nuggets in the early rounds, the Blazers found themselves face to face with the Los Angeles Lakers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...5-Walking_on_Water.html), playing for the Western Conference Championship. Against all odds or expectations, the Trail Blazers found a way to sweep the Lakers before going to the NBA Finals and defeating the Philadelphia 76ers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...25-A_True_Original.html) in six games to win their first - and so far, only - NBA Championship. This was the year their sellout streak began.

Now the Blazers had set themselves up as the NBA's force with whom all must reckon, and reckon everyone did. The Blazers raced off to a sterling 50-10 record in the first 60 games, and ended the season at 58-24 mainly because of a quarantine level of injuries. The most notable injury was to Walton, who struggled with injuries for his entire career. When they got to the playoffs, they lost the semis to the Sonics, who went on to win the conference but lose the Finals. Walton left in free agency after sitting out the entire 1979 season, but despite that loss, the Blazers kept playing fantastic basketball, forever being a threat to win the conference. In 1978, the Blazers somehow managed to land their third-ever number one draft pick, which they used on Mychal Thompson. Thompson wasn't a bad pick; he played in the league awhile, retired with 12,810 career points, and played for two champions upon going to the Lakers in 1987. But it's hard to ignore the fact that he was taken over a projected superstar named Larry Bird, even despite the fact that they also drafted Clyde Drexler just a few years later.

In the early 80's, the Blazers were still selling out, playing great basketball. They kept on making the playoffs and frequently getting past the first round, but the Showtime Lakers were unleashed by this time and they kept halting the Blazers in their tracks. As previously noted, 1983 saw the drafting of Clyde Drexler, the greatest Trail Blazer. In the next draft, the Blazers fucked up the draft in THE way which would define every draft fuckup in the entire history of both the team and the league. Hakeem Olajuwon had been taken with the first pick. The Blazers needed help at center, so they drafted a player named Sam Bowie who had missed two full college seasons due to his legs being injured. The next player drafted that year was a projected superstar named Michael Jordan who was so good that none other than Bobby Knight - a friend of Portland's GM - called the team and told them to take that player. When the GM mentioned to Knight that the team needed a center, Knight didn't back away. He merely suggested, "WELL, PLAY HIM AT CENTER THEN!" The pissed off Jordan later returned and made the Blazers pay for that mistake. Not only did the Blazers ignore Jordan, but Charles Barkley and John Stockton were also on the board when the Blazers selected Bowie. I'm sure the team's GM that year would kill for a mulligan.

Bowie went on to suffer more leg injuries and is currently considered one of the biggest draft busts in the league's history. His injuries sidelined him for the entire 1988 season. A lesser-known story is that the team drafted a player named Jerome Kersey in the second round. He wasn't Jordan, but he did have a far better career than Bowie and was an anchor for the Blazers for a decade. Despite the bad draft picks, the Blazers were always playing consistently well, and they began a streak of playoff appearances in 1983 which ran for 20 years and culminated in two conference titles. Still, it's a safe bet that Blazers fans still imagine what was and what could - and by all standards, damn well SHOULD - have been.

Ramsay was fired in the 1986 offseason after too many first-round playoff losses. Mike Schuler was hired. His era was marked by one of the NBA's dominant offenses, but he never managed to figure out defense. That marked a bunch more first round playoff exits, as well as a bunch of controversies regarding the starters. A lot of players weren't fond of his coaching style, either, and Schuler was fired after a 1989 season in which he led the team to a 39-43 record with which they squeaked into the playoffs and were rapidly creamed by the Lakers. Along the way, they made another important draft pick with Clifford Robinson, who became another solid player. Schuler was replaced by Rick Adelman, and the Blazers kicked off the greatest era in their team history.

In the 1990 season, the Blazers went 59-23. Their playoff opponents were a bunch of cream puffs: The Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, and Phoenix Suns were the only things standing between Portland and the Finals, so they went all the way to the Western Conference title before getting beat in the Finals by the Detroit Pistons. In the 1991 season, the Blazers steamrolled through the entire league to a superb record of 63-19, the league best and their franchise best. They ended the Lakers' reign over the division, but that only pissed off the Lakers, who beat Portland in the Western Conference finals. In the 1992 season, the Blazers won the Western Conference title again, but they made a couple of mistakes: One was not discouraging the media's ridiculous yakking about a possible rivalry between Drexler and Michael Jordan, who played for the opposing Chicago Bulls. The second was spilling their game plan: Funnel Jordan out of the paint and make him beat them by shooting threes. Came the first game, Jordan decided to play along, and he rained threes down on Portland, embarrassing Drexler in the process. Both the media and the Trail Blazers clamped up after that.

After that, the Blazers still played well, but began showing signs of age, and inures started plaguing the team. Bob Whitsitt was also hired as a GM, and his acquisitions created a team that was strong on defense but weak on offense. Mostly, they were again stuck in that weird sports purgatory where they could get to the playoffs but never past the first round again. In 1996, the Jazz actually beat them in one game by a score of 102-64, those 64 being a record for fewest points scored in a playoff game. It wasn't until 1999 that the Blazers got through the first round again, when they beat Phoenix and Utah in the playoffs before losing the Conference Finals to San Antonio.

When the millennium arrived in Portland, there was bad news in the works. The team's personnel moves failed to come up with anything good, and the team slowly began losing. Whitsitt started trying to win with stars instead of team chemistry, and the players started developing a ton of off-court problems: Several were cited for marijuana, one threatened a referee, two got into a fight during practice, one had to register as a sex offender, and guard Bonzi Wells summed up the players' collective attitude when he told Sports Illustrated in 2002 that fans didn't matter to them, because no matter what, they would still ask for autographs and go to games. Fan discontent overtook the region, the the team was nicknamed the Jail Blazers.

The Blazers have been improving since then, and their character is in better standing. They've been up and down, but their great eras are pretty much over, and they've given in to standard unpredictability.

As mentioned, the Blazers don't have a fantastic draft history. McAdoo, Bird, Jordan, and most recently Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. Their greatest player is Clyde Drexler, who finally won his ring with the Houston Rockets in 1995. Him and Bill Walton are probably the most important and identifiable players in Blazers history.

The Blazers don't have any real rivalries anymore, with their rivals in the pacific northwest both having departed. Now their closest rivals live down in California. The Blazers do, however, have a very devoted fanbase which sold out games for 18 straight seasons. Discontent took off once the Jail Blazers era emerged, but even the most devoted of fans would leave during an era like that. You can't really blame them. The team has made it to the playoffs in most of the years of their existence, so adopting the Blazers means getting used to holding on to optimism, yet getting used to disappointment. It doesn't say a lot of good that in all their trips to the playoffs, they were only able to gather one title, even if the Showtime Lakers were standing in the way for a good number of their playoff years.

An adopting fan of the Portland Trail Blazers better know basketball real well. You don't want to get caught in Portland not knowing the team you claim to follow. Trail Blazers fans have the right to be proud of their team. They've been competitive even in years when they weren't.

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About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston ()
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Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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