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It seemed fitting that the board of governors of the National Basketball Association (NBA) saw a future for their sport in Portland, where pioneers settled in 1845 at the convergence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. Years earlier, from 1804 to 1806, explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had blazed the Oregon Trail, opening the Pacific Northwest to development. So when Portland was granted an NBA franchise in 1970, perhaps no better name for the team could have been selected from nearly 10,000 entries than the Portland Trail Blazers.
Portland Trail Blazers Are in Business
Pioneering the cause of basketball in Portland was Harry Glickman, local entrepreneur, and professional sports promoter, who on February 6, 1970, proudly witnessed the granting of an expansion franchise to the city by the NBA Board of Governors at a cost of $3.7 million. Portland was one of three teams (Cleveland and Buffalo were the others) to begin playing in the 1970-71 season. Glickman, who became the executive vice-president and general manager of the Trail Blazers, and owners Herman Sarkowsky, Robert Shmertz, and Lawrence Weinberg, hired Stu Inman as Portland's first scout and Rolland Todd from the University of Nevada in Las Vegas as the first head coach. Geoff Petrie, a six-foot, four-inch shooter from Princeton was the first college draft selection and LeRoy Ellis, a rebounder with the Baltimore Bullets, was the first Trail Blazer selected in the NBA expansion draft.
The Trail Blazers began playing in Portland's Memorial Coliseum in an inter-squad game on June 27, 1970. High scorers for the game were Geoff Petrie and Ron Knight. The first pre-season game was played in September against San Francisco at Mark Morris High School in Longview, Washington, with the Blazers losing 119-118. Their first win came two days later in another pre-season game against San Francisco. The regular season started for the Blazers on October 16 before 4,273 fans in Portland's Memorial Coliseum with a 115-112 win over Cleveland.
Although Portland finished their inaugural season better than the other two new NBA franchises, their 29-win and 52-loss record was disappointing. This record, however, was the second-best ever by a first-year franchise. Geoff Petrie shared NBA Rookie of the Year honors with Boston's Dave Cowens and became the seventh rookie in NBA history to top the 2000-point mark. He was a unanimous pick for the NBA All-Rookie team and the first Blazer to be selected for the NBA All-Star game.
Providing thrills to Portland fans along with sharpshooting guard Petrie, who scored more than 40 points in ten games during his six years as a Blazer, was "Mr. Everything" Sidney Wicks who joined the team for the 1971-72 season. Wicks came to Portland from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where he had led the Bruins to National Championships in 1969 and 1970. By the season's end, Wicks had racked up Rookie of the Year honors, and was selected for the All-Rookie team and the NBA All-Star game.
Although the season ended with another disappointing record--18 wins and 64 losses--it was not without its highpoints. One came on November 19 when team captain Rick Adelman produced 17 assists against Cleveland, a team record that would last almost ten years. On March 18, Portland beat the NBA Finals-bound New York Knicks by 47 points (133-86). Coach Rolland Todd was dismissed on February 3, 1972, and was replaced as interim coach by former scout and Director of Player Personnel Stu Inman. LeRoy Ellis was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for a future draft pick.
The 1972-73 season saw a steady improvement for the team under the coaching leadership of Jack McCloskey of Wake Forest. The team ended with three more wins than the previous season, 21-61. Petrie and Wicks continued their high scoring and both finished among the league's top ten scorers. Petrie scored a team record of 51 points in two games against the Houston Rockets. The 1973-74 season ended only slightly better (27-55), but not enough for team management. McCloskey was let go at the end of the season.
Bill Walton Joins the Team
The 1974-75 witnessed two major personnel changes that breathed life into the Blazers. Lenny Wilkins was brought on as new head coach, and player Bill Walton, three-time College Player of the Year from UCLA, was taken as Portland's No. 1 choice in the 1974 NBA draft. Although injuries benched Walton in all but 35 games his rookie season, he averaged 12.8 points per game (ppg) and 12.6 rebounds per game (rpg). Sidney Wicks led the team with 21.7 ppg and 10.7 rpg in 82 games, and was selected to play in the NBA All-Star game. On February 26 in an overtime win over the Lakers, Wicks pulled down a club-record 27 rebounds. On October 18, Portland defeated Cleveland in a first-ever four-overtime win, 131-129.
