Last week former Blazer point guard Damon Stoudamire let slip news news that a "Jail Blazers" documentary may be in production.
In an interview on the Dirt and Sprague show, Stoudamire explained that a film crew is currently working on the project, but was sketchy on further details, including who is producing or directing. Portland radio station 1080 the Fan later clarified that HBO is behind the documentary.
Upon further investigation, the Jail Blazers documentary Damon spoke of yesterday on @DirtAndSprague will be an HBO production, not ESPN.— 1080 The FAN (@1080TheFAN) March 24, 2016
HBO's involvement suggests that former ESPN personality and current HBO employee Bill Simmons may be behind the project. Simmons founded the critically acclaimed 30 for 30 sports documentary series for ESPN and has stated his interest in a Jail Blazers feature since at least 2009.
Simmons, however, has also noted that the NBA's hesitancy to publicize a dark era in league history would make it difficult to put together a Jail Blazers documentary. Simmons wrote the following in a 2010 chat on ESPN.com:
The problem with an idea like that (or the Bad Boy Pistons, or the Artest Melee) is that the NBA owns the footage for all that stuff, and they are extremely hesitant (and rightfully so) about not glorifying some of the uglier moments/teams/games in their league's history. That's just not the Stern way.
Interestingly, the NBA has since sanctioned a 30 for 30 on the Bad Boy Pistons and David Stern is no longer commissioner; it's possible that Simmons (or whoever is in charge of the project) may have convinced the NBA to join the partnership, or found a way to produce the film without the NBA's involvement.
From a Blazer fan's perspective, this announcement would have been deemed a disaster 10 years ago. But since drafting Brandon Roy in 2006, the team has rebuilt its image by considering both on-court performance and off-court behavior when acquiring players. Consequently, we can now look back on the infamous Jail Blazer moments with both good humor and disdain, knowing those memories no longer represent the franchise.
With that perspective in mind, here are a top 5 "must include" moments for the upcoming film (in chronological order):
1. Towel in the face
On April 15, 2001 in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Rasheed Wallace threw a towel in Arvydas Sabonis' face, earning the ire of fans and the team. The Blazers suspended Wallace for one game the next day and during the offseason Sabonis called out Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy and Portland management for failing to properly manage the egos of the team's highly paid players.
That moment was also symbolic of the downfall the team experienced that season. On March 3 the Blazers had a 42-18 record, best in the Western Conference, and seemed primed to challenge the Lakers for the conference championship. In a bid to solidfy the team's bench, then-GM Bob Whittsitt signed former Blazer Rod Strickland. From that point forward the team went 8-14 and would be swept by the Lakers in the first round. In hindsight, it would be fascinating to hear the full story behind this unraveling, including the towel incident, from the players' perspectives.
2. Reefer Madness
Several Jail Blazers were busted for marijuana possession in the late-'90s and early-2000s: Isaiah Rider, Damon Stoudamire, Rasheed Wallace, Qyntel Woods. Several of the incidents have become infamous partially because of surrounding events. Stoudamire and Wallace were caught with weed while driving down I-5 returning from a game in Seattle, Stoudamire tried to take marijuana wrapped in tinfoil through airport security, and Woods offered a basketball card as identification at the traffic stop for which he was busted for possession.
At the time, these incidents were considered black marks for the franchise. Public attitudes about marijuana, however, have softened in recent years. Stoudamire has also opined that he felt the players were treated unfairly for these lesser incidents (Note: It's worth saying that none of the players were charged with Driving Under the Influence). Hearing about how players view these run-ins with the law in hindsight, and also about how they view marijuana use among professional athletes, would be excellent documentary material.
3. Game 7 of the 2003 first round series against the Dallas Mavericks.
In 2003 the Blazers became one of only three teams in league history to force a game seven after losing the first three games of a playoff series. The deciding contest was a nailbiter; Portland led late in the fourth quarter before ultimately succumbing 107-95. It's one of the lesser publicized great games in NBA history and overdue for documentary treatment.
The series also served as a coming out party for two infamous players of the era: Bonzi Wells and Zach Randolph. In game 2 Wells became the first Blazer to score 40 or more points in a playoff game, finishing with 45. That would stand as the franchise's single game playoff scoring record until LaMarcus Aldridge put up 46 against Houston in 2014. Randolph was instrumental in the comeback, scoring more than 20 points in games four through six.
Wells was more or less run out of town midway through the following season after multiple off-court infractions, and a tumultuous relationship with the fans. In recent interviews Wells has looked back at his time in Portland with contrition and seems to have a genuine desire to make amends with the Blazer faithful he spurned more than a decade ago. Hearing his thoughts on this historic moment in Blazers and league history, with the newfound perspective of reconciliation and wisdom of experience would be fascinating.
4. Randoph fears for his life
In 2003 Oregonian columnist John Canzano reported that Randolph sucker-punched teammate Ruben Patterson in the face during practice. The punch broke Patterson's eye-socket and he vowed revenge for the incident. Randolph went into hiding for several days at teammate Dale Davis' house, reportedly fearing that Patterson would try to shoot him. To my knowledge, this story has never been publicly addressed by the players or reported again since Canzano's initial column. If the involved parties are willing to talk, it has potential to be one of the most shocking locker room stories since the infamous Gilbert Arenas/Javaris Crittenton handgun confrontation.
5. Broomstick incident
From the terrifying to the hilariously bizarre: Two bench-warming 7-footers once reportedly brawled after a Blazers practice. The 2005 incident involved a broomstick and litigation threats. Here's Canzano's account:
And as the players usually do at the end of a workout, that particular Friday the two were shooting free throws together in silence.
That is, until Sinanovic made his final free throw, then retrieved the basketball and held it. Ha walked over and snatched it back. Then, Sinanovic said something under his breath and two men -- 7-4 and 7-3 -- ended up on the ground in a pile of wildly swinging elbows and fists.
The fight was broken up by Blazers staffers, and insiders said Ha, who got punched, was left shouting, "I'll sue! I'll sue!"
The two were escorted to different areas of the practice facility, and normally the story would end here. Except Ha's neutral corner was the team weight room. And so he picked up one of those wooden poles that players use to stretch and went after Sinanovic, who blocked one swing with his forearm but took another in the ribs before someone ripped the pole (think: closet dowel) from Ha's hands and threw it across the courts.
Canzano goes on to note that this particular incident seemed to be a case of healthy competition as the players reconciled and were seen hanging out together the next day. Nonetheless, this has the potential to be the comedy highlight of the film.
The top five moments mentioned above barely scratch the surface of documentary-worthy moments from the Jail Blazers era. What incidents would you like to see included?
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