As basketball fans, Portland Trail Blazers fans--fans of any sport, really--our happiness hinges on expectations. We rejoice when a plucky team thrown together on the fly excels; we moan and groan when a lottery pick goes years without developing into the star we were promised tacitly.
Multiple factors affect whether a player falls short of or surpasses our expectations: How did they play in college? Where were they selected in the draft? How much opportunity were they given and did they take full advantage? How about off-season improvements? Did injuries hold anyone back? Is anyone on the roster pushing the player, vying to become our new darling?
Expectations modify with the passage of time. When players fall short, we chastise, then forget them. When an unheralded player hits the stratosphere, it’s a legend in the making. The enduring stories are happy ones.
In that spirit, let’s look back on the Portland Trail Blazers players who most exceeded expectations.
My pick is Jerome Kersey. He was chosen 46th in the 1984 draft, out of Longwood University (then Longwood College). Kersey is the only player from that institution who made into the NBA. The late-second-round pick stood toe to toe with upper-first-rounders, carving out long professional careers. Kersey, Sam Perkins and Otis Thorpe all played 17 NBA seasons, Hakeem Olajuwon played 18, Kevin Willis 19, and John Stockton 21. Kersey came off the bench his first 3 seasons before ascending to a critical role in Portland’s playoff teams of the late 80’s and early 90’s. He spent 11 years with the Blazers, averaging 12.1 points per game, 6.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.3 steals.
Initial expectations for Kersey were so low that he was seconds away from not being selected by the Blazers. As recounted in a story Blazers President Harry Glickman:
When Portland's name finally came up, the team still didn't have a firm decision. Glickman, whose job it was to announce the pick to the league via conference call, recalls this exchange.
"And I say, 'Give me a name.' And Bucky [Buckwalter] says 'We gotta have Kersey.' Stu [Inman] says, 'Alright dammit take Kersey.'"
Glickman originally intended to send Kersey to Europe to develop overseas.
"Jerome said, 'Hell no. I'm going to come to your training camp and I'm going to make your team.' And he did.”
Few Trail Blazers will be remembered as fondly as Kersey, or will achieve such a meteoric rise from humble beginnings, but maybe you have a favorite. Which Blazers most exceeded your expectations? Use whatever metrics you find compelling to explain your pick in the comment section below.