Tag Archives: Portland Trail Blazers

Time of My Life: Part 10: Recalling Blazermania

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.

Sod Poodles name will catch on eventually … honest, it will

I am quite sure the Amarillo minor-league baseball community is trying to digest the name of the city’s new team.

The team ownership announced that the Class AA team will be called the Sod Poodles, which reportedly is an old-fashioned term meant to describe prairie dogs. Whatever they say, I guess I’ll have to go along with it.

As dubious as I am of the alleged origin of Sod Poodles, I do like the name.

It grew on me quickly. My first reaction to the name that appeared on the list of “finalists” under consideration was pure,, unadulterated hatred. However, my conversion from name hater to name lover was rapid.

The more I thought about it, the more I liked it. Then I heard about the ownership’s logic in selecting this group of names. They sought quirky names. They want the community to talk about them. They want the rest of the Texas League to talk about them, too.

From what I hear, Amarillo’s baseball fans are talking all right. It isn’t all goodness and light. There’s some grumbling from what I have heard.

Hey, pay attention. These kinds of reactions have this way of passing. I know how it goes. I’ve lived through some of this already.

My hometown of Portland, Ore., was awarded a National Basketball Association franchise. The team began play in the fall of 1970. They had to come up with a name. I was finishing my hitch in the Army and I submitted the name Lumberjacks to the powers that be. Hey, Portland is at the hub of the nation’s timber industry. Therefore, Lumberjacks made perfect sense.

The team owners didn’t think so. Neither did the rest of the community. They came up with Trail Blazers as the name for the new NBA team. You could hear the shrieks up and down the Pacific Coast.

Then it dawned on a lot of us: Trail Blazers pays tribute to William Clark and Meriwether Lewis, who “blazed the trail” in the early 19th century from the Midwest to the Pacific Ocean, trekking along the Columbia River to their destination. The team name honors the exploits of Lewis & Clark. It’s perfect!

I believe Sod Poodles will become part of Amarillo’s identity. Eventually.

It might take some time, but I am keeper of the faith in good things happening for the city I used to call home.

Sod Poodles? Let’s think about this

I am about to deliver a assessment or two I hope I won’t regret.

I’ve been giving more thought to the silly list of “finalist” names delivered by the owners of Amarillo’s future AA minor-league baseball team. I also have been trying to digest the reasoning behind the five names chosen to be considered for team’s nickname.

My thought at this moment is this: I am starting to understand better what the team ownership is trying to convey to the community that will sit in the ballpark that is currently under construction in downtown Amarillo.

They want a silly name that elicits a community conversation. They want the name to be the subject of good-natured giggles. They are striving for something different, perhaps a bit unique that becomes a talking point in minor-league — maybe even major league — baseball circles.

That all said — and I am hoping to avoid being struck by lightning by adding this point — I am actually sort of thinking Sod Poodles isn’t such a bad idea … after all!

I want to be candid on one point. I have never heard the term used to describe prairie dogs. I had no idea on Earth that it is some sort of “historical” term used in the old days to refer to the critters that are the bane of ranchers and farmers. Don’t hold against me that I am not a Texas Panhandle native. I mean, I have known about prairie dogs since I was a little boy growing up in Oregon; sod poodles never crossed my radar — ever!

None of this discussion is about me or whether any of us have heard of this term. It’s about prompting a community discussion.

The owners of the team that begins playing hardball in Amarillo in the spring of 2019 have done that very thing.

Look, I mentioned once already that I hated the name of my hometown professional basketball team when it was announced in 1970. Portland’s new NBA team would be called the “Trail Blazers,” prompting a good bit of community angst. We grew to accept and actually like the name. Hey, it was meant to pay tribute to Lewis and Clark, who “blazed a trail” from the Midwest to the Pacific Ocean in the early 19th century.

Whichever name Amarillo’s minor-league baseball team owners select will attract its share of collective teeth-gnashing. Eventually, Amarillo’s baseball fans likely will accept it.

Maybe they will even learn to like it. I wonder, for example, if baseball fans in Toledo hate the “Mud Hens.”

