Portland Trail Blazers
|Portland Trail Blazers|
|History||Portland Trail Blazers (1970-)|
|Colors||Black, Red, Silver, White|
|D-League Affiliate||Idaho Stampede|
|NBA Championships||1 (1977)|
The Portland Trail Blazers, commonly known as the Blazers, are an American professional basketball team based in Portland, Oregon. They play in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference of the National Basketball Association (NBA). The Trail Blazers originally played their home games in the Memorial Coliseum, before moving to the Rose Garden Arena in 1995. Based in Portland throughout its existence, the franchise entered the league in 1970, and is the only major league franchise in Oregon until 2011 when the Portland Timbers will join the MLS. The franchise has also enjoyed a strong following; from 1977 through 1995, the team sold out 814 consecutive home games, the longest such streak in American professional sports.
The team has advanced to the NBA Finals three times, winning the NBA Championship once, in 1977. The other NBA Finals appearances were in 1990 and 1992. The team has qualified for the playoffs in 26 seasons of their 39-season existence, including a streak of 21 straight appearances from 1983 through 2003. Four Hall of Fame players have played for the Trail Blazers (Lenny Wilkens, Bill Walton, Clyde Drexler, and Dražen Petrović), as well as one player (Scottie Pippen) who was recognized as one of the league's 50 greatest but who is not yet eligible for the Hall. Bill Walton is the franchise's most decorated player; he was the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player in 1977, and the regular season MVP the following year. Three Blazer rookies (Geoff Petrie, Sidney Wicks, and Brandon Roy) have won the NBA Rookie of the Year award. Two Hall of Fame coaches, Lenny Wilkens and Jack Ramsay, have patrolled the sidelines for the Blazers, and two others, Mike Schuler and Mike Dunleavy, Sr., have won the NBA Coach of the Year award with the team.
Name and Branding
The team has been known as the "Trail Blazers" throughout its history. Two weeks after being awarded an expansion franchise in 1970, team management held a contest to select the team's name. More than 10,000 entries were submitted. The most popular choice was "Pioneers," but that name was excluded from consideration as it was already used by sports teams at Portland's Lewis and Clark College. The name "Trail Blazers" received 172 entries, and was selected as the name.
The team's colors are red, white, black, and silver, which was added in 2002. The team's "pinwheel" logo, originally designed by the cousin of former Blazer executive Harry Glickman, is a graphic interpretation of two five-on-five basketball teams lined up against each other. One side of the pinwheel is rendered in red; the other side is rendered in a monochrome color (black, silver, or white). The logo has gone from a vertical alignment to a slanted one over time.
Portland's home uniforms are white in color, with red, black, and silver accents; the primary road uniform is black, with red, white, and sliver accents. The alternate road uniform is red with white, silver, and black accents. From 1970 to the 1977–78 season, the team wore red road uniforms, switching to black in that year. The team again wore red during the 1984–85 season, switching back to black road jerseys after that. In 2002, the team reintroduced red jerseys.
The team's mascot is Blaze the Trail Cat, a two-tone silver-colored mountain lion, which has been the team's official mascot since 2002. Prior to Blaze's debut, the Trail Blazers never had any official mascot. A popular unofficial mascot was the late Bill "The Beerman" Scott, a Seattle beer vendor/cheerleader who worked for numerous pro teams, including the Trail Blazers, the Seattle Seahawks, and the Seattle Mariners. Scott worked for the Trail Blazers from 1981 through 1985.
The Trail Blazers entered the NBA in 1970 as an expansion team, playing in the Memorial Coliseum. The team was led in its early years by Geoff Petrie and Sidney Wicks, and failed to qualify for the NBA postseason in their first six years of existence. During that span, the team had three head coaches (including future hall-of-famer Lenny Wilkens); team executive Stu Inman also served as coach. The team won the first pick in the NBA Draft twice during that span. In 1972 the team drafted LaRue Martin with the number one pick, and in 1974 the team selected Bill Walton from UCLA.
