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Jail Blazers Flight Attendant Loved Job, Not Impressed with Team

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An excerpt from Kerry Eggers’ book on the turn-of-the-century Trail Blazers reveals crazy times, serious issues.

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J.R. Rider #34

Portland Tribune Columnist Kerry Eggers penned a book about the Portland Trail Blazers’ infamous “Jail Blazers” era this fall. An excerpt from the story has been published at SI’s The Crossover. It details memories from flight attendant Stephanie Smith-Leckness, who worked with the Blazers and owner Paul Allen during the 2000’s. The article covers several familiar players and coaches, including Rasheed Wallace, Scottie Pippen, Shawn Kemp, and Greg Anthony.

Smith-Leckness reserves her most strident comments for one of the least-likable Blazers of the period, Isiah “J.R.” Rider:

“Some of the players were horrible,” she says. “J. R. Rider once had his finger in the face of [flight attendant] Donna Clark. It was something over tuna fish, if I remember right, and it happened right in the coaches’ portion of the airplane. They sat in the back in the first-class seats. Not one coach even looked at him. No one stood up. I remember running back there and telling [Rider], ‘Get your finger out of her face.’ She was shaking and had tears in her eyes.

“I know the guy was crazy, but nobody did anything. It was really sad. The guy had a screw loose. He just wasn’t well. I was appalled the coaches didn’t say anything. No judgment. It was months later when I realized the guy was a really loose cannon.”

She also related an anecdote about former high-school draftee (and future NBA All-Star) Jermaine O’Neal:

“Jermaine had a bunch of family members living there. They were all eating and watching TV and playing video games, and the house was a mess. He opened up the garage door. It stunk bad, and there was a load of stuffed full trash bags in there. Mike said, ‘Jermaine, it stinks.’ He said, ‘They told me to put it in the garage.’ Mike said, ‘You have to put it on the curb, and somebody will pick it up if you sign up for service.’ His family members, who were mooching off of him, didn’t know enough to say, ‘Let’s put the garbage out by the curb.’”

The habits of the team didn’t make winning any easier.

“I’d ask them, ‘Why do you go out until 4 in the morning and know you have to be shootaround at 10?’ Once in New York, several of them had been at some famous strip club the night before the game. They all got back to the hotel at 6 or 7 (a.m.). Then they lost to the Knicks that night.

Despite all that, Smith-Leckness relays fondness for many members of the organization and retains good feelings towards the experience as a whole.

Read the entire article for stories about Allen, Anthony, Pippen, Shawn Kemp’s compulsive personality, high-stakes gambling mid-flight, the respect due Rasheed Wallace, and more. Pick up Eggers’ book for the complete story.