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Blazers Top 100: The Starter Nobody Expected

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A look at the 100 players and personnel who have influenced the Trail Blazers’ 50-year history.

New Jersey Nets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

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. 76 | Steve Blake

Games Played with Blazers: 350 Regular Season, 11 Postseason

*PTS: 7.8 | AST: 4.5 | FG%: 41.4 | 3PT%: 39.8

*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland

Joined Club: September 2005, signed as free agent

Departed Club: July 2006, traded with Ha Seung-Jin and Brian Skinner to the Milwaukee Bucks for All-Star Center Jamaal Magloire

Joined Club: July 2007, signed as free agent

Departed Club: February 2010, traded with Travis Outlaw to the Los Angeles Clippers for Defensive Player of the Year Center Marcus Camby

Joined Club: July 2014, signed as a free agent

Departed Club: July 2015, traded with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to the Brooklyn Nets for Pat Connaughton and All-Rookie First Team (and Plumlee Family Reunion lawn darts champion) Center Mason Plumlee

Place in History: Every year it’s a sure sign of summer when the geese start traveling north again and the swallows come back to Capistrano. For a while, Steve Blake either signing a free agent contract with the Trail Blazers or getting traded away for the franchise’s next starting center were also reliable signs. Blake signed not once, not twice, but three whole times with Portland between 2005-2014. On two of those occasions, the Blazers moved him the very next summer. Yet there he was, at the end of every contract, coming back home.

The first time he came in he was billed second alongside fellow Maryland alum Juan Dixon. Blake ended up starting; Dixon didn’t. When he came back in 2007, he was supposed to hold the first-team point guard spot for Sergio Rodriguez or whatever veteran the Blazers brought in after him. Blake ended up starting 78 of his 81 games that season, then all 69 the season after (with Jerryd Bayless behind him), followed by 28 of 82 with Andre Miller on the roster. Not only could the Blazers not quit him, they couldn’t keep him on the bench.

Blake’s three-point shooting (43% in 2008-09) and willingness to defer to Brandon Roy recommended him for the position, but his career in Portland wasn’t just about circumstantial fit. Behind his unassuming demeanor lay two things:

  1. A straightforward honesty that endeared him to the people around him.
  2. Scrap like a badger, along with the same willingness to lash out if things weren’t going right.

The dude wasn’t given his position, he took it, the same was his long-time head coach, Nate McMillan, had taken his in Seattle. If you got in his way, he was going to butt his head up against your chest until you moved or he hit the floor with a concussion. Check out the video of Blake, billed as 6’3, 172 pounds, taking exception to 6’8, 220 pound Kenneth Faried.

It wasn’t just opponents staring down Blake’s furrowed brow, either. One of the most famous stories from his Trail Blazers tenure came from a lackadaisical December, 2007 practice in San Antonio as the Blazers prepared to face the Spurs. Frustrated with his teammates’ efforts, Blake kicked and threw a chair, part of a team-wide series of arguments and melees that ended up spurring a 13-game winning streak. It was less inspiration than, “Get going or get out of the way,” which was exactly Blake’s style.

Again and again during his tenure(s), Blazers fans would cry for coaches to advance somebody else to the starting role. That didn’t happen until Miller arrived, and even then semi-reluctantly and with middling results. Blake may have been overmatched against the best guards in the league, particularly in the post-season, but damned if he was going to admit it for a second.

For tenacity, longevity, a little bit of shooting, and sticking it to everyone who doubted him, Blake gets the 76th spot on our Trail Blazers Top 100 list.