We start another getting-you-through-the-lockout list today, this one covering the most pivotal moments in Portland Trail Blazers history. Whether we knew it at the time or not, these events would change the team's destiny for years. Few of them will be unfamiliar, so be sure to offer your own reflections and of course the near-mandatory debate on what should be higher or lower on the list, what should be included or not.
We begin the list at #10 with the seminal moment when the franchise was born. The NBA was looking to expand in 1970 and Portland's name was on the list of possible destinations. Odds were long as Portland possessed exactly zero major league franchises at the time. It was also tucked almost as far west as you could get in a West Coast state which, for all anybody outside its borders knew, was still populated mainly by loggers and bears.
Making matters worse, Portland's original consortium of ownership candidates--10 in all--fell apart after the league raised the buy-in amount to a near-unthinkable $3.7 million. Franchise champion Harry Glickman found himself facing not only skepticism but a severe lack of cash. That's when Seattle investor Herman Sarkowsky called and said he and a friend, Larry Weinberg, might be willing to float the price themselves provided they didn't have to accommodate any of the other investors. Glickman breathed a sigh of relief and waited...and waited...never hearing back from Sarkowsky.
In February Glickman flew to a meeting in Los Angeles to convince the league to accept Portland's candidacy, sans investor commitment. For what happened next, we're going to turn to Wayne Thompson's Blazermania: This is Our Story. (More on the book in a minute...)
A few members of the expansion committee, led by Ned Irish, the founder of the New York Knicks and a promoter of events at Madison Square Garden, didn't want Portland in the league. "How can I," Irish asked his fellow owners, "put the name 'Portland Trail Blazers' on the marquee of Madison Square Garden?"
Glickman left the room dejected. As he reached the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, with the distinct feeling that his NBA dream had failed, he remembered that he had left his raincoat [back in the meeting room]. "When I got there," Glickman recalls, "Pollin was on the phone: 'Harry, it's for you...some guy named Sarkowsky is on the line..."
Sarkowsky told Harry that he had reached Weinberg, who was eager to buy into an NBA franchise...So the birth of the Trail Blazers came down to the fact that in February a raincoat is an essential accessory in water-soaked Oregon, but is completely unnecessary in L.A.
Now that the Blazers are an established, if not storied, franchise in the league and all but synonymous with the city it's easy to forget that once upon a time the margin of their existence was that narrow. If it weren't for Harry Glickman's tenacity and a few serendipitous connections we wouldn't be having this discussion today.
I supposed by rights this event should be #1 on the list since it laid the foundation for all of the others. We're going to concentrate on the court and office maneuvers instead, so we put it in a different place of primacy: first revealed on our list just as it was the first chronologically.
Take a moment today to remember the pioneers who, on a wish and a prayer, fought to bring professional basketball to Portland. I don't think even they could have imagined how well it would turn out, nor that forty years later tens of thousands of people would be coming together daily--even in the ever-lengthening absence of actual basketball--to discuss and get passionate about the dream that they started.
Now...speaking of Blazermania...the holidays are coming up. If the Trail Blazer fan in your life does not have this book already you need to get it for them. Here's the review we did on the book when it came out. Short synopsis: of course you get the company story from a company-sponsored book but that doesn't change the completeness nor the spectacular presentation of the volume. You'll get hundreds of stories to curl the Blazer fan's toes, such as the one we just referenced. And wow...the pictures have to be seen to be believed! You cannot love a Blazer fan without putting this under their tree. The Blazers have not contacted me about this book nor asked for this reference, I'm just telling you. I get as much pleasure from re-reading this book today as I did the day I got it. You can pick it up from amazon at an obscenely low price or get it directly from the Blazers.