Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion

Portland Wronged The Jail Blazers More Than The Jail Blazers Wronged Portland

Somehow they were never criticized for the shorts.
Photo: Jonathan Ferrey (Getty Images)

Late last year I attended a jersey release party thrown by the Portland Trail Blazers and Trillblazin, a Trail Blazers-centric independent clothing concern. The Cleaners, a gallery in Portland’s Pearl District, was flooded with people looking to get free t-shirts and tote bags, and looking at a dozen or so Blazers “RIP CITY” alternate jerseys that had been modified by local artists.

A Blazers employee, a promotions guy, took a microphone and went from artist to artist, piece to piece, modified jersey to modified jersey, asking what their work meant.

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The artist Alex Brown cut up a bunch of old promotional balls for the turn-of-the-millenium Blazers teams that were known locally and nationally as The Jail Blazers, and then used that material to plaster a big silhouette of the headbanded dome of Rasheed Wallace right on the jersey’s tummy. Brown told the Blazers employee that he liked the Jail Blazers and thought they were fun, and wanted to celebrate that time. With Portland in the Western Conference Finals for the first time since the best of the Jail Blazers squads lost to the Lakers in 2000, that spirit of celebration is now more or less the consensus opinion on those teams.

It was not always that way. The exploits of the Jail Blazers may be known to you—weed busts, technical fouls, confrontations with referees, an exquisitely fraught relationship with the predominantly white Portland Metro, things of that nature. There was some legitimately heinous stuff, too, but that wasn’t really the center of the broader local and national fixation on and condemnation of the team.

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Brown’s head was not the only invocation of Sheed in the gallery that night. Trillblazin associates were stamping “Air Sheed” logos onto the backs of shirts, a logo that was also stitched into some hats. At least one person was sporting his jersey. A younger generation of Blazer fans has come to celebrate the outlaw spirit of that team, and Wallace in particular. It fits: Sheed is the NBA’s cowboy spirit, a man who absolutely could not be said to have given a fuck about anything that his bosses and betters wanted him to care about, and who still made a heap of money and won pretty much wherever he went. Once the most reviled member of those teams, he’s now the most celebrated.

Brown handed the mic back to the evening’s host. “We uhh… we in the Blazers try to refer to that time as ‘The Learning Years,’” he said. It seemed that not everyone in the room had come around on this one. What did he mean by that, I wondered? What exactly had been learned from those years?

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There is a new book about the Jail Blazers, called, well, Jail Blazers. It’s written by Kerry Eggers, who has been on the Oregon sports beat for more than 40 years. I will not beat around the bush: it’s not a very good book. Eggers works in an antique newspaper style that avoids drawing conclusions or attempting characterizations in favor of telling the story of those teams moment by moment, day by day, event by event, one Sheed Tech at a time. It doesn’t cohere so much as it accumulates.

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Eggers also couldn’t interview a lot of the players involved. There’s nothing from Rasheed or Damon Stoudamire or Bonzi Wells or any of the other players from those teams that anyone cares about. In fairness to Eggers, those dudes, Sheed especially, have sour feelings about reporters from that time and probably aren’t looking to get involved in their book projects. (Some are apparently working on a documentary about the team.)

And yet the absence of those voices serves to make the book more representative of the broader Jail Blazers experience. Without their perspective, the book simply re-tells the story more or less as Portland media told it 20 years ago. In that version, the Jail Blazers descended on Portland like an invading force and proceeded to cause trouble and lose basketball games. The book’s telling of that history is not just infused with but defined by the same lack of perspective about the team or that period’s context that Eggers and his colleagues brought to their original coverage. Seeing that coverage reappear perfectly preserved is jarring to a contemporary reader. This just isn’t the way the team gets talked about anymore.

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Here, for instance, is a passage in which Eggers recounts the team trying to sell people on their latest draft pick, all-world weirdo Bonzi Wells:

‘“I like his size, I love his defense, I like his ability to take the ball off the dribble,’ Whitsitt said at the press conference announcing Wells’s signing. ‘He’s a typical Indiana kid. He loves basketball.’ Typical Indiana kid. Sure—Straight out of ‘Hoosiers.’

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It’s both unclear and extremely clear what Eggers is implying that Bonzi Wells—who is indeed from Indiana—didn’t have in common with the kids from Hoosiers. You see where this is all going, I think. What you need to know is that, two decades ago, everything written about these teams had that same sneering lack of perspective.

