Former Portland Trail Blazer Bonzi Wells has seldom spoken to the media since retiring from the NBA in 2008. That’s no real surprise, since pictures painted of him throughout his career—specifically his time in Portland—were less than flattering. He was the team’s co-captain at the height of the “Jail Blazers” era. This week, Wells joined Oliver Maroney and Josh Eberley on the Big3 Show to speak on what that time was really like for him, among other things. The full podcast is worth a listen, and an excerpt can be found below.
I think that Portland team had a lot of talent. You spent a lot of time in Portland before you moved on to other places. Maybe what was the best part of that Portland era and maybe the worst part of that Portland era?
I mean, the best part was when they—if they just really gave us a chance. Like, when we went to 2000 and we lost in that Game 7 and that was really devastating for us, but we all looked at each other and said, basically, “We gon’ be back next year if they keep us together.” That was out mindset. During those times, it was great, but then just as the summer kind of unraveled a little bit, you would lose two or three key components and then they’d add two or three key components from other situations that’s used to being, you know, the man on their team. So now you got to integrate guys all the time and kind of deal with egos—not really egos, because we didn’t have ego guys, but just trying to get a feel for how guys play and guys getting adjusted to new roles. It’s tough, when you’re in the public eye, to kind of get adjusted because you gon’ make mistakes and I think our mistakes were magnified back then, so we couldn’t really get ahead.
Yeah, and moving into that just a little bit, like, I’m really curious—it feels to me like this Blazers era, it was a little bit misunderstood. And you kind of went on that, originally, when we were first talking, but it seems like it was a little bit misunderstood. What do you think was the narrative that was misunderstood about the Blazers teams through about 2000 to 2003-04 or so?
I didn’t think our team was ahead of our time in what people understood about players. You know, we didn’t do nothing that the players don’t do now. It was just not talked about or understood, and people just kind of thought of us and the first thing that come to your mind is “These guys are thugs. They’re bad boys.” That’s just the easiest way to kind of categorize a team that you don’t really understand. So instead of taking the time to get to know us personally, they’d just rather do shots at us and paint a picture to the public that we’re really bad people without just ever giving us a chance to even, you know, for the public to get to know us other than what they see on the court. So it was just really tough when you feel like you don’t have a voice, and a lot of us really didn’t have a voice. We could just read the newspaper and they would say the worst thing about us and our family name and you just almost have to change it back then. That’s just kind of how it was back then. It sucked, but that’s just kind of how it was.
That’s interesting that you say that. What do you think would be the most different part of being in the league today with that situation? Is it, like, the social media, or is it that we’re more aware of what’s going on, or players got more of a voice, or—what do you think is the biggest difference today?
Well the key is what you said; they have a voice. Like, guys can be on the verge of getting suspended and they can go tell everything that happened. They can just always plead they case. Back then, you would get fined for that. You could never talk against the league, you could never talk against anything almost, so you almost just had to take it. I remember back when I had an article in Sports Illustrated, some clown came in for one day and had the nerve to tell the people I hate the fans. And the fans believed it. And I’m like “Everybody let some clown who has no association with us come in here and say I hate the fans?” And when he took the closed quote, he asked me “How do you feel about the fans booing you?” And I said “I really hate it because it’s tough because I know we didn’t play well.” And he just totally wrote it some other way. That stayed with me my whole career and I never had a chance to tell nobody. This is the first time I actually said it in public because it was just so far-fetched, but that’s the type of thing they was doing to us. They wanted to demonize us so they could have a reason to trade us to justify it. And that was just so bull crap back then, but we had to take it.
Visit Dime Magazine on Uproxx for Maroney’s accompanying article.