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. 30 | Brian Grant
Games Played with Blazers: 172 Regular Season, 33 Postseason
*PTS: 10.2 | REB: 8.0 | OREB: 2.9 | FG%: 49.5%
*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland
Joined Club: August 1997, signed as a free agent
Departed Club: August 2000, traded to the Miami Heat in a three-team deal that brought the Blazers Shawn Kemp
Place in History:
Trail Blazers Fans, 2020: The Blazers got Rodney Hood and Pau Gasol in free agency last year. That was pretty good! I wonder what they’ll do this summer?
Old-Timer: *taking a long pull on the stem of his pipe* Free agent, yeh say? You whippersnappers gather ‘round and I’ll tell yeh about a free agent.
Trail Blazers Fans: Oh geez, Gramps. Is this going to be about some 70’s guy in short shorts?
Old-Timer: *shaking his cane* It should be!!! Those short-shorts were stylin’! Not like the peejammy bottoms y’all wear today. Why not just play in a kilt like Rowdy Roddy Piper?
Trail Blazers Fans: Rowdy Roody who?
Old-Timer: *putting away the wrestling belt he was about to shake* That’s a story fer another time! Right now, I wanna tell yeh about...Brian Grant.
Trail Blazers Fans: He was a free agent?
Old-Timer: You betcha!
Trail Blazers Fans: How many three-pointers did he hit?
Old-Timer: *shaking an old, rolled up copy of SLAM magazine* You and yer dang-diddly three-pointers! There was a time when a player wasn’t judged by the length of his jump shot, but the length of his dreadlocks!
Trail Blazers Fans: Hey Gramps, where are you getting all that stuff you’re shaking at us?
Old-Timer: Cargo shorts weren’t invented yesterday, yeh know!!! Now hush up while I spins the tale of (whispers) the “Raaaaasta Monstaaaaa”.
Trail Blazers Fans: Ooooooh!
Brian Grant arrived in Portland in 1997, a 25-year-old former lottery pick for the Sacramento Kings that had developed into a bright, young prospect. He was a fantastic rebounder, an efficient scorer, one of the guys the Kings had tabbed as a favorite son and potential future star. That summer he opted out of the final year of his contract to sign with the Trail Blazers. He cited Portland’s bright future as the main reason for his decision.
Grant joined a crowded frontcourt which included Rasheed Wallace and Arvydas Sabonis, both clearly slated for starting positions. It didn’t take long to figure out that they had to do something, though. Grant was too good to keep on the bench. Throwing caution to the wind in the name of keeping his best players on the court, Head Coach Mike Dunleavy started Grant, Wallace, and Sabonis together, creating a monstrously big front three. The next year, when that wasn’t working, Wallace went to the bench instead of Grant. Part of that was positioning; Wallace could play multiple positions, Grant only power forward. Part of it was simply Grant’s indomitable nature. Even if he wasn’t the most talented player on the floor in objective terms, he was going to make the biggest impact.
Grant looked, walked, and played like a big man at all times and in all places. We mentioned Roddy Piper above. Grant was kind of like an old-school wrestler. Today’s WWE athletes have muscles on muscles...the definition of the average guy blows away anything from back in the 80’s and 90’s era. But somehow back then it seemed like they hit harder...like less muscle produced, but more apparent force. You wouldn’t see the classic wrestlers in a bodybuilding contest but you wouldn’t want to meet them in a bar fight.
Grant was like that. He moved compactly, but played huge. His hands were always busy. Sometimes they were busy grabbing rebounds up top, other times they were busy shoving you out of the way down low. Either way—top or bottom, now or later, voluntarily or after getting thrown around—you were going to move out of his way.
Grant was no goon, though. He had a sweet jumper out to 20 feet. Portland was the only significant place in his career where he didn’t average 44% or above on shots between 16 feet and the three-point arc, and he still hit 41% of those for the Blazers. Plenty of offensive wizards would look with envy on that percentage from long two-point range. And if he caught the ball near the rim, forget it. Grant scanned like a Hummer but handled like a Maserati. He had an impressive repertoire in the post. His footwork was both smooth and brutally direct.