Wilkins, who would go on to become one of the winningest coaches in NBA history and be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame, could only lead the Blazers to a 38-44 record for the 1974-75 season. The following season saw the Blazers win one less game, ending with 37 wins and 45 losses. Although plagued again with injuries for most of the season, Walton exhibited signs of greatness during a winning 12-2 stretch mid-season, when he averaged 21.1 points and 17.8 rebounds, including a 36-point, 22-rebound game in a victory over Atlanta, and a 27-point, 22-rebound game in a win over the Lakers. He ended the season with an 18.1 point-per-game average, slightly below team leaders Wicks (19.1 ppg) and Geoff Petrie (18.9 ppg).
Coach Wilkins, unable to transform the Blazers into winners, was replaced by Jack Ramsay in June 1976. Ramsay, having come to Portland after leading the Buffalo Braves to the NBA Finals three straight years, was one of several factors that transformed a new era for the Trail Blazers.
Blazermania Is Born
Ramsay, known for his colorful wardrobe and disciplined-coaching style, was described by Blazer Executive Vice-President Harry Glickman as possessing "one of the best minds in the game.a brilliant teacher and motivator." Star players Wicks and Petrie had been replaced by forwards Maurice Lucas and Bobby Gross, and guards Dave Twardzik and Lionel Hollins. But a healthy Bill Walton proved to be the type of player Coach Ramsay could build a winning team around.
Blazermania was born on April 8, 1977, when a capacity crowd packed Memorial Coliseum to witness the Blazers take on the Phoenix Suns in a 122-111 win. That win began an 814-game sellout string, the longest-known sellout string in the history of professional sports.
The season ended with a 49-33 record, a tie for fourth in the league, third in the conference and second in the division. But more importantly, they were off to the Finals for the first time in franchise history. And what a finish! After getting past Chicago and Denver, the Blazers swept the Lakers, the team with the regular season's best record, and faced the Philadelphia 76ers in the Finals. The 76ers, lead by "Dr. J" Julius Erving, won the first two games. Portland took the next four, becoming only the second team in NBA history to win a title after losing the first two games in the series, and the second team ever to go all the way in their first post-season appearance. The following day 50,000 fans lined the streets of Portland for a victory parade. In true form, Bill Walton was named NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) with 20 points, 23 rebounds and a Finals-record eight blocked shots. Walton, an All-NBA Second team and All-Defensive team selection, led the league in rebounding (14.4 rpg) and blocked shots (3.25bpg).
Labeled the "team of destiny," Portland began the 1977-78 season looking like true NBA champions. Through their first 60 games, they racked up 50 wins, including a club-record 26 wins in a row and outscored their opponents by 9.9 points per game. Then disaster struck when Walton and several other players went out with injuries the second half of the season. Despite winning only eight of their final 22 games, Portland managed to finish the season with the league's best record, 58-24, and limped into the Finals. The Blazers were ousted in the Western Conference Semifinals by their neighbors, the Seattle SuperSonics. Bill Walton, who had led the team in scoring (18.9 ppg), rebounding (13.2 rpg) and blocked shots (2.52 bpg), was selected as the NBA's MVP.
For the 1978-79 season, Walton and Lloyd Neal were sidelined with injuries and two rookies, Mychal Thompson and Ron Brewer, led the Blazers to the post-season again, after a 45-37 season. Phoenix knocked out Portland in the first round. Both Thompson and Brewer were selected to the NBA All-Rookie team. Neal, who had retired at the end of the season, became the first Trail Blazer to have his number retired (No. 36).
Walton Leaves Portland
Bill Walton, to the disappointment of Blazer fans, asked to be traded prior to the 1979-80 season, going to San Diego for Kermit Washington and Kevin Kunnert. Also joining the team were Calvin Natt, Jim Paxson, and Billy Ray Bates. Despite a strong start, the Blazers finished the season 38-44 and were below the .500 mark for the first time since the 1975-76 season. Calvin Natt was named to the NBA All-Star Rookie team.