In 1997, early in the fourth quarter of a Nov. 10 game against the Lakers, JR Rider took a crappy shot, got pulled, nodded to his girlfriend, and walked out of the arena. He was suspended for a game, then gave impromptu press availability outside his car after the suspension was announced.

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Dwight Jaynes, presently a commentator for NBC Sports Northwest and then a columnist for The Oregonian, wrote about it in his column on Nov. 12. Rider “rambled all over the landscape, making sense sometimes and not others,” Jaynes wrote.

He lectured and often didn’t respond to direct questions. This was much more monologue than dialogue.

I sat in awe as Rider spun his mystical tale Wednesday, of being followed in strange automobiles, of high-speed car chases and of the wife of a Trail Blazers staffer giving him dirty looks before the game. He talked about how ‘we can go 40 miles down the road and people are still being hung from trees.’ He spoke of how terribly unhappy he is and how sensitive he is. And how unfairly he has been persecuted by fans and media.

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“I’m not in any position to psychoanalyze the man,” Jaynes concludes. “But I can tell you I have grown very tired of Rider portraying himself as a victim.”

His broader body of work suggests that JR Rider did not really have the mentality to be a successful professional athlete, and also obviously you don’t get to just leave a game before it’s over because you’re sick of the bullshit. But that doesn’t invalidate what Rider said about the stress of performing and working with people who don’t like you, and who really may be throwing dirty looks your way, or about the broader challenge of living and working in Oregon as a black athlete.

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JR Rider had his issues, in other words, but these particular ones were not just JR Rider issues. Early settlement of the Oregon was racist even by the standards of, like, every other state. It was aggressively anti-black, you’re-not-welcome-here shit; state law banned black people from owning property or even moving to the state, and much of that language wasn’t officially removed until Ballot Measure 14 Passed in 2002; 352,027 Oregon voters were tallied against the removal. There was a large, active Klan presence in the state and enforced segregation into the 1950’s. The region’s modern demography still reflects this. The Blazers are the Portland Metro’s only major sports team, playing in both the blackest sports league in the world and the whitest city of its size in America. Any understanding of the Blazers’ place in Portland has to be rooted in this truth—a black institution sitting dead center in the middle of a white city’s cultural life.

This has always been hard to miss, although some observers have figured out how to miss it. David Halberstam’s very good in-depth chronicle of the team’s 1979-80 season*, The Breaks of the Game, is animated by the anxiety players feel about living and playing in a city where nobody looks like them. The most baffling thing about both Eggers’s book and the coverage it echoes is that Eggers himself has lived in Portland for decades and covered the team for much of that time. Yet he appears either completely blind or completely uninterested in acknowledging a reality that Halberstam figured out while covering the team for a year.

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Jaynes finished his column on Rider by suggesting that the team “fire” Rider by terminating his contract. “If he doesn’t like it, let him sue.” This was not just a basketball issue, or even a JR Rider issue, although Jaynes did suggest that Rider get into therapy. The important thing, and the reason that Rider needed to be terminated, was the team making “a statement to this city about what they stand for.” As it happened, Rider took another suspension for the “hanging from trees” comment, and later apologized for it.

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Bob Medina, the team’s conditioning coach at the time, tells Eggers that Rider came to the Blazers at a bad time, after the Drexler and Terry Porter era. This was a time “where fans expected players to act in a certain way,” and Rider, Medina says, “was the polar opposite of those guys. He was not a good teammate. He was always late for practice, a selfish player.” It’s true that Rider was mostly a horseshit player and a troublesome teammate everywhere he played, but that was decidedly not true of many of the players that became the backbone of the post-Rider teams. But those players also didn’t “act a certain way,” either, and they made it plain that they didn’t care nearly as much as Rider did about how a city full of white people perceived them. As a result, those players caught all kinds of shit from a local sports media scene that knew exactly what its audience wanted. Unanswered—unasked, really—in all this is a stubborn question: what if Rider wasn’t wrong?


Making lists and fretting about wins and losses and typing up locker room gossip is the fun part of beat-oriented sportswriting. It’s not important, really, but it’s something fun to grouse about and can be illuminating when done right. Reckoning with real things that are of actual consequence is much harder, but also only faintly part of the job. Things slip through the cracks—terrible things, abuses and crimes and lesser scandals—because they are not really part of the binaries that sportswriting of this kind honors; superficially, this type of writing is about winning and losing; more essentially, it’s about good guys and bad guys. Amid the furious moral panic that defined coverage of the Jail Blazers, local media did a dogshit job dealing with some actually bad things, largely because it was losing its mind over sports-bad things.

