The much-maligned Trail Blazers of 20 years ago, commonly dubbed the Jail Blazers, have been the butt of jokes and target of scorn for years. Writing for Deadspin, local author Corbin Smith suggests that it may be time for Portland to reconsider the side-eye glares usually directed at Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire, Bonzi Wells, and the other players of that era:
It’s true that Rider was mostly a horse[crap] player and a troublesome teammate everywhere he played, but that was decidedly not true of many of the players that became the backbone of the post-Rider teams. But those players also didn’t “act a certain way,” either, and they made it plain that they didn’t care nearly as much as Rider did about how a city full of white people perceived them. As a result, those players caught all kinds of [crap] from a local sports media scene that knew exactly what its audience wanted. Unanswered—unasked, really—in all this is a stubborn question: what if Rider wasn’t wrong?
Smith goes on to argue that some of the anger directed at specific players of the era is misdirected and the narrative surrounding the team should be reconsidered. Smith recounts the career arcs of Wallace and Stoudamire vis a vis the local media to bolster his point:
On July 3, 2003, Damon got caught trying to sneak some weed through airport security by wrapping it in a ball of foil. When this unsurprisingly did not work, the team fined him a quarter of a million dollars—it was later rescinded, and Stoudamire gave $100,000 to charity instead—and he immediately entered John Lucas’s drug rehabilitation program. Lucas was a cocaine addict and alcoholic who was waived by the Houston Rockets because of his abuse; his addictions wrecked his career and nearly his life before he got sober. The biggest problems faced by Stoudamire, a fairly successful pro athlete who liked to smoke pot, were nosy co-workers and an image-conscious employer.
“I ain’t coming back to Portland ‘til it’s time to play basketball,” Stoudamire told the Tribune in an interview before he got popped at the airport. “I ain’t having no fun in Portland no more. I like Portland. I’m from Portland, but it’s best if I get out of there. It’s crazy, but I feel more embraced in other cities.”
It wasn’t crazy, really. Sportswriters and radio talkers pushed the idea of those Blazers teams as a gang of tall, rich criminals who were brought into town and proceeded to be really rude to reporters and smoke all the weed. In response, a humble city that once had a deep and abiding love for Their Team decided that it didn’t like them anymore.