NBA Podcasts are as common as pigeons at a popcorn stand, but veteran media members Marc Stein and Chris Haynes often break interesting ground on #thisleague UNCUT. This week’s episode was no exception, especially if you’re a Portland Trail Blazers fan. Haynes drew on his background in Portland, sharing a story about franchise legend Jerome Kersey.
Kersey played for the Blazers between 1984-1995, playing a key role in Portland’s NBA Finals runs in 1990 and 1992. But Kersey’s association with the organization lasted far after his playing days were over. He remained an ambassador for the Blazers until his death in February, 2015 of a blood clot following surgery.
Haynes served the Portland market near the beginning of his career. His time in the Rose City overlapped with Kersey’s ambassadorial service. As he relays at the 48 minute mark of the podcast, Haynes got the chance to talk to Jerome during a particularly poignant moment, when Kersey was lamenting that his jersey hadn’t been retired by the organization.
I was very close with Jerome Kersey, and I’ve never shared this story before. But I was very close with Jerome Kersey and he kind of took me in. Like, him and Michael Holton who’s still there with the Blazers, Antonio Harvey who used to be the radio guy with the Blazers. Those guys, like, really took me under their wing and tried to show me the ropes on just how to navigate road life with a family and everything, and just telling me all the stories back in the day playing in the ‘80s and ‘90s, man. And they’re just encyclopedias, man, so I just loved being around them.
But Jerome told me that the Blazers had let him know that they had intentions of retiring his jersey. And I said, man, I remember telling him back in the day – so this is, he probably told me this as early as 2011, and at that time, Jerome worked as an ambassador for the team. One of those roles where you go out in the community, represent the team. So, he did that for a good amount of years, and so he was always looking forward to having his jersey lifted up there in the rafters. And, again, no disrespect to a lot of those players, but he’s looking at some of those players up there – a lot of them wasn’t on Jerome Kersey’s level. People, you’ve got to look up Jerome Kersey. Kersey was a dog. He was a dog. Played with (Clyde) Drexler and (Terry) Porter. He didn’t get to stand out like other players did on other teams, but he was a dog. A lot of people called him the heart and soul of those Portland Trail Blazer teams that went to the Finals and battled against Michael Jordan.
So, 2014 happens, 2014 comes around, and we’re about to get right into the 2014-15 season, and Jerome calls me and tells me, ‘Hey, the Blazers are signing Steve Blake.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, cool, Steve Blake is coming back. He’s a fan favorite in Portland,’ I’m like, ‘Okay, that’s a nice pickup, a nice backup to Dame.’ He was like, ‘They’re giving him No. 25.’ And it’s still not registering to me. He was like, ‘That’s my number, man.’ I was like, ‘Oooooh.’ He was like, ‘They still ain’t put—‘ like, he was hurt. He was hurt. This is 2014-15 season. He was hurt that they gave Blake his number, No. 25, and basically saying that there’s no immediate plans to retire his jersey.
So, that was in the Fall of 2014. Jerome passed due to a blood clot about five months later and never got to see it. Now, I don’t know, the Blazers have changed regimes in the front office and the business side since then, I never knew who it was that promised Jerome that it was in the plans to retire his jersey, but I’ve always felt that him being one of the guys that was the heart and soul of that team in the ‘90s with Terry Porter and Clyde Drexler – which those two both have their numbers up there – I felt like it was deserving. I felt like he was deserving to have his number up there. Especially if he was told so. And especially if you look at the guys that are up there right now.
I’ve never talked about that, I’ve never shared that story about when Steve Blake came around and how Jerome felt when they gave him his number. I wish he would have got a chance to see it. And not just see it, because they still haven’t done it, so I would like to see the Blazers do that. One thing about Jerome, that guy don’t lie. He going to keep it straight up. So, I believe him when he told me a high-ranking official with the Blazers told him they planned to retire his jersey. I hope they do that for his family, for his kids. Even though he can’t see it, I want them to do right by him. I think he deserves it.
Kersey’s #25 is still active, though the Blazers have retired a dozen other numbers, including Terry Porter and Clyde Drexler from Kersey’s era.