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The term “Jail Blazers” was coined in 1996, in an cover-article of the same name by Maureen O’Hagan in the Willamette Week, a Portland alt-weekly. (Full disclosure: I am a frequent Willamette Week contributor, and have written about these teams’ relationship to cannabis there. The paper has distanced itself from O’Hagan’s article.)

Image: Aaron Mesh (Wilamette Week)
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The layout gives away the story’s approach: members of the team with past run-ins with the law are displayed in a police-lineup style sheet. The article laments the loss of Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter—“nice guys”—but seems most distressed about the team’s new acquisitions. “It seems clear that when the 1996 Blazers take the floor, the team will boast at least five players who have criminal records and one more who admits dealing drugs as a young teen.”

O’Hagan describes a team in a period of dramatic change—new ownership, new arena, a general manager in Bob Whitsitt who was operating out of Seattle, not Portland. (That bad idea got worse and worse in subsequent years, as Whitsitt was also helping run the Seattle Seahawks, owner Paul Allen’s other sporting concern.) The new players, O’Hagan writes, weren’t friendly like the old ones. “This is a team that turned down the services of Charles Barkley a few years ago, in part because he was seen as too controversial. It’s a town where many fans grumbled when the team drafted Cliff Robinson in 1989, after he was labeled as a hothead in college.” And so on, all of it pretty boilerplate until the graphics department gets involved:

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Photo: Aaron Mesh (Wilamette Week)

Smack in the middle of the article is a graph, sprawling across two pages, detailing the crimes of the Blazers’ various delinquents. It is enormously reductive and unnerving to read. Every infraction is denoted by a little logo, so that a reader breezing through the article could learn what was wrong with a given player. Some of the language has aged, let’s say, “appallingly”—“Raging hormones do not a thug make,” is the description of Jermaine O’Neal’s arrest for having sex with a 15-year-old when he was 19, for instance. Rasheed Wallace’s treacherous history with an ex is smushed together with his proclivity for on-court bitching. The players are then assigned mitigating factors, as they might at sentencing. There are many mentions of single mothers.

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Their on-court talents are evaluated, too, and then those talents are weighed against off-court problems; in the end, every player is given an, I shit you not, Trouble-To-Talent Index rating that determines, once and for all, if their signing was worth it. The perverse moral structure of sports—winning is a virtue and losing a sin; any off-court crime can be canceled out by on-court success—has seldom been laid out so cleanly. It doesn’t look great!

It’s worth noting that, while it is fucked up to list minor malfeasances committed by juveniles alongside serious infractions—and to put all those people on a damn police lineup sheet—the organization really did employ some bad human beings. Ruben Patterson ended up on the team because he pleaded guilty to forcing a nanny in his employ into performing oral sex. Zach Randolph, who stuck around long enough to become an icon of ironheaded frontcourt virtue, was accused of sexually assaulting an exotic dancer. Rider’s life is littered with petty assaults and madness, because he was genuinely someone whose life was out of control. Qyntel Woods was into dogfighting.

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And yet the heat doesn’t really fall on these players, in Eggers’s book on the team or in the contemporaneous journalism about the team, in the way that it did on the team’s stars. The actual criminals and knuckleheads on the Blazers were supporting players, and as such their hideous acts fell far outside the story being told. The dude who took the most heat was Rasheed Wallace, because he was the most interesting and most important player on the team, and because the story Portland media told was never really about the crimes that actually matter.

In 2003, Rasheed Wallace might have come an inch away from beating the living hell out of Tim Donaghy. Jail Blazers tells the story:

“Donaghy should never have gotten involved,” Portland assistant coach Dan Panaggio says. “Rasheed was talking to Steve Javie. They were having a reasonable conversation. If Rasheed was out of line, Javie never needed anybody to bail him out. Then in comes Donaghy from left field and T’s him up.”

As luck would have it, after the game, the three officials were leaving via the Rose Garden loading dock while Wallace was chatting with Grizzlies guard Brevin Knight. According to witnesses, Wallace noticed Donaghy and shouted, “That was a bullshit call on the tech, and I’m gonna get my money back.’”

Donaghy shouted back, “Watch the tape.” Wallace removed his coat, took some steps toward him, and said, “No, you watch the tape.” raising his arms as if to throw a punch. “I’m going kick your ass, you motherfucker.” When Donaghy flinched, witnesses said Wallace mocked him and made more threats before several people intervened.

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Donaghy, a worm to the end, would tell the league office that he Feared For His Life—for what it’s worth, he says the same thing in his awful memoir, Personal Foul—and Rasheed would get a seven-game suspension for the incident. Dwight Jaynes, who was by then the editor and sports columnist at the right-leaning daily Portland Tribune—the paper is Eggers’s current employer—wrote, “that Wallace could be so out of control in a situation like that speaks volumes about his poise, self-control, and intellect. Or lack of same.” He wrote a lot of copy like this, but this particular bit is illustrative. It’s a dog whistle, and obvious enough to stand out even in the sour, blame-intensive discourse of the Iverson-era NBA.

Rasheed was not dumb, of course. Rasheed was brilliant, “one of the smartest players I ever refed,” Joey Crawford tells Eggers. It says something that in Wallace’s entire career-long battle with the refs, the only guy to push Rasheed quite this far was an actively corrupt referee who admitted to skewing results for his own financial gain.

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“You’re not going to believe this. He was one of my all time favorite players,” Crawford tells Eggers. “I wish Rasheed would have beat [Donaghy] up. It wasn’t the fact he disrespected my profession. I’m talking about Donaghy being what he was. It may not make sense to your readers, but it makes sense to all of us [referees]. What Donaghy did was against everything a ref ever stood for. I wish Rasheed would have beat the hell out of him.”

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Rasheed was the Blazers’ best player during this era: a brilliant defender, post player, rebounder, and later a decent enough three-point shooter; he picked the last skill up on a whim. He was also an ace communicator who taught many of his teammates how to talk on the court and truly didn’t give a fuck about personal plaudits. Wallace cared deeply about his team winning basketball games. That’s a prototypical franchise player, and yet there he also is on the cover of Eggers’s book, cornrows in and screaming, the words JAIL BLAZERS over his torso.

It wasn’t criminality that put him on that cover, although Wallace was involved in a domestic incident in which he choked an ex-girlfriend in 1997; he submitted to pre-trial counseling and never relapsed, at least as far as the legal system was concerned. Wallace also got pulled over in a car with Damon Stoudamire while both were blazed out of their gourds, but that wasn’t it, either. It was his wild professional habits and general attitude towards mid-level authorities, be they appointed by the league’s officiating office or editorial operations at local newspapers, that made him the team’s chief media villain.

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The worst that could be said about Wallace as a professional basketball player was that he didn’t look to score enough in high-leverage situations and had a tendency to play himself into shape. Neither is all that bad, but both drive sportswriters insane. And sportswriters, especially ones in Portland covering the team at the height of the Jail Blazers era, just loathed Rasheed Wallace. He made no effort to address that because that hate and those haters did not matter to him.

To be clear: Rasheed got techs. Hundreds of them, and once 41 in one season alone. His career 317 techs puts him at third on the NBA’s all-time list. It doesn’t really matter that much—it was just what he did, and many teammates over the span of his career have said that Sheed’s screaming at the zebras got the squad fired up. If he thought it was worth paying a few grand to chew out a ref, there’s little reason to begrudge him that pleasure. It was just who he was and what he did; I lose my keys, Sheed yells at refs. “Sometimes I wish he could get a better grip on himself in terms of his temper,” wrote Damon Stoudamire in an online journal he did for The Oregonian in the 2001 playoffs, “but emotion is what makes Rasheed go.” So who cares?

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The answer is basically everyone who wrote about basketball at the time, and they cared a lot. They took Rasheed’s loathing for them and spit it back at their audience in turn. After the team extended head coach Maurice Cheeks, Jaynes wrote that Cheeks’s hiring was “an effort to appease Rasheed Wallace.” It failed, he wrote, because “Rasheed has been just as lazy under Cheeks as he was under Dunleavy.” When Jaynes observed Wallace laughing at his locker after being ejected from a 2001 loss to the Vancouver Grizzlies, he was disgusted: “Every fan who buys a ticket to the game and sells out emotionally, pulling for victories, should get to see him joking around near his locker after one of these incidents.”