In 1976, the ABA-NBA merger saw those two rival leagues join forces. Four ABA teams joined the NBA; the remaining teams were dissolved and their players distributed among the remaining NBA squads in a dispersal draft. The Trail Blazers selected Maurice Lucas in the dispersal draft. That summer they also hired Jack Ramsay as head coach. The two moves, coupled with the emergence of Walton as a premier NBA big man, led the team to its first winning record (49–33), its first playoff appearance, and its only NBA Championship in 1977. Starting on April 5 of that year, the team began a sellout streak of 814 straight games—the longest in sports history—which did not end until 1995, after the team moved into a larger facility.
The team started the next season with a 50–10 record, and many predicted a dynasty in Portland, but it was not to be. Walton suffered a foot injury that ended his season and would plague his entire career, and the team struggled to a 58–24 record, losing to the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1978 conference semifinals. That summer, Bill Walton demanded to be traded to a team of his choice (Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, or Philadelphia 76ers) because he was unhappy with his medical treatment in Portland. Walton was never traded, and he held out the entire 1978–79 season and left the team as a free agent thereafter. Maurice Lucas left the team in 1980, and the Blazers "dynasty" was finished.
During the 1980s, the team was a consistent presence in the NBA post-season, failing to qualify for the playoffs only in 1982. However, they never advanced past the conference semifinals during the decade. The Pacific Division of the NBA was dominated by the Los Angeles Lakers throughout the decade, and only the Lakers and the Houston Rockets represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. Key players for the Blazers during the early 1980s included Mychal Thompson, Fat Lever, Darnell Valentine, Wayne Cooper, T.R. Dunn, Jim Paxson, and Calvin Natt.
In 1983, the team selected University of Houston guard/forward Clyde Drexler with the 13th pick in the draft; "Clyde the Glide" would become the face of the franchise for over a decade, and the team's second-most decorated player (after Walton). The following year, the Trail Blazers landed the #2 pick in the NBA Draft. After the Houston Rockets selected Drexler's college teammate Hakeem Olajuwon, known at that time as Akeem Olajuwon, at #1, the Trail Blazers selected Kentucky center Sam Bowie. Drafting third, the Chicago Bulls selected Michael Jordan. Many sportswriters and analysts have criticized the selection of the injury-plagued Bowie over Jordan as the worst draft pick in the history of American professional sports. That summer, the Blazers also made a controversial trade, sending Lever, Cooper, and Natt to the Denver Nuggets for high-scoring forward Kiki Vandeweghe. In the 1985 Draft, the Blazers selected point guard Terry Porter with the last pick of the first round. Porter would go on to become one of the top point guards in the league, and the Blazers' all-time leader in assists.
However, the Blazers continued to struggle in the post-season, and in 1986, Ramsay was fired and replaced with Mike Schuler. That off-season, the team drafted two players from behind the Iron Curtain, Arvydas Sabonis and Dražen Petrović, and sent Thompson to the San Antonio Spurs for former Oregon State University star Steve Johnson. Johnson was a high-scoring forward-center who the team intended to pair with Bowie on the frontline. It was not to be, as Bowie broke his leg five games into the 1986–87 season, missing the next two and a half seasons. During Schuler's brief tenure, the Blazers failed to advance out of the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Paul Allen Buys the Team
In 1988, billionaire Paul Allen purchased the Blazers. His first season as owner was one marked by turmoil, as conflicts erupted over who should start at several positions. Both Vandeweghe and Johnson suffered injuries; they were replaced in the starting lineup by Jerome Kersey and Kevin Duckworth. Several players, most notably Drexler, were accused of undermining Schuler. The team struggled to a losing record and appeared in danger of missing the playoffs. Schuler was fired and replaced on an interim basis with assistant coach Rick Adelman and Vandeweghe was traded to the New York Knicks. Under Adelman, the team achieved a 39–43 record, and barely qualified for the playoffs. That offseason, the team traded Sam Bowie (who had returned to the team to end the season) to the New Jersey Nets for forward Buck Williams, and Adelman was given the coaching job on a non-interim basis.