It’s time to name that baseball team

Amarillo’s upcoming minor-league baseball season, which commences in April 2019, will welcome a new team nickname to the region.

The Elmore Group, owners of the team that will play hardball at the multipurpose event venue under construction in downtown Amarillo, has opened up the team-naming process to the fans.

I welcome this challenge. I likely won’t submit a suggested name, but I’ll watch from the peanut gallery as the team ownership ponders what to call this new team that will move to Amarillo from San Antonio.

The team now plays under the name of “Missions.” It’s a AA ballclub affiliated with the National League San Diego Padres. San Antonio will get a AAA franchise that will relocate there from Colorado Springs.

Hmm. Think of that for a moment. Maybe the new Amarillo team will have a sort of religious name, given that “Padres” can be construed as having a religious meaning, just as “Missions” is so interpreted.

Well, whatever. The last time I lived in a community that went through a pro franchise team-naming exercise, the name that came forward was initially greeted with derision. That was in 1970. The NBA awarded my hometown of Portland a pro basketball franchise. They had to name the new team. I preferred “Lumberjacks,” given the huge impact the timber industry has on the Pacific Northwest.

Instead, they came up with “Trail Blazers,” which as I remember it was meant to honor Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who led that “trail blazing” expedition from the Midwest to the Pacific Ocean in the early 19th century.

Still, I didn’t like the name initially — but it grew on me and the rest of the community.

Thus, I caution baseball fans in Amarillo to be patient with whatever name comes forward for the new team that will play ball at the MPEV. The name might grow on you, even if you don’t like it at first.

And, come to think of it … the ballpark needs a name, too.

You go, Mo, into the Hall of Fame

West Texas State University alumnus Maurice Cheeks is headed to the Naismith Pro Basketball Hall of Fame, along with some other great former pro basketball players.

I am so happy to see this development, as I have been a fan of Mo Cheeks for a long time. I watched him play ball for years as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. He also coached my hometown NBA Portland Trail Blazers.

I know that Cheeks has a lot of fans here in the Texas Panhandle, where he lit ’em up while playing college ball for the WT Buffaloes. He went through a serious culture shock, coming here from Chicago and learning about life in the Texas Panhandle.

Cheeks will join Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Grant Hill and WNBA legend Tina Thompson in the Hall of Fame.

But … there’s another reason Mo Cheeks has earned many Americans’ undying love and respect. It occurred during the opening ceremony of an NBA game in Portland, where he was coaching the Blazers. A teenager was selected to sing the National Anthem to open the game. Natalie Gilbert did her best … then something happened.

She froze. Natalie forgot the words. Hey, it happens.

Up stepped Coach Cheeks in an astounding display of presence of mind. He did the following, as shown on the video attached here.

Right there is my all time favorite Maurice Cheeks moment. It might be my favorite NBA moment … of all time!

Congratulations, Maurice Cheeks.

Thanks for reminding me, Fox Sports

Joel Embiid was supposed to be the next big thing to take Philadelphia by storm.

The 76ers drafted him high in the draft. Then he appears to be breaking down. He’s out for the rest of the 2016-17 season with a meniscus injury that appears to be worse than the doctors first feared.

Then Fox Sports, in a report posted online, took note of the following. “Now, the soon-to-be 23-year-old is staring into the abyss — as the ghosts of Greg Oden, Yao Ming, Sam Bowie, Bill Walton and the like stare right back.”

More than a few of us out here took particular note of three of the four men mentioned: Greg Oden, Sam Bowie and Bill Walton.

What do these young men have in common?

They all were first-round picks of the Portland Trail Blazers, my hometown NBA team.


Oden and Bowie never made the grade in the pros. They broke down. I guess I should fess up that the Blazers picked Bowie over another up-and-comer, a young man out of North Carolina named Michael “Air” Jordan.

Walton was injury-prone from the start, although he did put together two great seasons for the Blazers, leading them to the NBA title in 1977 and winning the league’s most valuable player award the following season; he then suffered yet another serious injury — and sued the Blazers for medical malpractice.

