Troubled History of the Portland Trail Blazers: An Overcast in Portland – When will it end?

This has to be the darkest set of clouds to hover over the city of Portland.  For over 34 years, the Portland Trailblazers have been hit with the worst luck in sports history.  After making the playoffs for the first time in the 1976-77 season with a 49-33 record, the Blazers made a Cinderella run through the playoffs led by center Bill Walton and won the NBA championship.  The following season looked like Portland was well on its way to defend its title as they jumped to a 50-10 start.  However, enter the dark clouds.  What happens next would be the beginning of the worst luck a team could ever have.  Here is a timeline of all the bad luck the Blazers had experienced since their championship run.

Bill Walton Injuries and Protest (1978-79)

Walton was one of the best college players of all time at UCLA, and was drafted #1 overall by the Blazers in 1974. He was supposed to be a dominant center and on par with the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Moses Malone.

Injuries plagued the early part of his career, but he was still able to lead the Blazers to a championship and won an NBA MVP in 1978.  Nearing the end of the 1978 season he suffered a broken foot and sat out the following season under protest.  He claimed the Blazers mishandled his injuries and at the end of the 1978-79 season he signed with the San Diego Clippers.

1978 NBA Draft

The Blazers had the first overall pick and selected Mychal Thompson, a 6’10” PF/C who had a solid NBA career.  However, who was available during this draft? Larry Bird.  Bird was selected 6th overall by Boston, but it wasn’t the lack of attempt by Portland to try to draft Bird.  Knowing that Bird was to return to college for his senior season, Portland wanted him, but had to convince him to sign a contract before the 1979 draft so they would have the rights to him when he left college.  Obviously they failed to do so.  Imagine what would’ve been if Bird was a Blazer and Walton wasn’t plagued by injuries.  Ironically, the two would be teammates in Boston and would win a championship in 1986.

1984 NBA Draft

This has got to be the worst luck of them all.  With the #2 overall pick, the Blazers selected the 7 footer Sam Bowie.  Bowie was taken before the likes of Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton.  Ok, in Portland’s defense, this seemed to be the right pick based on need.  NOT!!  This is the greatest evidence why you should draft by talent, not need. Everyone knows what Jordan, Barkley, and Stockton’s career turned out to be.  Sam Bowie – biggest draft bust of them all.  Wow, what if Jordan, Barkley, or Stockton were a Blazer?  Any of those guys would’ve been a nice 1-2 punch with Clyde Drexler at the time.

Arvydas Sabonis (June 1986)


With a late first round draft pick in ’86 draft, the Blazers selected Lithuanian center Arvydas Sabonis, but the Soviet Union would not allow him to play in the U.S. right away and he ended up not joining the team until the 94-95 season. In the years between his being drafted and actually arriving in the NBA, he suffered a major injury to his achilles, as well as other injuries to his knees, back, and ankles. These all compounded and began slowing him down.  He was one of the most talented big men in the world at the time.  If he was able to bring his skills to the U.S. right away, I’d bet Portland would have won a few titles during the Drexler era. By the time Sabonis finally joined Portland, though he was solid,  nowhere near what he he’d been in the 80s.

1990 NBA Finals Game 4

With a 2-1 lead in the series, Detroit went on to Game 4 hoping to take a commanding lead.  The game came down to the final buzzer. Literally.  Detroit was up 112-109 and with 1.8 seconds left, Portland ball.  Portland inbounded the ball to Danny Young and he pushed the ball up and launched a 35 footer and nailed it.  Unfortunately, it didn’t count so instead of evening the series at two games a piece, Portland found themselves down 3-1 heading into a must-win Game 5.  Detroit ended up closing out the series in the next game winning back-to-back championships.

Drazen Petrovic Trade (January 1991)

One of the best players ever to play in Europe was part of the Blazers already talented backcourt of Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter.  Playing time was difficult to get in his first year and half.  Wanting more playing time, Petrovic was traded to New Jersey for just a draft pick.  With New Jersey, he became a 20pt/game scorer and was on his way to become one of the best shooting guards in the league.  Unfortunately, Petrovic died in a car accident in 1993 in his hometown Croatia.

1992 NBA Finals: Game 6

Looking to extend the series to a Game 7, the Blazers ended the 3rd quarter with a 15 point lead and looked to have control of the game until the 4th quarter.  Chicago started four reserves in that quarter and they managed to chip away at the deficit.  Ultimately, Portland choked and blew the 15 point lead giving Chicago their second championship in a row instead of heading to a Game 7 do or die.

1999 Western Conference Finals: Game 2

As the #2 seed in the West, Portland faced the #1 seed San Antonio Spurs in Game 2. Down 0-1 in the series, Portland controlled the game from start to almost finish.  They led throughout the whole game and kept San Antonio’s big men, Tim Duncan and David Robinson, in check…Until 12 seconds left in the fourth, and the Spurs down by 2.  San Antonio’s Sean Elliot hit a game-winning, tight-roping the sideline three to put a dagger in Portland’s heart.  The Spurs stole this game and ended up sweeping the Blazers as they headed to NBA Finals where they would win their first championship.

2000 Western Conference Finals Game 7

Does this game sound a little familiar?  Didn’t the Blazers learn an important lesson just 8 years prior?  With a nucleus of Rasheed Wallace, Arvydas Sabonis, Brian Grant, Scottie Pippen, Damon Stoudamire, Steve Smith, Detlef Schrempf, Bonzi Wells, and Jermaine O’Neal; they were a favored to win it all.  This team blew a 15 pt lead going into the 4th quarter against Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers.  Again, the Blazers seemed to have had the momentum to close this out and head to the NBA Finals to face the Indiana Pacers, but a late rally by the Lakers catapulted them into the Finals which began the Shaq and Kobe championship dynasty.

