The world came down with Beatlemania in the 1960s, but my hometown became afflicted in the 1970s with something called Blazermania.
My job as a sportswriter for the Oregon City Enterprise-Courier allowed me in June 1977 to see Blazermania up close, as in really up close.
I grew up in Portland, Ore., a nice city to call home; it’s about 15 miles north of Oregon City. It had a minor-league baseball team, the Portland Beavers. It had a minor-league hockey franchise, the Portland Buckaroos, which lasted until 1974. No pro football. In 1970, the National Basketball Association decided Portland needed to join the NBA family of cities. So it granted Portland a pro basketball franchise.
The Portland Trail Blazers struggled through six seasons of futility; they lost more games than they won in each of those years. Then came the 1976-77 season. The team had drafted a fellow out of UCLA named Bill Walton and had acquired some talent from the defunct American Basketball Association; the big name from the ABA to join the Blazers was Maurice Lucas. The two of them formed the foundation of a team coached by first-year coach Jack Ramsay.
They finished the regular season 49-33. They made the NBA playoffs for the first time ever. They defeated, in order, the Chicago Bulls, the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers to win the Western Division championship. Then they faced the Philadelphia 76ers for the league title. The Sixers possessed some high-powered talent as well. Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Doug Collins and Darryl Dawkins suited up for them.
The Blazers won the NBA title in six games. The city went ballistic. Heck, the entire state of Oregon and a good bit of southwest Washington went nuts, too! Blazer fans cheered themselves hoarse.
My editor assigned me to cover the Blazers’ victory parade throughout downtown Portland. I went gladly.
I walked along the parade route, following the cars carrying the men who won the title. The crowd throughout the parade route was roughly 500,000 or so; I am going to presume that over the years, the number of people who said they were at the parade now numbers in the millions.
I snapped pictures, interviewed fans and collected notes for a feature story I would write for my newspaper.
I ventured to the top of a building overlooking Schrunk Plaza in front of a 40-story bank tower downtown. I wanted to grab a picture of the crowd assembled in front of the podium. It was huge, man!
Then I noticed a solitary figure standing near the rail looking down on all the madness. I looked carefully. It was the late Stu Inman, the Blazers’ general manager — the guy who built the team that won the NBA title!
I walked up to Inman, introduced myself and asked, “Why aren’t you down there with the rest of them?” His answer spoke volumes about him. “Oh, no,” he said. “That’s for someone else.” He didn’t care to bask in the glory, which he reckoned belonged to the players and the coach.
So it went. The Blazers had taken their first journey into the postseason all the way to the NBA mountaintop.
I was so proud to have been able to chronicle a small part of it.