The Portland Trail Blazers organization and its fanbase were shocked to the core when the passing of all-time Blazers great Jerome Kersey was announced on February 18.
Kersey, 52, was taken by Portland in the second round of the 1984 NBA Draft out of Longwood University, spending the first 11 seasons of his 17-year career with the franchise. The 6-foot-7 small forward, nicknamed "Mercy, Mercy!" by longtime Portland radio broadcaster Bill Schonely, averaged 12.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game as a Blazer.
Following the conclusion of his playing career in 2001, Kersey worked with the Trail Blazers organization as the director of player programs for a season before joining former teammate Terry Porter's coaching staff in Milwaukee. After a year spent coaching with the Bucks, Kersey returned to Portland and later re-joined the Trail Blazers organization, his likability and geniality serving him perfectly as a conduit to the city and its fanbase in a community ambassador role.
Kersey's death was unexpected, caused by a blood clot in his left calf that traveled to his lungs and spurred a pulmonary embolism after he left work earlier in the day not feeling well. He was known for his athleticism, hustle and work ethic -- among many other qualities of the sort -- on the hardwood, but Kersey's easygoing and thoughtful personality off-the-court not only endeared him to coaches, fans and teammates, but also made him a perfect link between the Blazers organization and the city of Portland long after his playing days were over.
"As a teammate he was the best teammate you could have," Porter tearfully told assembled media at a press conference following the announcement of Kersey's passing. "He would run through walls for you. He got every ounce out of his talent that was humanly possible.''
"He had passion, determination, kindness -- and how about that smile?" Schonely said at Kersey's celebration of life held at the Memorial Coliseum in early March. "He had that 24 hours a day. I will miss it. I know you will, too."
The Blazers honored Kersey in a home game on February 22 against the Grizzlies, playing footage of him singing the national anthem before the game and showing a video tribute on the jumbotron dedicated to the Blazer great in the first quarter:
For the duration of the regular season and playoffs, the Blazers wore patches that read "JK25" -- Kersey's initials and his uniform number -- as a tribute to the man who had dutifully served the organization as a player for over a decade and returned years later as a community ambassador to a city that embraced and loved him.
''It's been some 45 years since we brought the Blazers here," Portland Trail Blazers founder Harry Glickman said at the press conference announcing Kersey's passing. "And in those 45, and the next 45, the Blazers will never have a better human being than Jerome Kersey.''
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter