The Trail Blazers announced their 2014-15 broadcast schedule last Friday, with 76 games slated to be broadcasted locally. Television play-by-play man Mike Barrett will be joined on-air by color commentator Mike Rice, who's entering his 25th season with the Blazers this fall.
Rice is certainly a wildcard, known as much for his quirky personality as his basketball knowledge. His journey from the court to the broadcast booth began in 1962, when he was selected as a senior out of Duquesne University by the Detroit Pistons in the eighth round of the NBA Draft. Instead of pursuing his professional playing career, however, Rice chose to coach basketball.
In 13 seasons as a high school coach, Rice compiled a 245-71 career record before joining Duquesne's coaching staff as an assistant in 1977. After just one season, he was offered the head coaching position and spent the following four years at the helm for the Dukes, twice earning Eastern Eight -- now Atlantic-10 -- Coach of the Year honors. Rice then left Duquesne to take the head position on Youngstown State University's coaching staff, where he spent five seasons before he got a gig at ESPN as a college basketball television commentator in 1987.
In 1991, the Blazers held a tryout to find radio analyst Bill Schonely's next broadcast partner, which Rice won after an ESPN producer encouraged him to audition for the position. Prior to the 2005-06 season, Rice was promoted to television color analyst, where he's remained the last nine years across from Barrett.
Many fans in Rip City have grown to love Rice, branding him with the nickname "The Wild One" to match his unpredictable on-camera personality. Other Blazer fans find his shenanigans and often oft-kilter musings distracting, but either way, Rice's presence as an announcer is hard to deny.
While calling a Portland game for radio in 1994, Rice earned the distinction of getting booted from a game by referee Steve Javie. Rice and then-broadcast partner Eddie Doucette recount the ejection:
In the third quarter, the Blazers' Cliff Robinson had a shot he thought was goaltended, but it wasn't called. Robinson looked at Rice on the way upcourt, "and I made a goaltending gesture to him," Rice says. "Javie saw me do it." Subsequently, Doucette recalls, "Mike made the choke sign. I don't think Javie liked it." ... After another exchange, Javie motioned him to the exits with, "You're outta here." A security guard escorted Rice into the tunnel toward the locker room.
Rice has also been known to mix it up at times with the Blazer Dancers, joining them at halftime for a dance routine in February, 2013:
In the past, the Blazers have had Rice offer discounts on specific team gear during television broadcast breaks in a segment called "Rice's Ridiculous Deal." Often, Rice would be uninformed about the details and prices of the products he was trying to promote, leading to confusion among the television audience.
Even with a track record earned by being ejected from a game as a broadcaster, dancing in front of fans at halftime and consistently goofing up product pitches -- not to mention a propensity to use malapropisms on-air while Barrett occasionally has to reel things in -- Rice is Portland's perfect lovable goofball.
In a city that embraces the slogan "Keep Portland Weird," a place that inspired a hit comedy series based almost solely on its unique quirkiness and penchant for attracting the non-conventional, doesn't Rice fit right in? Would his random musings, bouts of tomfoolery and off-the-wall hijinks fit in with the glitz and glamour of, say, Los Angeles, or cities like Philadelphia or Cleveland? Maybe, but Portland seems to be the ideal town for a one-of-a-kind personality like Rice.
Whether one loves or loathes him, there's no doubt Rice has left an impression on anyone who's tuned in to a local Trail Blazers television broadcast and heard him opposite Barrett, conducting a train that could go off the rails at any time. Rice has found a niche here in Portland, a place where his eccentricities are not limited by any societal constraints, perhaps even encouraged and fostered at times.
For 25 years The Wild One has made Rip City his home. Even if you occasionally find Rice a distracting sideshow, he deserves acknowledgment for his quarter-century of service to the Blazers organization, all the while maintaining a keen sense of individuality in a world where uniformity and taking the beaten path is often easier and, at times, rewarded.
Here's to two-and-a-half decades of never-dull moments with Rice behind the microphone. Feel free to share your favorite memories -- or eye-rolling moments, as the case may be -- of Rice's time so far with Blazers broadcasting in the comments below!
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter