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Blazers Top 100: The Founding Father

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

1977 Portland Trail Blazers team photo Photo by NBA Photos/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. 14 | Harry Glickman

General Manager/President, 1970-1994, currently President Emeritus

Place in History: In the celebratory history “Blazermania: This is Our Story” author Wayne Thompson recounts the improbable story of the day the Portland Trail Blazers were founded.

In February of 1970, a young executive named Harry Glickman was in Los Angeles to talk with Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin and the members of the NBA Expansion Committee. He was prepared to campaign for Portland, Oregon to become one of two locations forming brand new NBA teams that year.

Entering Pollin’s hotel room for the meeting, Glickman faced a tough audience. Ned Irish, New York Knicks founder, wondered openly, “How can I put the name ‘Portland Trail Blazers’ on the marquee of Madison Square Garden?” Even worse, the committee had raised the buy-in price to $3.7 million. That was beyond the tolerance level of the coalition of ten local investors that Glickman had assembled to purchase the franchise. They backed out.

With hostile faces ahead and no money behind, Glickman had placed a call to Herman Sarkowsky, who had no interest in being co-owner in a large group but indicated he might buy in with one or two friends, should he be able to convince them. Glickman had not heard back from Sarkowsky at the time of the gathering.

The meeting went about as you’d expect. Glickman left the room without a deal. Hopes of bringing basketball to Portland were apparently dead.

Thompson picks up the story:

Glickman left the room dejected. As he reached the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, with the distinct feeling that his NBA dream had failed, he remembered that he had left his raincoat, a useless garment in sunny L.A., back in Pollin’s room. “When I got there,” Glickman recalls, “Pollin was on the phone. ‘Harry, it’s for you...some guy named Sarkowsky is on the line.’” That was destiny calling.

Sarkowsky told Harry that he had reached [Larry] Weinberg, who was eager to buy into an NBA franchise, and that he had finally gotten in touch with [Robert] Schmertz. “Schmertz is in—we’re set,” Sarkowsky said.

With that statement, the Portland Trail Blazers were born. 50 years later they’re still going strong. That they exist at all is due to the vision and perseverance of Harry Glickman.

Glickman, a college sportswriter turned promoter, had a long history with Portland via the minor-league Portland Buckaroos hockey team. He also had a passion for basketball. Founding the Blazers in 1970 was the culmination of a decade-long dream. After brokering the deal that put the club in business, Glickman became the team’s first General Manager.

Theoretically the position left Glickman in charge of basketball and business operations. He immediately showed wisdom by splitting those two responsibilities into separate seats. Harry oversaw the promotion and financial aspects of the club, then hired Stu Inman to head basketball operations. Inman proved brilliant, drafting Geoff Petrie, Sidney Wicks, Lionel Hollins, Bill Walton, and a host of complementary players.

Inman wasn’t Glickman’s only hidden treasure. The Seattle Totems, a companion team to Glickman’s Buckaroos, featured a striking announcer named Bill Schonely in the broadcast booth. Glickman admired Schonely’s work and guessed it would translate well to the NBA. He was correct. Schonely became an icon and remains a popular ambassador for the franchise 50 years later.

Glickman was also responsible, via his cousin Frank, for the distinctive Trail Blazers pinwheel logo.

Much of the basketball work happening under Glickman was chronicled in our post about two of his right-hand men: Inman and Bucky Buckwalter. Under Glickman’s oversight, the Blazers won an NBA Championship faster than any team had in the history of the league. The names associated with the team during his association with the team are legendary: Walton, Lucas, Petrie, Hollins, Ramsay, Thompson, Paxson, Drexler, Bowie, Natt, Lever, Vandeweghe, Adelman, Porter, Kersey, Duckworth, Williams, Sabonis. Between 1970 and 1994, when Glickman’s formal attachment to the team ended, the Blazers amassed 15 winning seasons, 17 trips to the playoffs, 3 NBA Finals appearances, and an NBA Championship.

A list of achievements can’t describe what Glickman helped foster, though.

Portland’s World Championship was lightning in a irreplaceable event in the growth of the franchise. Without it, history would not have been the same no matter who the chief executive was. That said, one has to sit back and admire how well the Blazers capitalized on the zeitgeist of that era. They deeply and willingly enmeshed themselves with the community, forming a near-seamless union.

Blazermania is always described as a grassroots movement. It was. But fans in every era look for reasons to embrace their team. Look how often, and how persistently, teams fail to capitalize on that goodwill. Glickman’s Blazers took the championship lightning out of the bottle and used it to power decades of passion. They made rooting for the team a matter of Portland citizenship.

If you want to understand what a feat that was, fast forward to the eras where Trail Blazers executives couldn’t have a conversation with local media without getting into fights about doughnuts and street addresses. You don’t have to dig back too far to find a time when “mission accomplished” for the PR department meant coming up with a single, non-awful slogan to rally fans at the start of a season. Hats off to “Rise with Us”, but it was no Blazermania.

Glickman didn’t just help found a basketball franchise. He helped make Portland into the Bordeaux wine region of NBA fan relations: deep, with a rich tradition and demonstrable, consistent quality. Even when the play on the court faltered, the passion never did. Not under his watch, anyway.

Glickman would serve officially for 24 years with various executives under him. As is true of most Portland execs prior to Bob Whitsitt, the divisions of duty were murky, so his actual exit from the hot seat is cloaked in shifting responsibilities and labels. He held the General Manager position from 1970-1981, overlapping with Executive Vice President between 1975-1987, then filling the position of Team President from 1987-1994. By the latter stage, his responsibilities were limited. Many local sources state his “official” retirement year as 1987.

Glickman was named to the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1986, then inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019. He deserved all of that and more.

For the dream, the ceaseless campaigning, and all the relationships built...for Blazermania, the shrewd hires, and inspiring millions of Trail Blazers fans over the last five decades because he wouldn’t give up on bringing the NBA to Portland, Harry Glickman earns the 14th spot on our Top 100 list of Trail Blazers players and influencers.

Share your memories of Harry Glickman below, and stick with us as we continue onward towards #1!