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“Honestly, I don’t care about what no one else thinks of me, except for people in my inner circle—my teammates, my family, my wife, and my kids,” Wallace said at the 2000 NBA All-Star Game. “The things I do, I do for me, not for no publicity stunt or cameras or whatever…I don’t care about what anybody thinks of me. As long as I can look my family in the face every day, and they know what type of person I am, I’m cool. Because everybody that’s here, when I’m finished with basketball, I won’t see anymore.” Wallace said that to national media, but he said as much to the people that covered his team, too. Wallace saw professional basketball for what it was—a business in which he worked—and felt no need to act otherwise.

The relationship between Rasheed and local media eventually collapsed from frosty to nonexistent. He roasted reporters or didn’t talk to them, depending upon how nasty the coverage had been or his mood. After a playoff win in 2003, Sheed sat in front of a scrum and said “Both teams played hard,” to every question. He finally said, “God bless and good night,” and left the podium. It remains the funniest thing ever to happen in a post-game press room.

In 2003, as his time with the Blazers was coming to an end, Rasheed gave an interview with Geoffrey Arnold, a reporter at The Oregonian. At this point Sheed was actively not-talking to reporters, but he took this occasion to blow the speakers out: “I ain’t no dumb-ass nigger out here,” Wallace told Arnold. “I’m not like a whole bunch of these young boys out here who get caught up and captivated into the league. No. I see behind the lines. I see behind the false screens. I know what this business is all about. I know the commissioner of this league makes more than three-quarters of the players in this league.”

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He was not done. “In my opinion, they just want to draft niggers who are dumb and dumber—straight out of high school. That’s why they’re drafting all these high school cats, because they come into the league and they don’t know no better. They don’t know the real business, and they don’t see behind the charade. They look at black athletes like we’re dumb-ass niggers. It’s as if we’re just going to shut up, sign for the money and do what they tell us.”

The reaction to this monologue was... not positive. Bill Walton called Sheed a “disgrace to the city.” Len Elmore, writing for ESPN, stood up for the NBA by pointing out that it had “created more African-American millionaires than at any time during the civilization of man.”

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Rasheed later apologized for his language, but not the content of what he said. At that point, though, the conversation had entered a bitter reflexive phase.

“He has been protected, pampered, babied, and catered to,” Jaynes hissed in the Tribune. “[Because] he not only was pretty good at putting a round ball into a round hole but also was going to be lucky enough to end up very tall. I am so tired of having to listen to this man. I am so tired of his ignorance, bad manners, and foul temper. I am so tired of his alibis, excuses, and his lack of effort to be a great player and a great person. And I imagine you are, too.”

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“Ignorance” seems like the wrong word, there. Of course the league and its owners want players to be mute, grateful, unquestioning, just be happy to be there. It’s been that way since the beginning of professional sports, and also that is what bosses want. That preferred relationship between people with power and those subject to it has been around much longer than that. Jaynes seems most offended by Wallace feeling entitled to just say and do things, but there’s no reason to believe he wasn’t as pissed off as he seemed.

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In an overwhelmingly white city, in a state with suspicion and exclusion as something like a founding creed, in a league that only intermittently pretends to be anything but a very old kind of business, Wallace’s refusal to deny what he saw with his own two eyes was intolerable. The Blazers traded him in 2004, to the Atlanta Hawks; Wallace found out while attending Monday Night RAW at the Rose Garden. He scored 20 points in one game with Atlanta and was promptly traded again, to the Detroit Pistons. In Detroit, away from the expectation that he bend the knee for a rainy city full of fussy white people and with an excellent coach who was inclined to appreciate his contributions, Sheed excelled. Those Pistons teams went to two straight Finals and a handful of conference finals, and Wallace was beloved.

Portland softened on him over the intervening years, and justifiably so, but he could never quite be his best with the Blazers. Portland needed him to do something else, to be someone he didn’t care to be, and it needed it badly enough to make him a villain when he refused. Fans have lately clamored for a jersey retirement ceremony, and while it would be fitting as an apology for the way he was treated during his time in Portland, it’s hard to imagine Wallace caring much either way.

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The primary crime of the Jail Blazers, at least where the media coverage of the team was concerned, is in point of fact no longer a crime at all in Oregon. Every person living on the West Coast, home to a whole 15.3 percent of America’s population, now lives in states that allow Cannabises Sativa and Indica to be planted, harvested, cured, packaged, sent to speciality shops, and sold. Oregon voted overwhelmingly to legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis in 2014. Kerry Eggers wrote his Jail Blazers retrospective while living in a city where he could walk out of his house, ride a bus to a shop where he could purchase high quality hydroponic bud and pay taxes on it, go home, smoke it, and take a fucking nap. That he still wrote about various players’ various dalliances with cannabis as if they were a big deal is baffling. As usual, this hangup was not his alone.