Throw it all together and Grant provided 50% shooting, 8 rebounds, 3 offensive boards, and just over 10 points per game during his Portland run. Had the rotation not been so crowded with scorers, it’s easy to imagine him scoring 15 instead.
As any long-time fan knows, stats and skills don’t encompass the entirety of Grant’s legacy. He fought hard—always metaphorically, sometimes literally. The Blazers faced the Utah Jazz in the second round of both the 1999 and 2000 NBA playoffs. Karl Malone was not just the shizznit during this period, he was the whole septic tank. If the Blazers were going to break, it would be at the hands of the Hall-of-Fame-bound power forward.
Grant didn’t match Malone statistically. Given their relative roles, there’s no way he could. Instead he took Malone’s head out to lunch and didn’t bother to return it until the series was decided. He bumped, bruised, and bled...whatever it took to make sure that Utah’s key matchup advantage didn’t tell the tale. This legendary face-off wasn’t just decided by points, but by elbows and bandages. On those grounds, Grant not only stood a chance, he may have had the edge.
The 1999 playoffs against the Jazz represents Grant’s pinnacle in Portland. As his second and third seasons progressed, though, there was no hiding that Wallace was going to be the team’s star and that the starting role would be his. In the summer of ‘99, the Blazers brought on Scottie Pippen to play small forward, creating one of the most packed frontcourts the league had seen since the Lakers and Celtics in the eighties. Grant’s spirit continued to shine, but his minutes and contributions steadily waned. Knee and foot injuries contributed heavily, but it was hard to escape his increasingly obvious “odd man out” status.
Despite shooting a team-high 52% from the field while providing the usual rebounding and defense, Grant averaged only 16.5 minutes per game as the Blazers tried to overcome their nemesis, the Los Angeles Lakers, in the 2000 NBA Finals. He played less than 8 minutes in the fateful Game 7 which saw the most famous fourth-quarter collapse in franchise history.
That summer, Grant’s contract was up, as was his patience. The Blazers wanted him back, just like the Kings had once upon a time. They made an offer, but he no longer saw a bright future in Portland. Instead he accepted a long-term sign-and-trade deal that would take him to Miami. Portland’s return would be Shawn Kemp, a forward with a bigger name than Grant’s, but as it turned out, nowhere near the impact or character.
The affectionately-named Rasta Monsta departed town as he had entered it: dreadlocks waving, head held high. He also left plenty of adulation in his wake. Fans realized almost instinctively that someone special had slipped through the franchise’s fingers. If they couldn’t tell it by his play, they recognized it in spades when Grant proclaimed that, even though he was going to sign with a new team, it would never be the Lakers. Knowing the culture and the historic battles between the two clubs, L.A. was the enemy. Grant said he couldn’t see going directly from Portland into the purple and gold. He would don that uniform for the 2004-05 season. Nobody begrudged him. His memory was still cherished, and his fans wished him well.
After his 12-year career ended, Grant returned to the Pacific Northwest, engaging in charity work and helping with the team. He was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s Disease in the mid-2000’s. His website, briangrant.org and his charity, the Brian Grant Foundation, are dedicated to helping those with Parkinson’s.
For all the battles, including the current ones, for embodying the classic Blazers spirit and power forward archetype like few have before or since, for choosing the club in 1997 and the classy departure in 2000, and for going toe to toe with the Best Power Forward Ever without giving an inch, Brian Grant earns the 30th spot on our Trail Blazers Top 100 Players and Influencers list.
This highlight package isn’t just about Grant, but it involves him heavily. Watch ‘em play. This team had toughness and Grant was right at the heart of it.
Share your memories of Brian Grant below, and stick with us as we continue towards #1!