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. 77 | Mike Barrett and Mike Rice
Joined Club: Summer 2003 (Barrett), Summer 1991 (Rice)
Departed Club: June 2016
Place in History: For a certain generation of Blazers fans, particularly those whose prime overlapped the ascension of Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, Mike Barrett and Mike Rice set the standard for broadcasting.
Barrett joined the team in 2003 after a career in local radio and television, plus a tour of duty as play-by-play broadcaster for the WNBA’s Portland Fire. He brought an accuracy and polish not seen before him, even in more famous voices who tended to trade on emotion as much as technical proficiency. (Side note: A broadcasting guru at an NBA event once offered to me personally, “People don’t understand what he’s doing out there. He is so precise, almost like a clock, hitting all the subtle ticks and cues, but it still feels natural.”)
Barrett struggled to find his footing alongside veteran broadcaster (by then slightly curmudgeonly) Steve Jones, but he blossomed almost immediately after being paired with former radio analyst Rice. Rice offered basketball knowledge spun through jongleur stories. He was part Bill Walton, part cracked uncle, part coach who was about to storm the court and rip somebody’s head off. (He famously got ejected from a game while working radio in 1994 for provoking NBA referee Steve Javie.) Rice proved the perfect foil for Barrett.
From 2006 to 2016, the pair ran a booth that recalled classic WWE commentator Gorilla Monsoon paired with Jesse Ventura or Bobby Heenan. Barrett played the straight man, trying to call the action over outrageous, and often biased, commentary from Rice. Inevitably, Rice would pull the serious Barrett over to his world view, until the play-by-play man was dangerously close to slipping into theater alongside his partner. Then Barrett would take a breath, reset, and return to calling the game, only to get distracted again a half-period later. When asked about Rice’s antics, Barrett would inevitably say, “The thing is, he really knows what he’s talking about.” He was right.
Sometimes the act felt choreographed, other times delightful and spontaneous. In the moments it didn’t work, it could be jarring. (Rice’s pre-fabricated “characters” come to mind.) When it did work, it was magic. Either way, it was seldom dull. Every time Barrett would appear too staid or Rice too outrageous, the other would pull them back into orbit. And so it went until both were released, simultaneously, in the Summer of 2016.
The Blazers have sported more iconic broadcasters individually, but Portland sports has never seen a pair like “Mike and Mike”. For the decade-long run and establishing their own style, the loss of which is still mourned by many fans, Mike Barrett and Mike Rice get the 77th spot in our countdown of Top 100 most influential players and figures in franchise history.