As we mentioned last week, SBN-NBA is doing a league-wide project tomorrow with each site talking about cult heroes in franchise history. Instead of making up one, we asked for nominations. Making an executive decision I've narrowed the candidates to four. Today you get to vote on them. This evening I'll read your comments and do a write-up on your favorite for tomorrow morning.
In keeping with the definition we were given for this project, we're defining "cult hero" as any player beloved by a team's fan base who, for whatever reason, was never as appreciated around the league. I had to make several decisions when paring down the list. I didn't take anybody who made an All-Star team, nor anybody who would be immediately praised league-wide. I also avoided almost anybody from the height of the Drexler era, as those finals teams generated plenty of publicity and respect and most players from that era are well-regarded compared to their talent level. Thus you won't see Jerome Kersey, Kevin Duckworth, Terry Porter, Buck Williams, or Cliff Robinson as candidates even though all are beloved in Portland. Basically we're looking for a gap between respect in Portland and respect everywhere else that can't be bridged by stats, production, or wins alone.
The main voting for this event will be done in the comment section. Those votes and explanations will receive the most weight. There's also a poll attached. That will receive less weight, used only if there's a near-deadlock between two or more players.
The four candidates are Arvydas Sabonis, Billy Ray Bates, Mark Bryant, and the Blazers version of Drazen Petrovic.
Sabonis, of course, was the greatest international center ever. That makes him an unlikely candidate for "cult hero" status. But this isn't Lithuania. Blazer fans loved him without reservation but people around the league--likely seeing him only when referees allowed Shaq to clear him with the flying forearm--tended to scoff and downplay his contributions. Certainly his NBA level of play was nowhere near his service to the Soviet Union. That didn't matter to Portland fans, thus his inclusion.
Billy Ray Bates will be remembered by nobody outside of Portland and is probably the best overall candidate for true cult status. His following was rabid and the rise in interest surrounding his productive months here was tangible. He played in an older era and a down era for the team, however, which may affect his status.
A couple years ago Mark Bryant won our vote for the best non-star ever to play for the Blazers. He's the embodiment of a journeyman but he's remembered with fondness, though of a lasting, low-level sort instead of the huge spike of the other candidates.
Drazen Petrovic actually made 3rd-team All-NBA for the Nets but we're talking the Blazers version of Drazen here. Stuck behind Clyde Drexler, all but lost in the NBA-game on defense, Petro still made shots and won hearts far beyond what his stats would normally indicate. His untimely and sad death has only added to the legend.
So what say you? Register your vote and make convincing arguments below. Voting will close at 8:00 p.m. Pacific Tuesday night, at which time I'll pen the piece for the network.