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Blazers Top 100: Grand Theft Basketball

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

Portland Trail Blazers v New Jersey Nets

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. 47 | Larry Steele

Games Played with Blazers: 610 Regular Season, 27 Postseason

*PTS: 8.2 | REB: 2.9 | AST: 2.8 | FG%: 48.3

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

Joined Club: March 1971, selected 37th overall in the 1971 NBA Draft

Departed Club: Retired from the NBA in the Summer of 1980

Place in History: Players from the dawn of the Trail Blazers franchise tended to come in two flavors: stars who scored all the points and forgettable role players who didn’t last more than a year or two with the team. Larry Steele was one of the few players treading the middle ground on Portland’s early rosters.

Steele was never a big scorer. He tallied 10.3 points per game during Portland’s championship season, his career-high year. Only twice in his nine-year career did he average 30 minutes per game.

Steele did two things really well:

  • He was a high-efficiency shooter. For the first seven years of his career, over 522 games, he averaged 49.4% shooting from the field as a guard. His release was high, his wrist flick smooth, his follow-through pretty. If Steele took a shot, it was a good one. Being one of those players who could find open spaces on the floor as naturally as breathing didn’t hurt.
  • In a development that would make novel editors everywhere roll their eyes, Larry Steele was good at...steals. Quick hands and smart feet provided the weaponry. He led the NBA in 1973-74 with 2.7 per game and finished his career averaging 1.8.

Steele also played every night, rain or shine. Knee injuries caught up to him in 1979-80; he appeared only 16 times in his final season. Before that, he played in 594 out of a possible 656 games over 8 seasons. Steele was an Iron Man long before Andre Miller or Wesley Matthews ever took the floor.

Playing in 600 games is even more remarkable when you consider Steele had five different coaches in those eight years. Everyone from Rolland Todd to Lenny Wilkens to Jack Ramsay found a reason to play him. Geoff Petrie and Lloyd Neal each had long tenures with the team during that span. Steele’s run from 1971 to 1980 outdid them all.

Steele never played for another NBA team. After his playing days were over, he became a broadcaster and executive with the team, then went on to coach at the University of Portland.

For 600 games in often-crowded backcourts (in which he was seldom considered the best player), for continuity between eras, for the championship season, the off-ball movement, and for being maybe the most appropriately-named player in franchise history, Larry Steele earns the 47th spot on our Top 100 List of Trail Blazers players and influencers.

A three-quarter-court shot? Really??? Yeah Larry, indeed.

Share your thoughts and memories of Larry Steele below, and stick around as we continue to count down towards #1!