The addition of Williams, and the replacement of the defensively-challenged Vandeweghe with the defensive-minded Kersey, turned the team from a poor defensive squad into a good one. Led by the charismatic Drexler, the team reached the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992, losing to the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls, respectively. Possibly inspired by the 1985 Chicago Bears's The Super Bowl Shuffle, during the runnup to their 1990 Finals appearance, the Blazers recorded two songs: "Bust a Bucket" and "Rip City Rhapsody" (in reference to the city's nickname). The year in between their two finals appearances, the team posted a league-best 63–19 record before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals. However, the team failed to win an NBA title, and failed to advance past the first round in 1993 and 1994. Adelman was fired after the 1994 season, and replaced with P.J. Carlesimo, which led to the resignation of executive vice-president Geoff Petrie, a close friend of Adelman's
In July 1994, the Trail Blazers announced the hire of a new team president, former Seattle SuperSonics general manager Bob Whitsitt. Whitsitt immediately set about revamping the Blazers roster; this included dismantling the Drexler-led team that had twice been to the finals, but which was getting old. In 1993, Kevin Duckworth was traded to the Washington Bullets for forward Harvey Grant. Several key players were permitted to walk away in free agency, including Buck Williams (1996), Terry Porter (1996), and Cliff Robinson (1997), which left Jerome Kersey unprotected in the 1996 expansion draft. Drexler requested to be traded to a contender, and the Trail Blazers traded him to the Houston Rockets. In the fall of 1995, the team left the Memorial Coliseum for a new home, the 20,000-seat Rose Garden. The sellout streak ended in the new building.
In an effort to rebuild, the team acquired several players who were highly talented, but had reputations for off-court troubles. Isaiah Rider, who was traded by the Minnesota Timberwolves for just a draft pick and career backups due to his frequent arrests and lack of punctuality, was arrested for marijuana possession two days before his debut with the Blazers. Rasheed Wallace, who was acknowledged as a hot-tempered player since college, was also acquired in a trade with the Washington Bullets. Point guard Kenny Anderson was signed as a free agent, and subsequently traded for Damon Stoudamire. Initially, this approach worked, as the team returned to the Western Conference finals in 1999 under head coach Mike Dunleavy, Sr.. After being swept by the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs, Whitsitt sent Rider and guard Jim Jackson to the Atlanta Hawks for guard Steve Smith and acquired former All-Star forward Scottie Pippen from the Houston Rockets. This team again advanced to the Western Conference Finals, where they faced a Los Angeles Lakers team led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. In that series, the Trail Blazers dropped three out of the first four games before winning the next two, forcing a pivotal Game 7. The Blazers had a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, but lost the game and the series to the Lakers, who went on to win the first of three consecutive titles.
"Jail Blazers" era
The Portland Trail Blazers made a series of personnel moves in the 2000 and 2001 off-seasons that failed to produce the desired results, and continued to alienate the community. Up-and-coming forward Jermaine O'Neal was traded to the Indiana Pacers for Dale Davis. Brian Grant signed with the Miami Heat, and he was replaced with troubled ex-Seattle forward Shawn Kemp. The team started off well, posting the Western Conference's best record through March 2001, but then signed guard Rod Strickland to augment their point guard corps. The move backfired, and the team lost 17 of its remaining 25 games, and was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs (swept by the Los Angeles Lakers). Many in the media began to criticize the team, and Whitsitt, previously proclaimed a genius for his work in both Seattle and Portland, started coming under criticism. A particular criticism was that Whitsitt was attempting to win a title by assembling a roster of superstars, without paying attention to team chemistry. Longtime NBA coach and analyst Doug Collins referred to Whitsitt as a "rotisserie-league manager." A fan was ejected from the Rose Garden for holding up a banner that said "Trade Whitsitt", and many in the national media started referring to the team as the "Portland Jail Blazers".
That offseason, the churning continued. Dunleavy was fired, and replaced with Maurice Cheeks, a "players coach" who some thought would relate better to the players than Dunleavy did. More transactions followed as the Blazers traded Steve Smith to the Spurs for Derek Anderson. In one of his most controversial moves to that time, Whitsitt signed free agent Ruben Patterson, who had previously pled no contest to a felony sexual assault charge, and was required to register as a sex offender. Popular center Arvydas Sabonis, who during the playoffs had a towel flung in his face by Wallace, decided to leave the team.
