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. 39 | Lloyd Neal
Games Played with Blazers: 435 Regular Season, 22 Postseason
*PTS: 11.1 | REB: 7.7 | OREB: 1.5 | FG%: 48.5
*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland
Joined Club: April 1972, 31st overall pick in the 1972 NBA Draft
Departed Club: June 1979, retired from the NBA
Place in History: The Portland Trail Blazers have a type...two actually: the plucky, better-than-you-thought point guard and the blue-collar power forward who rebounds, scores efficiently, and brings toughness to the lineup.
Every archetype has a source, For the Blazers, Lloyd Neal was the original model power forward.
Drafted in 1972, Neal was one of a small handful of players bridging the gap between the expansion years and Portland’s championship run. He was never the best big man on his team. That honor belonged to Sidney Wicks, later to Bill Walton. Neal averaged 15.5 points per game in 1975-76, but that wasn’t his jam. Instead Neal hauled all six feet, seven inches of himself onto the court every night to defend the best power forwards and centers in the league. He would shove Bob Lanier out of the post and take Kareem Abdul-Jabbar into it. Neal wasn’t starstruck by big names on jerseys. He cared about little things like foot positioning, center of gravity, rebounding angles...all the things that coaches try to teach their young charges while the kids watch dunk contest highlights.
Neal wasn’t just good, he was consistently good. He worked every night without demanding shots. When asked what NBA players should be like, and who helped the team most, more famous contemporaries would point out Neal.
Neal checked all the requisite big-man boxes. His board work was sound. He scored in the post. He’d put an arm (or his butt) into opponents and move them around the court. He also had a nice face-up jumper. He wasn’t Geoff Petrie out there, but you couldn’t leave him. Being able to pull an opposing pivot out of the lane was a huge bonus in an era where paint real estate was at its highest value.
For seven seasons, Neal brought it for the only team he’d ever play for. Knee surgery in the summer of 1976 would reduce his court time at the exact moment the Blazers came to prominence, leaving his contributions underrated compared to Maurice Lucas. Fair enough; Lucas was a huge driving force behind Portland’s title. But Neal played 58 games that year, plus every postseason contest. He’d continue for another full season plus a couple games in 1978-79 before he was waived.
As the Trail Blazers started retiring numbers, Neal’s #36 was the first one they honored. When Kenny Carr, Buck Williams, and Brian Grant came along in decades to come, Blazers fans were prepared to admire the Lloyd Neal in them. Portland’s DNA had been transformed to embrace the guy who worked hard and sacrificed for the team even if he didn’t draw the headlines or score the most points.
For helping Portland find the value in the little things, for being one of a small handful of long-term Trail Blazers lifers, and for helping the team find its way to a championship by picking up wherever it was needed, Lloyd Neal earns the 39th spot in our list of Top 100 Trail Blazers players and influencers.
Share thoughts and memories of Lloyd Neal below, and stay with us as we continue onward towards #1!