The celebration of the life of Jerome Kersey held this afternoon at Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum was exactly that – a celebration. There were a number of tears and gut-wrenching moments, but there was also a lot of laughter and a general upbeat to the proceedings. It was fitting for a man who has positively impacted so many.
The event was hosted by Bill Schonely, and featured speeches from Blazers President and CEO Chris McGowan, Team Chaplain Al Egg, Blazers Founder Harry Glickman, Teammate Terry Porter, Former Blazers Community Relations Executive Traci Rose, his best friend Ron Sloy, his daughter Kiara Kersey, and his wife Teri Kersey. The current Blazers team and staff was in attendance, along with family, friends, and fans enough to fill the floor of the Coliseum, as well as much of the lower level of the surrounding stands.
There was also a stirring rendition of one of Kersey’s favorite songs, The Spinners’ "I’ll Be Around", which helped to get a good feeling flowing through the audience early on. It was performed with presence and energy by friend Andy Stokes, who had once done it as a duet along with Kersey in front of his Blazers teammates. In this case, Stokes changed the final verse lyrics to "JK’s around".
Several multimedia interludes appeared between sets of speeches, starting off with this video retrospective. A second video featured his work in the community and family moments alongside game footage, set to an acoustic version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". The event closed with smiles, thanks to the 90s era video for "Bust a Bucket", featuring lyrics styled by Kersey himself.
Jerome’s off-beat and fun-loving nature was obvious throughout as well. Glickman told of a time Kersey casually showed up to his office with a snake around his neck. Sloy told of a young boy who asked Kersey how many times he had to pass the ball before he could shoot, because on his second grade team they had to pass the ball twice before they could shoot. Kersey responded, "I took it straight to the hoop, my man," according to Sloy.
A common thread among the speakers was Kersey’s magnanimous nature, particularly in giving his time to people. Glickman recounted a time during Kersey’s playing career where despite another engagement, Jerome would not leave a ‘boy’s home’ in Bend until he had spent time with every young man there. Porter related a chance encounter in a grocery store that led Kersey to spend an afternoon with one of his biggest fans. Rose recalled when Kersey, on the eve of the NBA finals, recruited the starting five to spend a day in the hospital with a sick child who was a big Blazers fan. Sloy said that after every home game this year, Kersey personally took the unused food from the suites and drove to Old Town to pass it out to the homeless.
Aside from his community appearances on behalf of the Blazers, Ms. Rose pointed out that Kersey was active in supporting political campaigns, the arts, youth sports, the humane society, and awareness campaigns for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.
She also credited the work that Kersey and Porter had done with Boys and Girls Clubs as the inspiration for the Blazers’ decision to build the Blazers’ Boys and Girls Club on NE Martin Luther King Blvd. "That building stands in part because of what Jerome did. That is his legacy here today," Ms. Rose said.
"I had the privilege of watching him being a hero in this community," she added.
There were also fond remembrances of his playing days. The first came from Glickman, the man who drafted him. At the end of rookie camp, Coach Dr. Jack Ramsay didn’t think Kersey was NBA ready but didn’t want to lose him, so he and Glickman approached Kersey about playing in Europe for a bit. Kersey’s response, according to Glickman: "’Hell, no. I’m coming to your training camp, and I’m going to make your team.’ And he did."
Porter recalled a momentum-turning play during the tense 7th game of the 1990 Western Conference Finals against the Spurs which embodied who Kersey was as a player. San Antonio threw an errant pass that looked like it was destined to go out of bounds. But Kersey never quit on a play, said Porter, let alone this one. He grabbed it just in front of the baseline, then his athleticism and presence allowed him to turn all in one motion and fire a perfect pass to a streaking Clyde Drexler at the other end of the floor which led to a layup. According to Porter, this play helped spark the Blazers to a win that got them to the NBA Finals.
Schonely reminisced over the moment when he gave Kersey the nickname that would follow him the rest of his days. Midway through Jerome’s second season, a Terry Porter pass in transition set up Kersey for a thunderous two handed slam, which led to an explosive reaction from the Coliseum crowd and prompted Schonely to exclaim, "Mercy, Mercy, Jerome Kersey!"
Emotion overcame most on hand during the latter speeches. Terry Porter fought back tears throughout his address. He spoke directly to Kersey’s grandmother, who brought up Jerome from the age of 2: "Know that you should be so proud of the man you raised. You did not get to experience firsthand, but this city, and this state, loved your grandson. They considered him as their own son, and he will live in their minds and hearts forever."
Porter ended by addressing Kersey himself: "Well good friend, The good Lord has called you, but you don’t have to worry about being a second round pick in his draft. You are a guaranteed lottery pick."
Sloy also was also visibly affected throughout his words, finally breaking down at the end, as he said, "If love could have saved Jerome, he would have lived forever."
Kersey’s daughter Kiara and wife Teri spoke with calm courage.
Kiara started off by thanking everyone in attendance, including Steve Blake for giving up his jersey number in honor of her father.
She went on to reveal a number of lighthearted nuggets about her father – he was known as "Jeromeo" to the ladies; he was a 'closet' country music fan; served as a bouncer for the President once; and was completely starstruck in the presence of his favorite UFC fighter, Anderson Silva. She said that Kersey probably wanted to get a photo with Silva, but would never admit to it – so instead he put his daughter up to getting a photo with Silva.
She kept her humor throughout, saying that she would like to imagine that right now her father is "either dunking on Jesus or riding a Harley Davidson while singing with my grandpa in heaven."
Teri Kersey opened with a very different tone by saying she had been in this very arena "for Kevin Duckworth, for Maurice [Lucas], for Dale [Schleuter] for services and held [her husband’s] hand, and every time looked at him and said, don’t ever do that to me."
She went on to joke about how she never got tired of being handed a camera by all the people excited to run into her husband. "He once told me the reason why he would stop to sign an autograph and take a picture was because he was grateful that people still remembered him. Clearly, he is remembered," she said, gesturing to the audience.
She also joked about how she never saw him play, except in "what I called The Icy Hot League", where a bunch of "old guys would get together, and you walk into the gym and it kind of burned your eyes from all that stuff they put on. I never told him that’s what I called it."
"I always told him Terry Porter was my favorite player." (To get a rise out of Kersey, even though she had never seen Porter play either.)
She said in their relationship they "clowned around a lot", and also characterized Kersey as a tender caregiver as she struggled with MS, which she was diagnosed with shortly after they had started seeing each other.
Ms. Kersey said she had married her "best friend, my soulmate" and began to cry as she recalled her wedding day, which was "perfect". "I no longer feel God’s timing is perfect….what I do know is God’s timing is God’s timing…My hope is in heaven."
She ended by revealing that "his very last words to me were ‘I love you’. He was my dream come true." There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Schonely closed the proceedings by invoking the crowd to cheer Kersey’s nickname all together at once, which felt transformative and served as a transition in mood as "Bust a Bucket" left the crowd reveling in Kersey’s fun-loving essence.
Rest in Peace, Jerome. As Terry Porter said today, "Your legacy in this community will last forever."