The next two seasons were just as disastrous for the team's reputation. Numerous players, including Wallace, Stoudamire, and Qyntel Woods, were arrested for marijuana possession. Woods pled guilty to first-degree animal abuse for staging dog fights in his house, some involving his pit bull named Hollywood. Both Hollywood and Woods' other pit bull, Sugar, were confiscated, and Woods was given eighty hours of community service. He also agreed to donate $10,000 to the Oregon Humane Society. Wallace was suspended for seven games for threatening a referee. Zach Randolph and Patterson got in a fight during practice, with Randolph sucker punching his teammate in the jaw. Police answering a burglar alarm at Stoudamire's house noticed a marijuana smell, searched the premises, and found a pound of cannabis located in a crawlspace; the search was later declared illegal and charges in the matter were dropped. Guard Bonzi Wells famously told Sports Illustrated in a 2002 interview:
they [fans] really don't matter to us. They can boo us every day, but they're still going to ask for our autographs if they see us on the street.
Fan discontent soared; despite the team continuing to post a winning record, attendance at the Rose Garden started to decline. In the summer of 2003, with attendance declining, the team going nowhere on the court, and an exorbitant payroll, Whitsitt announced that he would leave the team to focus on Paul Allen's other franchise, the Seattle Seahawks.
Downfall; Rose Garden bankruptcy
To replace Whitsitt, the team hired two men at new positions. John Nash, a veteran NBA executive, was hired as general manager, and Steve Patterson as team president. The new management promised a focus on character while remaining playoff contenders; the team soon published a "Twenty-Five Point Pledge" to fans. Troublesome players including Wells, Wallace, and Jeff McInnis were traded away. However, the team failed to qualify for the 2004 NBA Playoffs, ending a streak of 21 straight appearances.
The following year was marked by more trouble as the team plummeted to a 27–55 record. The bankruptcy of the Oregon Arena corporation, which resulted in the Rose Garden being owned by a consortium of investment firms, further alienated the fanbase, as did an incident in which forward Darius Miles (himself African-American) called coach Maurice Cheeks a "nigger." The latter incident was compounded by what many viewed as inadequate discipline for Miles, followed by a secret agreement between the team and Miles to refund the amount of his fine. Cheeks was fired that season and replaced on an interim basis by director of player-personnel Kevin Pritchard. That summer the team hired Nate McMillan, who had coached the Sonics the prior season, and Pritchard returned to the front office.
The following 2005–06 season was not better, as the Blazers posted a league-worst 21–61 record. Attendance was low, and the year was not free of player incidents. Players such as Miles, Patterson, Randolph, and Sebastian Telfair were involved in either on-court bickering or off-court legal incidents. Nash was fired at the end of the season, with Steve Patterson assuming the general manager role in addition to his duties as president. In addition, the team had a poor relationship with the management of the Rose Garden, frequently complaining of a "broken economic model". It was widely speculated by the end of the year that Paul Allen would sell the team; and the team was offered for sale that summer, with several groups expressing interest. However, Allen was willing to spend money and urged Pritchard to make draft-day trades. He subsequently took the team off the market.
Rebirth in 2007
In the spring of 2007, Steve Patterson resigned as team president, and Paul Allen entered into an agreement to re-purchase the Rose Garden. On the court, the team finished with a 32–50 record, an 11-game improvement, and Brandon Roy was named the 2006–07 Rookie of the Year. That summer Pritchard was promoted to general manager, and former Nike Inc. executive Larry Miller was hired as team president. The Blazers won the 2007 NBA Draft Lottery and selected Ohio State center Greg Oden with the #1 pick in the draft. Many had speculated that they might choose Kevin Durant instead; Durant was picked at #2 by local rivals the Seattle SuperSonics. Oden suffered a pre-season knee injury requiring microfracture surgery, and missed the entire 2007–08 season.
Despite this, the Trail Blazers had a 13-game winning streak that began in early December, resulting in a 13–2 record, an NBA best for the month of December. McMillan won NBA Coach of the Month honors, and Roy garnered NBA Western Conference Player of the Week honors in back-to-back weeks (the first Trail Blazer to accomplish the feat since Clyde Drexler in the 1990–91 season). Roy was also named as a reserve for the 2008 NBA All-Star Game, the first All-Star for the Blazers since Rasheed Wallace in 2001. The Blazers finished the season 41–41, their best record since the 2003–04 season.
The team continued to improve in the 2008–09 season. Greg Oden finally debuted with the Blazers, as did Spanish swingman Rudy Fernández. Roy appeared in his second straight All-Star Game, and had a career-high 52 points against the Phoenix Suns and game-winning shots against the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks. The Blazers clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2003 and achieved a winning season for the first time since the 2002–03 season. As the fourth seed and holding home court advantage, the Portland Trail Blazers played the fifth-seeded Houston Rockets in the 2009 Playoffs. Houston won the playoff series 4 games to 2.
