All-Star. Teammate. Coach. Friend.
Terry Porter has been many things to many people in 53 years. The basketball luminary cemented himself as a Portland icon at the zenith of his playing career, winning NBA games and the public’s affection alike. He extended his legacy into coaching upon retirement, leaving his mark with numerous organizations along the way. To the masses, he is an idol, but to some he is so much more.
Porter and his wife, Susie, have three children: Franklin, Malcolm, and Brianna—all born during Porter’s playing days, which stretched from 1985 to 2002. He played 10 years with the Portland Trail Blazers, three with the Minnesota Timberwolves, one with the Miami Heat, and three more with the San Antonio Spurs. The professional lifestyle dictated that he be on the road often while his kids were kids. Add in the years Porter spent in NBA coaching positions and he hadn’t had a chance to be home in a long-lasting way for nearly three decades.
So when an opportunity to return to Portland in a new role presented itself in 2014, Porter jumped at the chance to settle in with his loved ones. He had served as an assistant coach with the Timberwolves for three years at that time.
“After I got done with Minnesota, Rick Adelman had decided to retire, so for me it was perfect timing,” Porter reflected on his decision to rejoin the Trail Blazers as an alumni ambassador. “My two boys were still in high school. I got a chance to kind of take those next two years and watch them finish their high school years—senior and senior year—so I got a chance to really be at home, watch them play all those games, and just spend time with them.”
Porter’s eldest son, Franklin, was playing basketball at Tilton, a private boarding school in New Hampshire, while Malcolm played at Jesuit high school in Oregon. With newfound flexibility and a local homebase, Porter was able to root them on. His family had always been immensely important to him.
As an added benefit, accepting the ambassadorship not only meant getting to spend more time with his biological family, but his Trail Blazers family as well. Former teammate and longtime friend Jerome Kersey was also serving as a team ambassador. The pair was reunited on the staff of the team they once made great.
In the early ‘90s, Porter and Kersey had been a part of the most successful Trail Blazers iteration since Bill Walton brought home the championship in 1977. They reached the NBA finals twice in the 10 years they played together, losing to the Isiah Thomas-led Detroit Pistons in 1990 and the Michael Jordan Bulls in 1992. The memories they built together are embedded in the city’s history—it’s sporting soul.
When Porter and Kersey first met in 1985, they immediately bonded over a shared background. Both had attended small colleges and cultivated big ambitions. Porter entered the NBA as a 4-year veteran of the University of Wisconsin—Stevens Point, and Kersey, who was drafted by the Trail Blazers the year before Porter, had spent four years at Longwood University, a small college in Farmville, Virginia.
“Both of us never dreamed that we would have an opportunity to get drafted or play in the NBA,” Porter said, remembering the chips on their shoulders. “So when we were given the opportunity, you know, Jerome’s case was just one that he just had such a big heart and played with such a force and a reckless abandon that it was hard for coaches not to just continue to see him make the strides but to give him more minutes.”
Porter and Kersey were especially close during their Trail Blazers tenure, but the two went to different teams in 1995, the year Franklin was born, when Kersey was taken by the Toronto Raptors in the expansion draft and Porter signed as a free agent in Minnesota. The opportunity to work together again was incredible. Porter spent the next year conducting community outreach projects for the team and city that had made him and Kersey sons before he had sons of his own. It was the best of both worlds for one year.
On the evening of February 18, 2015, Kersey died suddenly, when a blood clot traveled from his left calf to his lung, causing a pulmonary thromboembolism. He had undergone surgery on his left knee to repair a torn meniscus just days prior. It is thought that his death may be linked to a surgical complication. He was 52 years old.
A devastated Porter met the Portland media the following morning to extend his support to the Kersey family; his face lined with overwhelming grief and streaming tears.
“Anybody who came across Jerome just was amazed. We had many a talk about coming from those small schools and talking about how we’ll show all those guys from the big schools what coming from a small school’s all about with our effort and energy and giving everything we could, but Blazer nation is in serious pain today and our heart goes out to Teri, Kiara, and the rest of the Kersey family as they go through this very difficult time.”
Kersey’s death sent a wave through the basketball community, but also through Porter himself. He stopped and contemplated life and what it meant to live it to the fullest.
That summer, Franklin left for California to begin his own college basketball career at Saint Mary’s. As a freshman, he appeared in just 22 of 35 games, averaging 3.1 minutes off the bench. Porter remained in Portland with Susie and their youngest, Malcolm, who began to thrive as a high school senior.
Though Porter enjoyed his ambassador role with the Trail Blazers, he wanted to get back into coaching. At the professional level, that would have meant leaving his family, but this time around he aspired to find success at the college level, molding the youth.
On April 1, 2015, Porter accepted a coaching position with the University of Portland Pilots. UP is a small school in its own right, and not a typical NBA pipeline. The basketball program has produced just seven NBA players since 1959—the latest being Eugene “Pooh” Jeter, who graduated in 2006. In that respect, the feel is reminiscent of Porter’s old stomping ground. To this day, he remains the only Stevens Point player to make it to the NBA, just as Kersey remains the only player to do so from Longwood. One has to imagine that Kersey would be immensely proud of the path Porter has taken.
“I love it here.” Porter smiled. “It’s home for me, so it was just hard to pass up getting involved with this job search.”
“I think that my story resonates with a lot of these young men because, you know, UP is not a high major, a North Carolina or a Kentucky. These kids are coming here because they love basketball.”
Four weeks after Porter took over as head coach, Malcolm, in preparing to graduate from Jesuit as a second-team all-state senior, announced that he would be one of those kids; he would become a Pilot and play for his dad. What started as a dinner table discussion came to fruition, soon to make father and son very happy as coach and player.
After five weeks more, Franklin, coming off a modest season at Saint Mary’s announced that he would transfer to UP and also play for the Pilots. The three Porter men together again.
Franklin notes that for all the times basketball kept them physically apart, it has always brought them emotionally together.
“It’s cool because, obviously, (Porter) was in the NBA when we were born, so (basketball) has just always been there and it’s always been part of the family. And then Malcolm and I started to play, and for us to be able to play at this level together with him as the coach is really a blessing.”
Franklin and Malcolm were allowed to join in team practices and dress for games throughout Porter’s inaugural season at UP, but both redshirted; Franklin to comply with NCAA transfer rules, and Malcolm to extend his window of eligibility. They will be full participants in the 2017-18 season. In the meantime, they’ve enjoyed being with their dad.
“I’ll probably want to go back, to be honest with you,” Malcolm said, when asked how he thinks he will look at his time being coached by his dad, 10 years down the road, “because it will probably be the best four years of my life.”
Porter’s first season with the Pilots had its highs and lows on the court. The team started out 10-10 under his guidance, but ended on a 1-12 skid after star senior Alec Wintering tore his ACL. The product was ultimately encouraging and bodes well for the seasons to come. Porter’s strength as a recruiter will help bring even more talent to the school, where he can teach young players how best to harness it for their benefit.
It is the perfect fit for Porter; a culmination of the paths he has walked his whole life. He does what he loves, surrounded by those he loves, in a place that loves him back—moving forward, once again, from where the glory years began. Those years in which he endeared himself to the basketball community as an All-Star. Teammate. Coach. Friend.
Porter has been many things to many people in 53 years, and the best are yet to come.