Leading the Trail Blazers to a 45-37 season in 1981 were Kermit Washington, Mychal Thompson, and rookie Kelvin Ransey. For the fourth straight year since winning the NBA Finals, Portland exited the playoffs after the first round, losing to Kansas City. Kelvin Ransey was named to the NBA All-Rookie team and Kermit Washington was selected to the NBA's All-Defense Second team. But, once again, injuries to key players plagued the Blazers, including an ankle injury suffered by Kermit Washington prior to the season opener. Portland did not reach the Finals following the 1981-82 season, in spite of a 42-40 season record.
With a healthier squad the following season, Portland finished with a 46-36 record, and made it past the first round of the playoffs. After beating Seattle, the Blazers lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals. Jim Paxson represented Portland in the NBA All-Star game.
With two more victories than the previous year, the Blazers posted the second-best record in the Western Conference in the 1983-84 season, but were bumped in the first round of the playoffs by Phoenix. In a March 16 game against the Chicago Bulls, the teams went four overtimes before the Bulls pulled out a 156-155 win. The game, which lasted a club-record three hours and 24 minutes, was the highest-scoring game in Portland's franchise history. Jim Paxson, once again an All-Star selection, scored a career-high 41 points in the game. On March 23, Jack Ramsay became the second winningest coach in NBA history (703 career victories and second to Boston's Red Auerbach) when the Blazers defeated Phoenix 124-98.
Clyde Drexler Drafted from Houston
Clyde Drexler was selected from the University of Houston in the first round of the 1983 NBA draft. Joining him in Blazers' jerseys were Granville Waiters and Tom Piotrowski. In the second season with the Blazers, Drexler began to shine, along with Kiki Vandeweghe, the NBA's No. 3 scorer, who the Blazers acquired from Denver for Calvin Natt, Lafayette Lever, and Wayne Cooper. A key college draft pick was Sam Bowie, from Kentucky. At the end of the 1984-85 season, seven Blazers ended with double-digit scoring averages, including Vandeweghe (22.4 ppg), Thompson (18.4 ppg), Paxson (17.9 ppg), and Drexler (17.2 ppg). Bowie became the eighth Blazer in franchise history to be named to the NBA All-Rookie team.
The 1985-86 season was another disappointing season for the Blazers, finishing at 40-42, and losing in the first round of the playoffs. The second-half-of-the-season loss of Sam Bowie because of leg surgery had a major impact on the team. Clyde Drexler was selected to play in his first All-Star game.
Jack Ramsay, who had guided the Blazers to a 453-367 record, nine playoff appearances, and an NBA title, was replaced as head coach on May 28, 1986, by Mike Schuler. Schuler guided the Blazers to a 49-33 record, and was named NBA Coach of the Year. Another rising star in the Blazers' organization was Terry Porter, a rookie in 1985, who in a January 23 game against the Sacramento Kings, set a team record of 18 assists. Averaging 117.9 points per game, the Blazers advanced to the NBA Playoffs again but were upset by Houston in a first-round series.
Behind emerging stars Drexler and Porter, Portland ended their 1987-88 season with a 52-29 record. In a February 21 game against the Spurs, Jim Paxson became the first Trail Blazer to top 10,000 points. Other records set that season included Porter's 19 assists on April 14 against the Utah Jazz and Drexler's 2,185 points for the season, a club record. Once again, the Blazers failed to make it past the first round of the playoffs, this time falling to Utah.
Microsoft Cofounder Paul Allen Buys the Team
In May 1988, Blazers owner Larry Weinberg announced the sale of the organization to Microsoft cofounder and Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen. Coach Schuler left the Blazer organization in the middle of the 1988-89 season amid another losing season, 39-43. Rick Adelman, former Blazer player, took over as interim coach. High points of the season were Drexler's 50-point game on January 6 against Sacramento, and a club-record scoring average of 27.2 points per game. Kevin Duckworth, acquired in the 1986-87 season, joined Drexler in representing Portland in the All-Star game.
