NCAA March Madness is just around the corner. In homage to the great annual event we’re running a Portland Trail Blazers bracket here at Blazer’s Edge this month. The idea came from an article from Dia Miller and Dave Deckard, detailing the Blazers they’d most like to see one more time. The piece was fun and well-received, so we’re making a bracket of 16 candidates and letting you vote for your favorites during these January weekends. Eventually we’ll see which player you’d most like to bring back for one more go.
Here are the conventions:
- We’re not including Bill Walton and Clyde Drexler, since everyone should want them back for overwhelming talent and impact purposes. They count as, “Anytime, Anywhere” legends.
- You can vote in the comments or on Twitter @blazersedge. We won’t get as many votes that way as if we just opened a poll, but the discussion is important as well.
- You don’t necessarily have to consider the current roster or the state of the team as you make your choices, but you can. You’re voting for the player you’d most love to see suit up for one more season. The qualities/memories of that individual player are the most important things. Helping the current team is a bonus which can weigh in your decision, but doesn’t have to.
- Sadly, we’ve lost some of the players on this list. We remember them with honor and thank their families for sharing them with us through basketball so we could appreciate and remember them.
- Go ahead and envision the best Blazers version of each player. That’s part of the fun!
Our first matchup pits a pair of fan favorites from different eras.
Billy Ray Bates
As the Trail Blazers’ championship aspirations crumbled—along with Bill Walton’s feet—in 1979, a jolt of lightning shook them out of the doldrums. A 23-year-old guard with hops that threatened concussions on the Memorial Coliseum ceiling took the stage to wow observers with a brief, but memorable, foray into history. Billy Ray Bates was everything then-coach Jack Ramsay looked sidelong at: an improviser, an isolation scorer, his game raw and unfinished. But boy, could Bates could score.
His regular-season numbers were muted by limited playing time. 12.3 points per game doesn’t look that impressive until you realize he did it in just 18 minutes, which works out to 24.7 points per-36. There were also plays like this:
But Bates’ performances in the 1980 and 1981 NBA Playoffs made his name and the legend. In two first-round series, he averaged 25.0 and 28.3 points per game, shooting 52.5% and 56.5% from the floor, respectively. In 1979-80 he even shot 42.1% from the three-point arc on 1.2 attempts per game in an era where that shot wasn’t kosher.
Doing so, he brought life to a franchise that, to all appearances, was becoming distressingly normal and cemented himself as a fan favorite. The chance to see young Billy Ray dunk again may be too tantalizing to resist.
No player outside of first-overall draft picks created more stir upon his arrival in Portland than 7’3 Lithuanian center Arvydas Sabonis. His exploits with the Soviet National Team throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s were legendary. He destroyed all opposition behind the Iron Curtain, and most of it in the Spanish pro league, emerging occasionally to lead the Soviets to glory in international competition. He was as big as a mountain, as lithe as a breeze, had huge hands, immaculate footwork, prescient vision, passing ability, and range out to the three-point arc.
Injuries slowed Sabonis and limited his effectiveness well before he joined the Blazers in 1995. Even a hobbled, bulk version was able to accomplish plenty:
Sabas played 470 games for the Blazers, averaging 12.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in 24.2 minutes. His game would translate into any era, including the modern one, especially with his ability to stretch the floor on offense and clog the middle on defense.
So which will it be? If you had to choose between Billy Ray Bates and Arvydas Sabonis to play one more year, which would it be? Vote in the comments or on Twitter!