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Blazers Top 100: The Ultimate Analyst

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

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Noah Graham/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. 46 | Steve Jones

Games Played with Blazers: 64 Regular Season, 0 Postseason

*PTS: 6.5 | REB: 1.2 | AST: 1.0 | FG%: 44.2%

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

Joined Club: October 1975, acquired from the Golden State Warriors for a 6th-round pick

Departed Club: September 1976, waived

Place in History: Steve “Snapper” Jones grew up in Portland, played for the University of Oregon, and suited up for the Trail Blazers during the 1975-76 season. His Portland stint came at the tail end of a nine-year professional career than included three appearances in the ABA All-Star Game. His stats are listed above, but neither they nor anything he did on the hardwood are his enduring legacy here. After his playing days ended, Steve “Snapper” Jones became, quite simply, one of the best commentators the game has ever seen.

Jones joined Blazers Broadcasting the year after he retired, but his appeal was not contained to the Pacific Northwest. He also worked for CBS during Portland’s championship series with the Philadelphia 76ers. The team would not remain at the top of the league, but Jones would.

It didn’t take too many quips before viewers found out why Jones was special. His clear style, mixed with sharp insight and a wry sense of humor, made him stand out. He wasn’t selling the game or its players. He was more like a sommelier, curating the experience for your enjoyment, maybe educating a little in the process. He didn’t pander and he didn’t spare, he just told it like it was.

Jones’ acerbic style could sometimes veer into the caustic, particularly when presented with sub-optimal events. He would point out when players were upset, seemed distracted, or were drawing ire from the coach. He did not exempt Portland players from his assessments. He would stop short of calling out individuals, but when he saw plays breaking down because of bad decision making, he’d tell the audience that their team didn’t appear to be getting the ball to the right places. His mantra of “ball movement, player movement” served as an oft-repeated, thinly-veiled criticism of the early-2000’s, isolation-based Blazers teams.

Jones’ colleagues were not spared from his assessments or his sharp tongue. He would swat back any platitude that he didn’t agree with like Dikembe Mutumbo on stilts, his dripping tone of voice providing the mental finger wave.

Fellow television broadcaster Pat Lafferty had the veneer of an excitable intellectual, a significant contrast with Jones’ in-control, in-the-know persona. Their odd-couple vibe sometimes drifted into verbal animosity, all of it coming from Jones.

[Warning: personal memories ahead. Judge accordingly.]

One time, Lafferty attempted to add a little color to his description of a Terry Porter three-pointer by exclaiming, “Porter, bombs away from the Rainbow Ridge!” Whatever internal prompting Lafferty had—whether “Rainbow Ridge” was an actual location near the arena, a children’s book reference, or just an attempt to coin a wacky new phrase—you could literally feel Jones bristle at the description, no doubt engaged in a scathing interior monologue: “Bombs from the... there’s no ridge on the floor... AND RAINBOWS??? Is this a thing you know about that nobody in the universe does?” No camera shot was necessary; you could see Jones’ head shake from orbit.

On another occasion, Lafferty and Jones were doing an off-day radio broadcast. Lafferty, before his time in certain aspects, was advancing a player rating system similar to what John Hollinger was developing with PER. As I recall, it was Lafferty’s own. Lafferty spent a couple segments talking about it, then ran down the rankings. They included Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, and maybe Charles Barkley or Karl Malone near the top. When he finished, Lafferty turned to Jones and said, “What do you think?”

“Congratulations. Your formula shows the best players in the NBA are the best players in the NBA.”

There was discussion after that, but it hardly mattered.

Jones would work for NBC—famously alongside Bill Walton, who became the perfect foil for his serious analysis—TBS, and the USA Network during his long career. From the 1980’s to the 2000’s, wherever basketball was broadcast, there he was.

Jones was approaching three decades in Portland’s analyst seat in the mid-2000’s. At the same time, the team was declining precipitously on the court and veering into ridiculousness off it. The combination of “too old for this [stuff]” and a metric crap-ton of [stuff] to be too old for did not play well. Fans and executives increasingly saw the cranky side of “Snapper” without the smart, kindly redemption. Jones and the organization parted ways in 2006.

Steve Jones was a huge part of the era in which Blazers Broadcasting was considered, without much argument, the finest, most polished, and most innovative broadcast team in the NBA. He was also an enormous figure in the basketball education of legions of Portland fans precisely because he did teach, unsparingly and without remorse, rather than simply selling the product and stories that the franchise wanted shown. He was a throwback to the days when basketball was a sport that was televised rather than a television product that happened to be a sport.

For being one of the most important people to ever sit behind a Trail Blazers microphone and for raising the level of all of us by doing so, Steve “Snapper” Jones becomes the 46th entry in our Top 100 Trail Blazers players and influencers list.

Share your memories of Steve Jones below, and stay with us as we continue the countdown towards #1!