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. 23 | Stu Inman and Bucky Buckwalter
Inman: Scout 1970-71, Interim Coach in 1971-72, Director of Player Personnel 1972-1981, General Manager 1981-1986
Buckwalter: Scout, Assistant Coach, and Executive 1976-1986, Assistant GM/Vice President of Basketball Operations 1986-1992
Place in History: Executive titles have been murky since the dawn of the Trail Blazers franchise. Don’t let your President of General Basketball Operations get mixed up with my Director of Managing Personnel or there’ll be trouble afoot!
Through the chaos of shifting titles and responsibilities, one thing has been clear. If you want to find the decision-makers behind the most successful runs in Blazers history, look to Stu Inman and Bucky Buckwalter.
Inman came on board at the club’s genesis, one of the seminal figures in Portland basketball. He started as head scout, then served as interim head coach in the second season of the franchise. The draft was his bailiwick. Inman was expert at identifying smart, plucky, underdog players. His premium picks could be hit-and-miss. He snagged Geoff Petrie, Sidney Wicks, and Mychal Thompson, but also LaRue Martin and, much later, Sam Bowie. Inman’s “underneath” selections in the first and later rounds were gold: Dave Twardzik, Lloyd Neal, Larry Steele, Bob Gross, Johnny Davis, Fat Lever and Jim Paxson, to name a few. In 1983, the Blazers made their biggest non-top-ten selection in history, snagging University of Houston guard Clyde Drexler with the 14th overall selection. Inman was there for all of them.
He was also there, of course, when the Blazers selected Bill Walton first overall in the 1974 NBA Draft, then Lionel Hollins with the 6th pick in 1975, and after that Maurice Lucas in the ABA expansion draft in 1976. That trio would form the core of Portland’s 1977 NBA championship team and, had Walton not been injured, may have started a dynasty.
Buckwalter would join the team as an assistant coach under Jack Ramsay in 1976, rising through the executive ranks as the 80’s progressed. He officially became Vice President of Basketball Operations in 1986.
International players were Buckwalter’s specialty in an era when drafting players from outside the U.S. was rare. In the 1986 NBA Draft, Buckwalter selected Aryvdas Sabonis with the 24th overall pick and Drazen Petrovic with the 60th. Critics scoffed, claiming it was a good thing the Blazers also got College Player of the Year Walter Berry, else the whole draft would have been a waste. Berry lasted five weeks in Portland. Sabonis would later play seven seasons, while Petrovic would go on to earn All-NBA honors with the New Jersey Nets.
Along with Inman, Buckwalter was instrumental in drafting Drexler, plus Jerome Kersey and Terry Porter in the mid-80’s. Buckwalter would also turn Berry, Bowie, and Byron Irvin into Kevin Duckworth, Buck Williams, and Danny Ainge. Drafting Cliff Robinson 36th overall in 1989 would complete the core of those early 90’s Trail Blazers squads that won 179 games over three seasons and would reach the NBA Finals twice.
Buckwalter won NBA Executive of the Year in 1990-91.
One look at the names suiting up for the Blazers between 1974 and 1992 should testify sufficiently to the prowess of these two executives. When you start with Bill Walton and Clyde Drexler, then mention Mychal Thompson, Jim Paxson, Cliff Robinson, and Arvydas Sabonis almost as footnotes to the legacy, you know they did something right. Honestly, we haven’t even exhausted the list. Herm Gilliam, Moses Malone, Tom Owens, Billy Ray Bates, Calvin Natt, Kelvin Ransey, Kenny Carr, Wayne Cooper, Kiki Vandeweghe, Caldwell Jones, Mark Bryant, Steve Johnson, Robert Pack, and Rod Strickland all passed the franchise’s portals during the Inman-Buckwalter years.
Stu Inman and Bucky Buckwalter knew how to secure talent. They kept the larder full through multiple decades under multiple General Managers. 1976-77 was the first year both were in the organization, also the first the Blazers saw real success. Beginning with that year through Buckwalter’s gradual exit in 1996, Portland made the playoffs in 19 of 20 seasons with four Conference Finals appearances, three NBA Finals appearances, and one championship.
Neither Inman nor Buckwalter presented as the sole executive in control the way that Bob Whitsitt and Neil Olshey would later do. In their era, it was nearly impossible to pin down credit for a given move to a single person. But the teams this pair of executives built stand to this day as the greatest in franchise history. Their fingerprints were on all of them.
Had the list of names we shared in this article been halved, Inman and Buckwalter would have still deserved a place on this list. For all the players and for all the years of building and rebuilding while maintaining excellence, we rank Stu and Bucky together at #23 among the Top 100 Trail Blazers players and influencers.
Share your memories of those decades and those teams below, and stick with us as we continue towards #1!