The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.
No. 80 | Larry Weinberg
Owner from 1970 to 1988
Place in History: The Portland Trail Blazers have only had three majority owners in their 50-year history: Larry Weinberg, Paul Allen, and now Jody Allen. The Allen family had the franchise longer, but Weinberg inaugurated it—along with Herman Sarkowsky and Robert Schmertz—in 1970, bringing big-time basketball to (then) small-town Portland. It was a visionary move, one that not everybody was convinced would work. But Weinberg and company’s $3.7 million initial investment blossomed into a five-decade roller coaster ride that captivated a city and the hearts of multiple generations.
Weinberg invested in the days before the NBA was a billionaire business. Franchises folded and moved. The entire American Basketball Association would fold during the same decade. There was no guarantee he would recoup operating costs, particularly in the Portland market. For all of the Blazers’ success, for all of Portland’s growth, MLS (soccer) remains the only other major league to set up shop in the Rose City to this day.
Weinberg not only made the experiment work, he made it blossom. He kept the brightest minds in the business under him—both in the basketball and broadcasting departments—and let them craft an all-world organization. Harry Glickman, Bill Schonely, George Wasch, Bucky Buckwalter, Jack Ramsay...they blazed a trail that had the rest of the league scrambling to keep up. The Blazers were never going to become a marquee franchise like the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks, but among the “everybody else” teams, Portland led the pack in most ways.
In 1976-77, just seven years after they were created, the Blazers led the league on the floor as well, winning an NBA title faster than any franchise since the league began. That amazing accomplishment endures as the single greatest moment in franchise history. If championships are the metric, Weinberg not only did it first, he did it best.
It’s a good day to remember Portland’s first owner, the original, the man who brought NBA basketball to Portland at #80 (but could have been #1) on our list of Top 100 Blazers players and influencers.
Discuss your thoughts and memories of Larry Weinberg below, and check back every day as we continue the countdown to No. 1.
Update: It’s in the nature of lists such as these to simplify, but I’ve been (correctly) corrected that if we’re talking about founders, the names of Herman Sarkowsky and Robert Schmertz should be mentioned just as firmly. Weinberg’s continued tenure with the team merits special consideration, but we’d be remiss not mentioning again the roles that Sarkowsky and Schmertz played in bringing basketball to Portland. The Blazers wouldn’t have been here without them, nor Glickman, nor many of the things we associate with the roots of the club.