Portland capped a winning season under Adelman in 1989-90, with a 59-23 record, second best in the league and earned the nickname, "Rip City." They won the Western Conference Semifinals against Phoenix and took on the defending champion Detroit Pistons in the Finals, who won in five games. Drexler led the team in scoring and represented the team for the fourth time in five years at the NBA All-Star game.
A franchise best-ever record was achieved in 1990-91, with 63 wins and 19 losses. Adding power to the lineup was Danny Ainge, acquired from Sacramento, who with Porter, ranked among the league's top 10 three-point shooters. Drexler, Porter, and Duckworth were selected to the All-Star game. Coach Adelman appeared set to take the Blazers back to the NBA Championships. After beating Seattle in the opening round, they beat Utah in five games to advance to the Western Conference title round for the second year in a row. Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers put a stop to their dreams by ousting them in six games. Despite the disappointment, Rick Adelman was named NBA Coach of the Month for the months of November and April, head coach of the West in the All-Star game, and runner-up for Coach of the Year. Three Blazers returned to the All-Star game: Drexler, Duckworth, and Porter.
The 1991-92 season was another stellar season for the Blazers. They ended the season with a 57-25 record and were once again off to the Playoffs, beating the Lakers, Suns, and Jazz. Drexler set a club playoff-high record of 42 points against the Lakers on April 29; the team racked up a team playoff-record 153 points against Phoenix on May 11. In the Finals, Portland met Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, who beat the Blazers in six games.
For the fourth straight season, Portland won over 50 games, and ended with a 51-31 season. The season, however, was once again plagued by injury-stricken players, namely Drexler and Jerome Kersey. Adelman, who suffered through personal tragedies and player misconduct allegations, nonetheless achieved his 200-career win on November 22 against Detroit. Portland reached its 15th playoff berth in 16 seasons, but was stopped in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs.
In 1993-94, Portland continued their slow decline and ended the season with a 47-35 record. Rod Strickland replaced Terry Porter as point guard, and Harvey Grant was acquired from the Washington Bullets for Kevin Duckworth. Clifford Robinson replaced Drexler as the team's scoring leader and accompanied Drexler to his first NBA All-Star game. In the playoffs, Portland was ousted by the Houston Rockets, who went on to win the NBA title. Rick Adelman was fired after the playoff loss and replaced by P.J. Carlesimo, coach at Seton Hall University.
In July 1994, Blazers owner Paul Allen hired Bob Whitsitt as president and general manager of the Portland Trail Blazers and the Oregon Arena Corporation. A 1977 graduate in communications from Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a post-graduate degree in sports administration from The Ohio State University, Whitsitt came to Portland following an eight-year stint as president and general manager of the Seattle SuperSonics. While in Seattle, Whitsitt was named the 1994 NBA Executive of the Year.
A Transition of Eras: Clyde Drexler and the Rose Garden
On February 14, Clyde Drexler was traded to the Houston Rockers for Otis Thorpe. Drexler, a four-time NBA All-Star, was Portland's all-time scoring and rebounding leader. This was the last season for the Blazers in the familiar environs of Portland's Memorial Coliseum, their home for 25 years. The team was scheduled to move to their new Rose Garden arena the following season. The season ended at 44-38 and Portland was swept by the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs. Coach Carlesimo became the first coach in 25 years to move from the college ranks to the NBA and post a winning record in his first season.
The Oregon Arena Corporation was created in 1991 to develop a new arena for Portland. The result was the Rose Quarter, a 32-acre campus that encompasses the Blazer's Rose Garden arena, the Memorial Coliseum, the Rose Quarter Commons, and the One Center Court office complex which houses the Blazers' organization corporate offices.
The Blazers began their 1995-56 season in the 20,000-seat, $262 million Rose Garden against the Vancouver Grizzlies on November 3, 1995. After losing the game 80-92, Portland went on to finish the season with a 44-38 record. Lithuanian Arvydas Sabonis proved to be a key to the Blazer's successful season. The seven-foot, two-inch Sabonis was originally drafted by the Blazers in 1986, but spent six years in the Spanish league before joining the Blazers in 1995. Sabonis averaged 14.5 points per game and 8.1 rebounds, was named to the NBA All-Rookie First team, and was runner-up for the NBA Rookie of the Year Award and the Sixth Man Award. Chris Dudley won the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for exemplary service to the community. Portland lost to the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. In game five, Portland lost by a score of 102-64, snapping the previous year's playoff record-low 68 points, set by the Knicks against the Pacers.
