Porterhouse

In case you haven’t seen it, Dwight Jaynes gave Blazersedge a shout-out in his new column about Terry Porter taking the reins in Phoenix.  In the course of that column he also mentioned that Terry was aware of the work Ben Golliver has done here on his behalf, which is always exciting news.  In honor of Terry Porter and all of the work he’s done to make Portland a better franchise and in honor of Ben and all the ways he’s championed the cause of Terry’s honoring, I thought it was high time I add my own recollections of #30 to the mix.

I was still in high school back in 1985 when Terry Porter became a Blazer.  During the summer I was at a gathering at the University of Oregon with a ton of peers.  We stayed in the dorms overnight.  This was before the days when cable channels were ubiquitous so we didn’t have access to the draft live.  But some dude down the hall had a radio and it didn’t take long for the draft-night word to spread.

“Did you hear who the Blazers drafted?”

“No.  Who?  Anybody we know?”

“No…it was some guy from Wisconsin-Stevens Point.”

“From whatzahoo now?”

“Yeah, I know.  And get this…it’s ANOTHER guard.”

At that point the moaning and complaining began from a chorus of voices still young enough to believe in their infallible superiority of judgment.

“Wisconsin-Stevens Point?  Who the heck has ever come from there?”

“We already have Drexler, Paxson, Colter, and Valentine!  Why the heck didn’t they draft a center?”  (Our superior knowledge informed us that plenty of quality centers were still available with the 24th and last pick in the first round.  Technically speaking we did select a center with the very next pick, a 7-footer named Mike Smrek from Canisius College.  He never played a game for us.  But I digress…)

“Hold on…it says here he didn’t even play guard in college.  He played center.”

“Oh great, so now we’re going to have a 6’3” guy posting up in the lane. I wonder if he can even dribble?” (laughter ensues)

“Hey, has anybody here heard of this guy Terry Porter?  That’s Porter, with a ‘P’.  No?  Me neither.”

And then of course there was the most common cry:  “The Blazers are STUPID!”  This was accompanied by a clicking off of the radio.

Unfortunately for us history would prove that NBA scouts and administrators are slight better at assessing talent than high-school dorm squatters.

Terry really started paying dividends in his second season, averaging 13 points and 9 assists while starting 80 games.  But the first time I remember noticing him outright was January 16, 1988.  We had played a rough-and-tumble game with the Spurs in their building down to the final seconds.  We were down by one point with the ball and called a timeout.  The play coming out of the huddle was for Clyde Drexler (natch) who had 33 points on the night.  But when the Blazers inbounded it to Terry he instead floated down to the coffin corner on the left hand side, just inside the three-point arc.  Down the clock ticked…three, two, one…but Terry never gave up the ball.  Instead in the closing second he lofted a jumper with a graceful arc…….swish!  121-120, Blazers win.  The TV crew interviewed Clyde after the game and they asked him about Porter’s game-winner.  Clyde said, “He better be glad that shot went in, because that wasn’t the play!”  Then-coach Mike Schuler had a reputation for being both a hard case and a control guy and had Terry not won the game he might not have made it out of the locker room intact.  Yet he did.

That was hardly the last time Terry gave Portland fans late-game heroics.  He quickly developed a reputation for having ice in his veins when the game was on the line.  You never wanted to foul him in the fourth quarter.  To this day I’m sure I can count the number of important foul shots his missed on one hand and still be able to hitchhike or order a couple of beers.  If you think back to the “Drexler years”, who was most often taking the shot at the buzzer to win or tie the game?  Here’s a hint:  it wasn’t Clyde.  More often than not Clyde would draw defenders like flies and then calmly pass to Terry for a near-sure bucket.  That’s when the games were close, of course, which didn’t often happen when Terry manned our helm.  From 1987-1993 Terry’s per-game averages ranged from 15-18 points and 5-10 assists.  Many of our best fast-break highlights from that era start with the ball in his hands, flying soon afterwards to Clyde or Jerome or Buck or Duck.  He never shot below 45% from the field for that period and his high was an astonishing 52% in 1987-88.  His free throw percentages ranged from 82-89%.  He could rebound and defend a little.  He never got hurt.  He was everything the team needed plus he was a class act in the community.  This guy we all laughed and moaned about when he was drafted made the All-Star team in 1990-91 and again in 1992-93.  He never stole the headlines or the credit, but he was in many ways the heart of those great teams.  All you have to do is look at his playoff statistics from 1989-1992 to see what this guy was all about.  20+ points, 50% shooting, 6-7 assists, three-pointers hit, rebounds grabbed…he did it all when it counted.  Fading memory holds most readily to the ultimate series versus Detroit, Los Angeles, and Chicago, but we would never have seen those series had Terry not performed spectacularly year after year against tough teams from Utah, Phoenix, and San Antonio.

Of course not everything was rosy.  Terry will always be associated with the last shot of the 1991 Western Conference Finals.  That is the year when all of our players, including super-subs Danny Ainge and Cliff Robinson, were running on all cylinders.  We had the NBA’s best record and should have won the championship.  But we dropped Game 1 of the WCF to Magic Johnson and the L*kers and later found ourselves having to claw back in a series-threatening Game 6 in L.A.   We had been getting squashed for most of the contest but put on a furious run late in the game to pull close.  The most famous memory of that game is probably Jerome Kersey with the ball on a near-certain, late-game, 2-on-1 fast break passing to Cliff Robinson under the bucket.  Uncle Cliffy watched the ball slip right through his fingers and all of Portland groaned at the lost opportunity.  But for me the enduring image is our final offensive possession.  We were down 90-91 and Clyde had the ball near the top of the three-point arc.  As was typical, he drew the double.  With time burning fast he tossed it to Terry who found himself at a 45-degree angle from the bucket, about 18 feet out, wide open.  He launched the oh-so-sure game-winner (He’s Terry, right?) and…it hit the front rim and caromed over.  Magic Johnson rebounded the ball and tossed it high into the air as the Blazers watched their perfect season slip away into futility.

I bring up this rather-painful memory because logically it should be my most enduring image of Terry, as no single positive incident soars as high as that one, painful moment digs deep.  Surprisingly, it doesn’t even register in the Top Ten Terry Moments.  Somehow that always seemed like a team loss and failure, not Porter’s.  That’s just the kind of guy he was…the good overwhelmed any shortcomings.  No matter what happened you knew this guy was good for you.

Terry’s tenure with the Blazers ended after an injury-shortened 1994-95 campaign.  We had acquired Rod Strickland as our guard of the future.  I remember people casually speculating that he was pretty much washed up anyway.  He ended up playing seven more years in the league with the Timberwolves, Heat, and Spurs.  In a young man’s league coaches and GM’s found him valuable enough to play until he was 38 years old.  He played in 72 games in his final season at that age.  Meanwhile Strickland may have been quicker and a better passer, but even at his best--which we didn’t always see--he never seemed to measure up to Porter’s legacy.

It’s no accident that Terry soon found a home in the coaching fraternity.  His good run with Milwaukee was ended prematurely.  Though he does have the misfortune of catching the Suns on what will likely be a slow downswing he should have the opportunity to show what he’s got before they set entirely.

In the end, I will remember Terry as a class guy who always gave full effort and affected games more than anyone thought he had a right to.  His deadly shooting, heady passing, and clutch demeanor will be his legacy to this team…along with 420-odds wins or so he led us to.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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