Jerome Kersey, for example, played his four collegiate years at Longwood University, which was a Division II school at the time. Despite being a standout at Longwood, he wasn’t selected until the 46th pick in the 1984 NBA Draft. Second-round picks are usually considered a success if they can carve out any role at all; Kersey spent 11 seasons with the team, eventually becoming a key starter and helping the Blazers compete for the Finals in the 1990s.
Recent examples come to mind, too. Ime Udoka had a whirlwind professional basketball journey before receiving a preseason invite with the Blazers ahead of the 2006-07 season — Udoka turned that long shot invite into a guaranteed contract with the team and started 75 games for Portland that season.
Will Barton endeared himself to fans with a hard-working mindset after being selected in the second round of the 2012 draft. He earned nicknames like “Will The Thrill” and “The People’s Champ” while in Portland. It’s no surprise that Barton went on to flourish in a bigger role with the Denver Nuggets.
My personal favorite underdog? Thomas Robinson. While Robinson was one of the most highly touted prospects coming out of college, he had an unfortunate landing spot with the Sacramento Kings (who selected Robinson over the next pick in that draft, Damian Lillard). Robinson didn’t even last his entire rookie year in Sacramento; he was dealt to Houston at the trade deadline that same season.
Five months later, Houston sent Robinson to Portland, arriving at his third NBA home before the start of his second season. Robinson’s tenacity, even in limited minutes with the Blazers, was electrifying. I mean, this is the greatest block in NBA history, right?
Robinson’s 2013-14 season in Portland provided him with a stable environment to work on refining his game. That season also brought him face-to-face with his former team in the first round of the 2014 playoffs. Robinson got to be part of upsetting the Rockets and had a front-row seat to Damian Lillard’s series-clinching buzzer-beater that sent Houston home.
One of the greatest parts of Lillard’s shot is that Robinson rushes onto the court immediately after and throws down the biggest fist-pump in the exact direction of Houston’s bench (around the 16-second mark):
Robinson only appeared in 32 games for Portland during the 2014-15 season before yet another trade, but I’ll always remember his time with the Blazers.
Who’s your favorite Blazers underdog ever? Let us know in the comments!