The changes in the team roster prior to the 1996-97 season resulted in a 49-33 finish. The team nucleus benefited from player acquisitions in July that saw Harvey Grant and Rod Strickland go to Washington for power forward Rasheed Wallace, shooting guard Isaiah Rider come from Minnesota, and Kenny Anderson sign to a free-agent contract. Together with Clifford Robinson, Arvydas Sabonis, and Gary Trent, the team embarked on an 11-game winning streak in late February that equaled the second longest in team history. For the fifth straight year, however, Portland exited the Finals in the first round, this time losing to the Lakers, and Coach Carlesimo exited after three seasons at the helm.
Headlining the 1997-98 season was the hiring of Mike Dunleavy as head coach and the trade of 1996 Rookie of the Year and Portland native Damon Stoudamire, and Walt Williams and Carlos Rogers from Toronto for Kenny Anderson, Gary Trent, and Alvin Williams. Dunleavy guided Portland to a 46-36 record and its 16th consecutive trip to the playoffs, the longest current streak in the NBA. Once again, the Blazers were sent packing by the Lakers in the first round.
Mike Dunleavy earned Coach of the Year honors in 1998-99 after the Blazers raced to a 35-15 record in a lockout-shortened season. In the post-season, Portland swept past Phoenix and Utah, before losing to the Spurs in the Western Finals.
The 1999-2000 season saw an outstanding season of 59 victories, the second-best season in franchise history, marred by losses on and off the court. On May 5, popular Assistant Coach Bill Musselman lost a six-month battle with a rare disease, primary systemic amyloidosis. Two weeks earlier, the Blazers lost their regular season finale to Denver, failing to post the franchise's second 60-win season. In June, Portland's loss to Denver quelled their hopes for another NBA Finals matchup. New to the lineup were Bonzi Wells from Detroit, and Scottie Pippin traded from Houston. Mike Dunleavy was named NBA Coach of the Month in November. Rasheed Wallace was fifth in the league in field goal percentage and played in his first NBA All-Star game.
New Season Brings Another New Coach
Fifteen-year NBA veteran player and Chicago native, Maurice Cheeks, was named Portland's head coach on June 27, 2001, the tenth coach in franchise history. Cheeks, a former assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers, played with the 76ers for 11 years and is credited with the development of All-Star guard Allen Iverson's career and helping coach the 76ers to the NBA Finals. Prior to the season opening, Brian Grant was traded to Miami and Gary Grant to Cleveland in a three-team, five-player trade that brought Shawn Kemp from Cleveland and sent Chris Gatling and Clarence Witherspoon from Miami to Cleveland. Joe Kleine and Jermaine O'Neal were traded to Indiana for Dale Davis. On January, Scottie Pippin suited up for this 1,000th NBA game and his 133rd as a Blazer; on April 26, he played in his 200th playoff game. The Blazers ended their season with a 50-32 record and lost in three games to the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.
After three decades the Portland Trail Blazers have grown into one of the league's most successful franchise operations, on and off the court. Their story has included an NBA Championship, repeated visits to the Finals, and the opening of one of the nation's most impressive sporting arenas. The Blazers' organization has contributed not only entertainment, but service to the Portland community through involvement in youth development and educational programs, the Children's Hospital, Salvation Army, and Police Activities League. The team established the Hometown Hero of the Month Award, which honors players for outstanding community service; the NBA and WNBA Sportsmanship Awards; and has contributed to Prevent Child Abuse America, the Martin Luther King Holiday, Black History Month, Gallaudet University, and the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund. On the court, the Blazers have rekindled memories of the exciting Portland teams of old, and will, hopefully bring back to the Rose Garden something else--another NBA championship trophy.
Principal Competitors:Los Angeles Lakers; Utah Jazz; Seattle SuperSonics; Sacramento Kings; San Antonio Spurs.