I'm somewhat of an old-timer, but I will share my earliest memories of the Blazers. Hopefully, this won't bore you all to tears.
It all began on a rainy night in December, 1970. I was in the third grade and lived in the Bridlemile neighborhood of Southwest Portland. My dad took me to my first Trailblazer game at the Memorial Coliseum. The opponent was the Detroit Pistons. I remember it was a loss, 111-103, as there were many back in those days. Dave Bing and Bob Lanier were the stars for the Pistons, way too much for our little expansion team to handle. I remember reading the game program cover to cover - Bob Lanier went to Saint Bonaventure college - where in the heck was that? I Ioved saying that name out loud - "Bonaventure". I remember the atmosphere of the Coliseum, the popcorn, the smoke, the big crowd (4000 people was a big crowd back then). There were no dancers or piped-in music or giant video screens back then, only men playing basketball, interrupted by timeouts with organ music playing. I lived and died with every shot, every pass. In spite of the loss, I came home happy with a white pennant with the old scarlet and black pinwheel logo (up-and-down, not slanted) and couldn't wait to share the experience with my friends. I was hooked for life - almost - the JailBlazers did drive me away for a while.
Portland was much smaller back then. There was no Washington Square, no Fremont Bridge, no Marquam Bridge, no Pearl District, no I-205. The Vista Ridge Tunnel was a year away from opening. Highway 217 was not a highway yet, just a road with stoplights. Beaverton was actually out of town a ways, with fields in between. Beaverton-Hillsdale highway to Barbur Boulevard was the main route into town from the West.
I learned all of the Trailblazer players' names and where they were from. LeRoy Ellis, Dale Schleuter, Rick Adelman, Geoff Petrie, Terry Dischinger. I found out Gary Gregor was from Charleston, West Virginia, the same hometown as my dad, so he became my favorite player. My dad recalled playing baseball with his brother, Dick Gregor. The Trailblazers were the new shiny toy in town. I remember at that time, the Portland Buckaroos hockey team was the main sports team. At the local Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor restaurant - oh, how I miss that place, the roaring 20's theme, the music, and all the ice cream creations like the Pigs Trough and the Portland Zoo- the pictures on the wall were of Buckaroos who had eaten there, not Blazers. The Buckaroos were the lead-in for the sports report every night on TV, not the Blazers.
Not only did I live for those few away games that were on TV (KPTV 12 only in those days with Jimmy Jones at the mic, no cable, no national TV), I used to write game scripts, exactly as Bill Schonely would call them on the radio. For example: "RIck Adelman dances through the cyclops at midcourt. Hands it to MacKenzie, guard forward exchange. Stanley Mac passes it to Petrie. Petrie drives and lays it in! He went lickety-brindle, right up the middle!" The Blazers were my sports team. When I would play basketball with my best friend, I would be LeRoy Ellis and he would be Wilt Chamberlain or Walt Bellamy or Lew Alcindor. I collected all of the NBA trading cards that came in those bubble gum packs. I would cut the corners off of the cards for the Trailblazer players - they were special. I listened to all of the games on my little battery powered transistor radio, often hiding it under the pillow at night when my parents thought I was asleep. I distictly remember a game where the young Blazers took down the mighty Lakers after Gail Goodrich had missed three straight free throws. It was as if they had slayed Paul Bunyan.
A horrible thing happened in 1971 though, before my fourth grade year - my family decided to move to Roanoke, Virginia. How could I leave my beloved Trailblazers behind? They drafted super Sidney Wicks and were on the cusp of greatness in my mind. I physically cried begging my dad to not make us move, because of the Blazers. I was completely heartbroken. But move we did. For a year, my sports fan allegiance was switched to following stock car racing, college football (my dad's favorite Notre Dame was always on the radio), and an ABA team called the Virginia Squires with a hot-shot rookie named Julius Erving. I don't think the local paper even printed NBA scores.
A miracle happened though, in the summer of 1972, my mom and dad decided to move us back to Portland. Hallelujah! I would be able to follow my beloved Trailblazers again. Not only that, the Trailblazers had drafted LaRue Martin. I had never heard of him, but he was the first pick in the entire NBA draft. Now, the Trailblazers would surely turn the corner and become a winning team.
As we know, that never turned out. Even though those seasons between 1972 and 1976 were not the most glorious, I still kept idolizing the team and its players. I remember seeing Johnny Johnson (who would later win an NBA championship with Seattle) in the Raleigh Hills Fred Meyer looking at records. I tried to muster the courage to ask for an autograph, but did not. I just smiled at him and said hi, and he smiled back. Lenny Wilkens was my favorite player, I didn't know then he was also the coach. He always seemed to be in charge of things. I remember them drafting Bill Walton, thinking this may be the year, then going to a game and finding out he had grown his hair into a ponytail and had a beard and didn't look at all like a basketball player to me anymore. I couldn't understand why the fans were booing him though. He seemed to be trying out there, but there was something missing. He always seemed to miss a lot of games and sit on the bench with a cast on his leg, looking disinterested. My other favorite player was Lionel "Train" Hollins, although I remember listening to a game in which ahe had a particularly bad shooting night. He was hearing it from the crowd, and according to the Schonz, "started waving to the crowd". I wonder if that's what he really did or if he used that certain finger. That's when the radio announcers and the press looked after the players, I guess.
I would go down to the floor before warmups started and get autographs from the players. Bobby Gross once laughed at me because of the stubby pencil I had him sign with. I was still a fan, but the losing was getting old to me. I thought it would be a while before the Blazers would ever have a winning season, let alone make the playoffs. Playoffs and championships only belonged in places like New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. I was becoming a bit disinterested.
I had also started becoming a fan of the new sport in town, soccer. The Timbers were now the new shiny toy. They had engaging players with cute accents. I learned this foreign game and became enthralled by it. If there was ever a mania in Portland, this was the first one. The Timbers made it all the way to the Soccer Bowl (wow, that almost sounds like the Super Bowl!), and crowds of 30,000+ packed Civic Stadium. I started to idolize players named Mick and Graham and Clive. The Blazers had become secondary. In 1976, that was all about to change.
I won't recap the whole championship season. I was tempted by my friends to skip school and ride the TriMet bus downtown for the victory parade, heck it was almost the end of school anyway, but I didn't want my parents to find out and chickened out. Even more amazing to me was the 50-10 start to '77-78, and all the euphoria it caused. Portland was just in a wild state of delirium. I would be among those 3000 people who would pack the Paramount theater (now the Schnitz) to watch most of the Blazers home games on closed circuit TV, because the MC was always sold out. The Blazers were now on national TV almost every week, blowing out opponents by 40 on the road and having their coaches apologize to their city and fans. Portland had finally joined the big leagues, but alas the delirium ended way too soon when Walton got hurt. The end of a short but magical era. It hurt even more because the Sonics took our place at the top of the NBA.
Nothing since in sports has created that same level of euphoria for me like that run after the championship. It was as dominant a team in professional sports that I had ever seen or have seen since. If you've made it this far, thanks for reading.