During the 2010 off-season, the Blazers' front office experienced significant personnel changes beginning on July 19, 2010 with the announcement of new general manager Rich Cho, succeeding former general manager Kevin Pritchard, who was relieved of his duties after the 2010 NBA Draft. Cho became the first general manager of Asian descent in NBA history.
On August 12, the Trail Blazers signed two new assistant general managers, Bill Branch and Steve Rosenberry. Branch and Rosenberry replaced former assistant general manager Tom Penn, who was released by Portland in March. The organization also made changes to Nate McMillan's coaching staff by hiring Bernie Bickerstaff, Bob Ociepka and Buck Williams with Bickerstaff assuming the lead Assistant Coach position due to the departure of Monty Williams.
The Blazers acquired Rookies Armon Johnson, Luke Babbitt, and Elliot Williams from the 2010 NBA Draft and off-season trades. On July 21, Wesley Matthews signed a five-year deal with the Blazers after his former team, the Utah Jazz, declined to match their offer.
On October 31, former Trail Blazer and Oregon Sports Hall of Fame inductee Maurice Lucas passed away due to cancer. The current Blazers team honored him by wearing #20 patches on their jerseys for the entire season.
Strikingly similar to the previous season, Portland was overcome with injuries from the start of the 2010-11 season. Jeff Pendergraph and rookie guard Elliot Williams both suffered knee injuries that sidelined them for the rest of the season; Portland later waived Pendergraph. On November 17, 2010, the team announced that Oden would have microfracture surgery on his left knee, ending his 2010–2011 season. This injury marked Oden's third NBA season cut short due to a knee injury. Three-time All-Star Brandon Roy underwent double-arthroscopic surgery on January 17, 2011 to repair both knees after dealing with constant struggles, leaving his future up in the air. Just days after, Marcus Camby also underwent arthroscopic knee surgery to repair his left knee.
Despite struggles with injury, Portland performed at a playoff level throughout the 2010–11 season. LaMarcus Aldridge emerged as the focal point of the team and posted career-high numbers, as well as Western Conference Player of the Week and Month honors. Wesley Matthews also emerged in the absence of Brandon Roy, proving his worth as the Blazers' key off-season addition. Believing the team could make a significant run in the playoffs, Rich Cho executed his first major trade on February 24, 2011, just seven minutes before the deadline. The Trail Blazers sent forward Dante Cunningham, center Joel Przybilla and center Sean Marks to the Charlotte Bobcats in return for former All-Star and All-Defensive forward Gerald Wallace. This transaction was largely credited with turning around the Blazers despite their numerous roster injuries. The emergence of Aldridge and the inspiring play of Matthews kept the Blazers competitive, sealing another playoff berth by winning 48 games. However, like in their last two postseasons, the Blazers were eliminated in six games of the first round, this time against the Dallas Mavericks.
During the 2011 off-season, the Blazers released General Manager Rich Cho, supposedly due to communication and relationship problems with owner Paul Allen. Director of Scouting Chad Buchanan took over as acting interim General Manager. The dismissal of Cho was criticized by Sports Illustrated as "illogical", although they noted that Allen had did a lot of questionable moves during his tenure as team owner.
On June 23, 2011, the day of the 2011 NBA Draft, the Trail Blazers drafted guards Nolan Smith from Duke University with the 21st selection and Jon Diebler from Ohio State University with the 51st selection. On the same day, the Blazers front office had made a three team trade with the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks. The trade would send Blazers guards Andre Miller to Denver and Rudy Fernandez to Dallas along with an international player who had yet to make an appearance for Portland, Petteri Koponen. Denver would then send guard Raymond Felton to Portland and Denver would also receive rookie forward Jordan Hamilton from Dallas as well as a future second round pick from Portland.
|Portland Memorial Coliseum||1970-1995|
#14 Lionel Hollins
#15 Larry Steele
#20 Maurice Lucas
#22 Clyde Drexler
#30 Terry Porter
#32 Bill Walton
#45 Geoff Petrie
#77 Dr. Jack Ramsay