With the regular season winding down, I thought I’d do something a little fun this week. We all have our favorite players based on ability, but there also those players with such off-the-wall personalities we can’t help but follow everything they do—those guys that make us exclaim “I can’t believe he just did/said that.” With that, let’s take a look at the Blazers’ all-eccentric team.
A couple of disclaimers—first, I didn’t do this positionally. This is strictly based on personality, regardless of where they played. So no, there is no point guard, and there are two centers. Second, I’m too young to have seen a lot of these guys back in the 70s and early 80s, so unless their quirks were well known, they didn’t get in here. Feel free to add any omissions in the comments. Here we go:
Anyone who’s spent five minutes listening to Bill Walton speak can attest to the uniqueness that is Big Red. Affected by a debilitating stutter until he was 28 years old, Walton overcame this major hurdle and, along the way, learned to not care what anyone thought about him, eventually breaking into broadcasting so he could give us the following legendary quotes:
“If you ever think you’re too small to make a difference, you’ve never spent a night in bed with a mosquito or you’ve never played basketball against Taylor from Utah, number 11 in your program, number one in your heart.”
“SMU-Cal Berkeley. Miss that at your peril! What Larry Brown and Mike Montgomery will deliver to all of us as basketball fans and fans of humanity, that will be a thing to remember forever.”
“Tonight’s start was electric. Just both teams riding quasars all the way to the top of the mountain to the promised land!”
He has seen the Grateful Dead over 850 times. He lives on his mountain bike, and he has a teepee in his back yard. He is, unapologetically, Bill Walton.
“Ball don’t lie.”
“Cut the check.”
“Both teams played hard, my man.”
No one wore their heart on their sleeve, for better and worse, more than Sheed. He holds the record for most technical fouls in a season with 41 and the most in a career with 317. The man was once T’d up in a Pro-Am game for goodness sake. But Wallace never let it be boring. He was as talented as they come at power forward, but it’s easy to wonder how much he limited himself by having to do it his way.
Possibly the most “Portland” player to play for the Blazers (with respect to Channing Frye), Robin Lopez took “Keep Portland Weird” quite literally. He illustrates his own comic book characters, his cat “Prince Edward Zephyr” has its own Instagram, he tried to beat up every mascot in the NBA. Nothing more needs to be said.
E.T. doesn’t stop talking. Ever. As his old teammate in Boston, Kelly Olynyk, told Mass Live:
"He's a character," Olynyk said in a wild understatement. "He had a story just non-stop. Literally, he told stories for two straight years. I swear. He had a story about everything. He might be one of the best storytellers I've ever come across."
He doesn’t just talk to his teammates, however. Turner is renowned throughout the media as one of the more quotable players in the league. Here is Turner on deferring to Jae Crowder for a game winner:
“When I was dribbling, I was like, ‘Oh, snap, I’m at 15 feet, I’m about to end this.’ And then I thought about [Michael Jordan] passing to Steve Kerr. And I thought, ‘Well, let me add that to my legacy. I’ll pass one time.’ And that was it. It was unbelievable, actually. Ingenious by me.”
And on first playing Kobe as a rookie:
“I had teammates that said, ‘When you go out there, don’t look at him in his eye. Don’t talk to him or anything; it’s going to give him an edge.’ Like he’s some type of pit bull or something. … Then he came up to me and patted me on my back. He was like, ‘How you doing? How’s your mom?’ I was like, ‘She’s all right.’
And on being told that he would be coming off the bench:
“[Brad Stevens] spoke to me. I had to smell his breath for alcohol. I checked his office for drugs. I said, ‘You’ve gotta be high.’ You know what I’m saying? But I kept it classy, of course, and I trust the process. And that was it. But it’s unbelievable, right?”
And even discussing his dreams of being the NBA logo:
“Obviously a lot more women would be into the game”
Billy Ray Bates
Perhaps no other player made his mark on the Blazers and then disappeared in such a spectacular fashion as Billy Ray Bates. The eighth of nine children, Bates grew up in the deep south without indoor plumbing and eventually was a third-round pick of the Rockets out of Kentucky State. After failing to make the roster and playing in the CBA, the Blazers brought Bates in on a 10-day contract in the winter of 1980 while desperately trying to hold on to the eighth spot in the Western Conference. Bates immediately began producing, being named Western Conference Player of the Week after only being in the league for a month. As the story goes, Bates was so raw that he showed up to the first game in his uniform, having changed at the hotel.
Bates was known for his showmanship and unique character - staying after games to put on dunk shows for the remaining fans, interacting with them during games, and even giving out his home phone number to those who requested it.
After a stellar playoff series against the Sonics, in which he averaged 25 points per game, Bates’ hard partying ways quickly caught up with him and he found himself cut by the Blazers after the following season. Within a year, he was out of the NBA altogether, which, for better or worse, only adds to his legend.
Paul Allen, owner of the team since 1988, is a reclusive man who greatly prefers to operate behind the scenes. First of all, this isn’t a bad thing at all. I’ll take Allen 10/10 times over a meddling owner who can’t get out of his own way. But Allen is definitely a unique character, even among his fellow billionaire sports owners.
This is a man who seldom gives interviews but likes to spend his time taking his super-yacht to Antarctica so he can explore via submarine. Yeah, he has a submarine. And several WWII fighter jets. And the Fender Stratocaster that Hendrix used to play the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock. Most importantly, at least to Blazer fans, Allen is said by those within and outside of the team to be fully invested in seeing the Blazers win a championship above all else, including, potentially, profitability; you don’t see that every day.
Who is your pick for the most eccentric, unique, just-being-themselves Blazer of all time? Let us know in the comments!