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The Blazers acquired Portland native Damon Stoudamire in a trade with the Raptors in February 1998. The ready-made fan-favorite narrative was undermined by the fact that Stoudamire, like thousands of other young people who grew up in and around Portland, liked to smoke weed.

On Nov. 21, 2002, on the way back from a game in Seattle, Stoudamire and Rasheed Wallace were passengers in a car that was pulled over for speeding in southwest Washington. The officer noticed that the car smelled like weed, and after some cursory denials, Stoudamire and Wallace both admitted that they had, in fact, lit up; the legend is that Rasheed told the officer that there was “no need to search the car, we already smoked the weed.” All were cited for misdemeanor possession and let go; the driver, Edward Smith, was sober. They eventually pleaded out of the charges.

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On July 3, 2003, Damon got caught trying to sneak some weed through airport security by wrapping it in a ball of foil. When this unsurprisingly did not work, the team fined him a quarter of a million dollars—it was later rescinded, and Stoudamire gave $100,000 to charity instead—and he immediately entered John Lucas’s drug rehabilitation program. Lucas was a cocaine addict and alcoholic who was waived by the Houston Rockets because of his abuse; his addictions wrecked his career and nearly his life before he got sober. The biggest problems faced by Stoudamire, a fairly successful pro athlete who liked to smoke pot, were nosy co-workers and an image-conscious employer.

And so it was that Stoudamire was forced to kick-step-turn through a clinical rehab process. Everyone, Stoudamire included, took it extremely seriously. John Canzano, an out-of-towner who had just come aboard as a columnist at the Oregonian, convinced Stoudamire to take a piss test in front of him, and it came back clean. Canzano wrote a glowing column in Stoudamire’s honor after the result.

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“I ain’t coming back to Portland ‘til it’s time to play basketball,” Stoudamire told the Tribune in an interview before he got popped at the airport. “I ain’t having no fun in Portland no more. I like Portland. I’m from Portland, but it’s best if I get out of there. It’s crazy, but I feel more embraced in other cities.”

It wasn’t crazy, really. Sportswriters and radio talkers pushed the idea of those Blazers teams as a gang of tall, rich criminals who were brought into town and proceeded to be really rude to reporters and smoke all the weed. In response, a humble city that once had a deep and abiding love for Their Team decided that it didn’t like them anymore. Television ratings dipped and season ticket sales sagged by double-digits, although the squad was consistently in the playoffs and pushed the eventual NBA Champion Lakers to seven hard-fought games in the ’99-00 Western Conference Finals. “Blazermania, as we know it, is officially dead,” Jaynes exulted in the Tribune less than two years later. “Bob Whitsitt should be extradited, brought back to Portland in a paddy wagon and charged with grand theft—for stealing the hearts of basketball fans in Oregon.”

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The shitstorm around Stoudamire gives away the game, though. Damon was not an outsider, and he was not involved in some heinous shit. He was smoking weed, just as franchise icon Bill Walton did, just as most Blazer fans probably either had or currently did, just as their kids were maybe doing at the same time. The difference between Damon and the people that rebuked him wasn’t cultural. It’s simply that some people have always been made to feel more at home in Portland, Oregon, than others, hometown products included.

The team’s popularity recovered under the stewardship of first Brandon Roy, then LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. But the organization remains on high alert. The Learning Years are most notable for what they didn’t teach Portland about how unexamined biases distorted the public perception of the team on the floor, but they also taught the organization that there were certain kinds of players that Portland wasn’t going to accept. Not just abusers and Ruben Patterson-grade creeps, but loudmouths and weirdos and dudes who like smoking pot as much as fans do. The organization has conspicuously avoided such players ever since. Rasheed might be in the canon, but the Blazers are no longer in the antihero business.

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This is the lesson that stuck—whose comfort gets priority and whose discomfort doesn’t, who gets held responsible for what they say and who doesn’t, who matters and who matters less.

* This post has been fixed to reflect that The Breaks Of The Game covered Portland’s 1979-80 season, not the ’80-81 season.

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Corbin Smith is a writer from Vancouver, Washington, and the host of the Take it or Break it podcast.

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