JailBlazers (2001-2005)

1.) Isiah “JR” Rider: 
(Founder):  Played with the Blazers from 1996-99 but he was the first thug before JailBlazers:  pot-head, suspended 12 games in three years, spat on fan’s face.

2.) Rasheed Wallace (President) : hot/pot-head, technical foul magnet, media-hater, threatened a ref outside an arena, threw a towel in the face of Arvydas Sabonis

3.) Damon Stoudamire: pot-head who got caught with weed multiple times.

4.) Bonzi Wells:  pot head , disrespectful,  media/fan hater, spitting in Danny Ferry’s face. Famously told Sports Illustrated: “the fans really don’t matter to us. They can boo us every day, but they’re still going to ask for our autographs if they see us on the street.”

5.) Qyntel Woods: pot-head, charged with first degree animal cruelty for dog  fighting.

6.) Zack Randolph: pot-head, DUI,  punched teammate in face during practice.

7.) Ruben Patterson: sex-offender, misdemeanor assault, and domestic abuse.

8.) Darius Miles: often verbally abused and threatened coach Maurice Cheeks.

9.) Shawn Kemp: rehab for alcohol/cocaine abuse, over 10 illegitimate kids.

10.) Rod Strickland:  DUI, disrupted team chemistry in short stint in 2001-02

Kevin Duckworth Death (August 25, 2008)

A key component of Blazers during the Clyde Drexler era and a guy who helped them get to the Finals in 1990 and 1992; Kevin Duckworth, retired former all-star, collapsed and passed away at the age of 44. He died of congestive heart failure. At the time of his death, Duckworth was putting on a basketball clinic as part of a Trailblazers group.  Duckworth was a solid 15 and 7 guy who had an awkward one-handed shot and was pretty damn effective with it. R.I.P.

Greg Oden Injuries (2007- Current)

The 1st pick of the 2007 NBA draft, Greg Oden, missed his whole rookie year since he had microfracture knee surgery.  In the first game of the next season, he left the game with a foot injury and was out for a few weeks.  Three months later he was out again for a chipped knee cap.  In his third year, a month into the season, Oden left a game with a fractured left patella.  The following season he announced he would miss the whole 2010-11 season with microfracture surgery on his knee.  Just this week, after agreeing to resign with the Blazers for a $9 million offer sheet, Oden announced a “medical setback” that could hinder his ability to play in 2011-12 season.

In 4 seasons, he has only played in 81 games.  What has the 2nd pick of 2007 NBA draft – Kevin Durant – done?

Brandon Roy Retirement (December 10, 2011)

All-star shooting guard Brandon Roy announced he will retire from basketball due to degenerative knees.  Both his knees have been an issue since his playing
days at the University of Washington but over the last two years he had missed a significant amount of games after going arthroscopic surgery on both knees.  It was noticeable last year that Roy was not the same explosive scorer who could do everything.  He had lost his speed, lift, and drive while playing through pain.  After the much maligned JailBlazers, Roy was to be the Blazers future and new era along with LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden.  In fact, he was considered to be a top 5 shooting guard in this league when he was 100%.

LaMarcus Aldridge Heart Condition  (December 10,  2011)

Although, he should be ready by opening day, Aldridge, one of the best power forwards in the game and Portland’s franchise player, under went a heart procedure to treat Wolf-Parkinson- WhiteSyndrome, a condition where the ventricles of the heart contracts prematurely.

Hopefully, this will not be a serious condition and will not cause a disruption to his NBA career.  This kid has a ton of talent and could end up being one of the best power forwards ever to play in history.

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2 thoughts on “Troubled History of the Portland Trail Blazers: An Overcast in Portland – When will it end?”

  1. Unfortunately, half the current roster has a history of nagging injury issues. Even the head coach ruptured his Achilles tendon by subbing in during a scrimmage because there were no healthy players available. Then, assistant coach Maurice Lucas, whom played a huge role in the 1977 championship, passed away too.

    But for this new generation, it’s even more sad because Brandon Roy was poised for a breakout (the last time he was truly healthy, he was averaging 27/5/5 on 48% shooting for 22 straight games in 2009). He came off a series where Battier called him a future 10 time All-Star and Artest called him the best player he has ever played against. In LA, Eric Gordon mentioned that along with Wade, Roy was the toughest player in the league to guard. Kobe even mentioned that the only other player he felt was complete and had the killer instinct like him was Brandon Roy. He really could’ve been the best Blazer player ever. That’s not to disrespect Drexler but Roy, while not as amazing of an athlete, had the same tempo controlling skills and clutch/killer instinct that guys like Kobe and Jordan possessed. He might’ve never been able to wow people like the aforementioned guards but he had a unique ability to win games not just by scoring.

    I mean, if Roy wasn’t cut down and Oden fulfilled his potential as the next Shaq/David Robinson/Pat Ewing type of player, and Aldridge played like the 25/10 guy he’s going to be this year, the whole league would’ve gotten to see something special not seen since the old days of the NBA. And that would’ve came during a time period of spoiled prima donnas demanding trades, making live TV “decisions”, and pumping their chests up as if the whole world already belonged to them when, in reality, they’ve actually won nothing. The NBA, and professional sports as a whole, will miss one of the greatest teams to never happen.

    I’m sitting in Oregon nursing my own knee injury as I’m typing this. It’s not severe and basketball is only a game. But to the guys who’ve given me something to believe and hope for, here’s to Roy, Oden, Aldridge and to all Blazers past and future.


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