Today is President’s Day, the day we share George Washington’s birthday with a holiday to honor every President that has served the United States. (With the possible exception of James Buchanan.)
There’s no more iconic symbol of presidents past than Mount Rushmore, frequently used as a metaphor identifying the four greatest figures in any given field. Who belongs on the Mount Rushmore of film directors? The Mount Rushmore of comedians? How about the Mount Rushmore of Nobel Prize winners in Economic Science? (ed. If you’re not going with Christopher A. Pissarides, don’t even speak to me.)
On this President’s Day, we invite you to nominate figures for the Mount Rushmore of the Portland Trail Blazers franchise. You can name players, coaches, managers, or absolutely anyone else from the team’s storied history. Have fun. Get creative! But four...figures...only.
To start off, here are the most deserving quartet for the Trail Blazers Mount Rushmore in my opinion.
It would be difficult to have a Blazers monument without the man most responsible for the founding of the team. In fact, there would be no theoretical mountain at all without Harry Glickman.
Considered the “father” of professional sports in Oregon, Glickman’s establishment of the Blazers was also the first major league franchise in the northwestern United States; in the small city of Portland, Oregon no less.
One of Glickman’s greatest gifts to Portland was the nickname chosen for his NBA team. Can you believe Chinooks was a possible nickname being considered? Salmon aside, it sounds more like a high-school basketball team than a professional one.
Instead, Glickman turned this decision over to the fans and over 10,000 responded with their ideas for a team nickname. In the end, the Trail Blazers won, honoring the 18th-century pioneers of the Oregon Territory. Even Glickman agrees it was “the best decision I ever made.”
After that, perhaps the best logo in all of sports was chosen, the pinwheel representing five players on one team against five players from another. Not only is it pleasing to the eye, as we have witnessed over the years, it can be modified in various ways without losing its core meaning.
Not only were logo and nickname—things a few NBA teams have failed to get right (I’m looking at you, Raptors and Pelicans)—perfectly realized under Glickman, many decisions that followed have come to define the team as we know and love them today.
When you think about Presidents, your mind jumps to George Washington. When you think about Trail Blazers coaches, up pops Jack Ramsay. For that alone, Ramsay earns a spot on the granite mountain.
Ramsay spent ten seasons here in Portland. He coached the Blazers to their lone title in 1977 and led what many believe to be the greatest team in franchise history: the 1977-’78 squad.
Ramsay’s teams were as well known for their intelligence as their physical abilities, a phenomenal feat considering those great Blazers teams of the late 70s were also very young. For perspective, It would be as if Tom Thibodeau led the Minnesota Timberwolves to a championship out of the blue.
Julius Erving once said the Blazers “played like a committee, with no part greater than the whole. In the end, the team concept prevailed.” Bill Walton said of Ramsay, “Jack’s life is a beacon which guides us all. He is our moral compass, our spiritual inspiration. He represents the conquest of substance over hype. He is a true saint of circumstance.”
What more can be said?
Bill Walton may have won the NBA Finals MVP, and deservedly so, but Maurice Lucas may have been the reason the Blazers won the championship.
Everyone likes to talk of a turning point for teams of destiny. For the ‘77 Blazers, it was a scuffle in Philadelphia.
Already down 0-1 to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Blazers were losing Game 2 when Lucas and Darryl Dawkins engaged in some extracurricular activities. After a scramble for a loose ball that resulted in Dawkins trying to land a punch on Portland’s Bob Gross, only to hit is own teammate, Lucas landed an elbow to Dawkins’ head. Both benches cleared, Dawkins and Lucas were ejected. The 76ers won Game 2 decidedly, but Lucas and the Blazers made it be known they wouldn’t be backing down from a fight.
Ironically, it was a handshake before Game 3 when Lucas knew the tide had turned in Portland’s favor. Everyone knows the rest of the story by now; the Blazers went on to sweep the next four games and win the title.
I suppose my opening argument for Ramsay could be the same argument for having Walton here instead of Lucas. But, Walton’s relationship with the Blazers has gone up and down since those championship days, while Lucas remained a vital and prosperous part of the organization up until his death in 2010 from cancer. The five-time All-Star also served as an assistant coach for the Blazers, had his number 20 retired in 1988 and was forever a champion of the franchise as both a player and a person.
Oh, that voice. There are certain voices that comfort the soul; the reassuring voice of your mother, Darlene Love’s version of Christmas (Baby please come home) during the holidays, the soothing, comedic offerings of Gilbert Gottfried. Alright, not so much the latter. Then there is the one and only Bill Schonely.
Generations of sports fans grew up with the singular broadcaster whose distinct voice is still able to whisk you away and dip you into a cool, refreshing pool of nostalgia. From 1970 to 1998, Schonely pumped up Blazers fans for every win and offered calm reassurance after every defeat. Before smart phones, internet, and cable as we know it today, Portlanders huddled around the radio listening to Schonely’s play-by-play. Many, like myself, would mute the TV if the Blazers were on and turn up the radio; seeing them play on television while listening to Schonely was like a double dose of awesomeness.
From “Rip City” to “You’ve got to make your free throws”, Schonely’s signature catchphrases still ring loud and true today. If Glickman brought the Blazers to life, then Ramsey provided the brains, Lucas the beating heart, while Schonely gave the Blazers a voice.
Your turn, Blazer’s Edge Readers. Who’s on your Trail Blazers Mount Rushmore?