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. 37 | Bob Gross
Games Played with Blazers: 486 Regular Season, 25 Postseason
*PTS: 9.2 | REB: 4.5 | AST: 3.0 | FG%: 51.4
*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland
Joined Club: May 1975, 25th overall pick in the 1975 NBA Draft
Departed Club: Summer 1982, departed as free agent
Place in History: Larry Steele, Lloyd Neal, Dave Twardzik and Johnny Davis...there’s a certain quality to the role players in Portland’s 1977 NBA Championship run. They weren’t remarkable players individually. Most of them were drafted low and would blend into the woodwork apart from each other. But somehow together they did more than anybody thought possible, elevating one another’s games and thus the memory of the group as a whole.
At the #37 spot on our Top 100 list we put the bow on the otherwise-anonymous portion of Portland’s championship collective with Bob Gross, a utility small forward who came up big in the system he was built for.
Gross was selected in the same 1975 NBA Draft that netted the Blazers Lionel Hollins. Hollins was a prized guard out of Arizona State, expected to start. Gross was taken in the second round, 16 picks later. At first glance he seemed outclassed even at that weight division. He stood in the vicinity of Gus Williams and World B. Free, two stars who would go on to average 20+ per game 14 times between them. Free managed 30 for the San Diego Clippers during the 1979-80 season! Gross almost got to 13...once.
Every day Gross walked, and played, among bigger stars than he. It’s arguable whether they would have helped Portland more between 1976 and 1978 than he did.
First off, Gross could shoot. He finished a seven-year run in Portland averaging over 50% from the field, and he wasn’t dunking much. Like teammate Larry Steele, he was a master of moving without the ball, getting to open spaces, and converting once he caught it. He had a great jumper, could score in traffic, and was as eager as his teammates to run the break.
Second, Gross was long. He was listed at 6’6, but his arms made him seem taller. Look at him on video today and he seems more like 6’8. Not only that, he had a sneaky-good vertical.
Third, Gross would do absolutely anything else needed in order to help his team succeed. He could pass, rebound, and was an active defender on-ball or helping.
You could make an argument that Gross was the fifth option on the title team, but what happens when your fifth option hits more than half his shots, can set up all other four, runs out on the break to fill lanes, and plays his heart out on the other end? When you already have plenty of scorers and the whole team is committed to ball movement, the “fifth option” becomes as good as the 30 PPG guy.
But Bob Gross tops the role players on this list not for his abilities or career stats, but because of his epic, six-game performance against the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1977 NBA Finals.
He drew the assignment of guarding Julius Erving, which would have been enough to occupy anybody’s attention. Every heard the theory, “Make an NBA player concentrate on defense and you’ll eat into his energy for offense?” While defending the best, most explosive wing of his generation, Gross scored 17.3 points per game, shooting 66.7%, generating 5.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.8 steals per game.
Let’s put that into perspective. Erving scored 30 per game in that series. Bill Walton and Doug Collins averaged 19.7, Maurice Lucas 18.5, and then there was Gross at 17.3, with all the side-dish stats besides.
Dr. J, Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas, Doug Collins, and...Bobby Gross. Which one of those names does not belong?
Except he did belong.
Why? Because at that moment, that’s what his team needed. That was Bob Gross.
Oh yeah...that whole “Maurice Lucas punches Darryl Dawkins” tussle that turned around the championship series? Watch the tape. Who started it?
For being a key part of the trophy run, for the stellar efficiency, and doing everything pretty darn well, Bob Gross comes in at #37 on our Trail Blazers Top 100 players and influencers list.
Share your thoughts and memories of Bob Gross below and stay with us as we continue towards #1!