Oh, the memories. Some of them I’d rather forget.

‘Glass Palace’ still standing tall

PORTLAND, Ore. — This picture is of a building that in its day was considered a state-of-the-art, never-to-be-duplicated sports and entertainment venue.

I have so many memories of this place. It was built in 1960. Its cost was — get ready for this — $8 million. Think of that. Eight million bucks today perhaps wouldn’t pay for rest-room upgrades today.

It was called the Memorial Coliseum. It became known colloquially as the Glass Palace. It was home for many years to a minor-league hockey team, the Portland Buckaroos. Then the National Basketball Association started looking around for a place to install an expansion franchise. In 1970, the Trail Blazers started playing hoops in the place.

Where is this blog going? I’m taking in two directions at once.

First, some of the Trail Blazers came back to Portland this week to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the team’s only NBA championship. Bill Walton came; so did Larry Steele, Bobby Gross, Lloyd Neal and many of the rest of them were here to celebrate.

So many memories of that era. My bride and I used to go to those early Blazers games. We would plunk down $2 each for a ticket, which were discounted by half for students; we’d sit through the first quarter of a game and then gravitate to the empty seats nearer to courtside to watch the rest of the game.

Ah, yes. The memories.

I watched my first rock concert, with my sister, in August 1965 in that building. A British band came to play: The Beatles. Mom scored two front-row seats for sis and me. We listened — as best we could over the din of screaming fans, my sister included — to a 30-minute show by John, Paul, George and Ringo. Then they were gone.

The memories.

The second direction?

The Blazers abandoned the Coliseum in 1995 to play their home games in a fancy new venue, the Rose Garden, now has a corporate name: Moda Center. It seats nearly 20,000 fans, compared to the 12,600 or so seats in the Coliseum. It’s got those fancy corporate suites and, oh yes, the fans pay an arm and both legs for seats to watch the Trail Blazers.

What would they do with the Coliseum? Some folks here wanted to tear it down to make room for better vehicular access. Others wanted to preserve it.

The preservations apparently have won out.

The building now carries the name “Veterans Memorial Coliseum.” That’s brilliant! Why? Because the building was erected in 1960 to honor the veterans of World Wars I and II and the Korean War. It didn’t have the name displayed so outwardly for all those decades.

It does now. Which is why — in my view — the building is standing to this day. They aren’t going to destroy a structure that honors our veterans. They wouldn’t dare!

It gladdens my heart because of the tribute it pays to our vets — thank you very much for that — and for keeping alive the memories I have kept for so many years.

Well done, Portland!

MPEV as parade staging area?


I used to say to my mother, “Mom, I was thinking …”

To which Mom would quip, “Oh, beginners luck?” Mom had a million of ’em.

Well, I was thinking the other day as Amarillo’s Electric Light Parade was tooling down some downtown streets: Wouldn’t the multipurpose event venue be a suitable location for the parade either to begin to end?

The MPEV development is moving forward. Critics of the venue keep insisting that there’s insufficient uses for the proposed building, that it wouldn’t be kept busy enough.

Well, the Electric Light Parade is just one event in which the MPEV could play a part. Yes, it’s just one night a year. But it symbolizes a number of one-nighters that could occur at the venue, given the right amount of creative marketing.

Back in the old days, when I was growing up in Portland, Ore., my parents would take my sisters and me to the Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade. It’s a big event that clogs downtown Portland every June when the roses are in full bloom and the City of Roses celebrates the flowers for which Portland is famous.

We usually would find a spot to sit along the parade route.

But one year I remember Mom and Dad taking us to Memorial Coliseum, which once was a state-of-the-art athletic arena. It was built in 1960; its cost then was $8 million. It became home eventually to the Portland Trail Blazers professional basketball team.

It also used to be the starting point for the Grand Floral Parade.

Mom and Dad took us there one year to watch the parade take off. The marchers and the floats would exit the building, move across the Burnside Bridge that spanned the Willamette River and through downtown.

It served a marvelous purpose back then.

Why not use our very own venue for such a thing here?