By Lorenzo Tanos
The Portland Trailblazers finished 33-49 in 2012-13, well out of playoff contention, with a young lineup and a lack of star power compared to other Western Conference teams. Still, the future looks bright, thanks to Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard's play at point guard and LaMarcus Aldridge's steady contributions at the four spot. Before that, the Blazers had their share of NBA Finals moments, first with Bill Walton, then with Clyde Drexler and company (though they failed to win in 1990 and 1992), as well as years of controversy with the Jail Blazers lineup and a seeming curse when it comes to drafting centers first overall – LaRue Martin, Walton, Sam Bowie, and most recently Greg Oden. Here's a look at the Blazers' 43 years in the NBA.
1. Who was the Blazers' first-ever head coach?
Rolland "Mod" Todd is so obscure to the common fan that he's one of the few modern coaches who doesn't have any year of birth listed in Basketball-Reference.com or Wikipedia. But according to a Sports Illustrated article on the Blazers from November 1970, Todd was 36 at the time of writing – quite young for an NBA head coach. Todd coached at UNLV and Louisiana-Lafayette before taking the head coaching job in Portland, and went 41-97 with the Blazers before getting replaced by chief scout/interim head coach Stu Inman midway through the 1971-72 season.
2. Who was the undersized center who beat out 1972 NBA Draft bust LaRue Martin out for the starting center spot on the 1972-73 Blazers?
Lloyd Neal was largely unknown coming out of Tennessee State, but his work ethic endeared him to the Blazers' coaching staff; the 6'7"-225 Neal would start most of Portland's games at center in 1972-73, as first overall pick LaRue Martin mostly rode the bench. With Rick Roberson (who stood 6'9") as a stopgap solution at center in 1973-74 and Bill Walton drafted first overall in 1974, Neal would move to his natural power forward spot and play there for the rest of his career.
3. True or False – Bill Walton missed the entire 1978-79 season due to injuries.
False. While Walton was already affected by foot injuries at that point in his career, he had actually sat out the 1978-79 season in protest, as the Blazers refused to trade him following complaints of poor medical treatment. Walton would sign with the San Diego Clippers in 1979, but hardly got to play for the Clips due to his worsening injury problems.
4. Which Blazers reserve guard memorably averaged 28.3 ppg in the 1981 Playoffs (more than twice his regular season average) and went on to greater fame as an American "import" in the Philippine Basketball Association?
In the NBA, Kentucky State guard Billy Ray Bates was simply nicknamed "Dunk", and was mostly an instant offense reserve for the Trailblazers. But he saved his best for the postseason, as he averaged 25.0 ppg in 1980 and 28.3 ppg in 1981. After brief cameos in 1982-83 with the Washington Bullets and Los Angeles Lakers, Bates debuted as an "import" (foreign player, of which 1-2 are typically allowed per team) in the Philippine Basketball Association, and won several PBA Best Import awards in the '80s, under the more descriptive nickname "Black Superman."
5. Which Blazers center from the '80s is the son-in-law of late director of player personnel Stu Inman?
As of 2011, Steve Johnson has been married to Janice Inman for the past 31 years; her father Stu was a high-ranking executive for the Blazers since their expansion days who drafted gems such as Clyde Drexler…and (debatable) duds such as Sam Bowie. As a player, Johnson was a 6'10" center who frequently was among league leaders in field goal shooting and personal fouls. He played three seasons for the Blazers (1986-89) before getting selected in the 1989 Expansion Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
6. True or False – The Blazers had the league's best record when they made the 1992 NBA Finals.
False. The Blazers went 63-19 in 1990-91, but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. In 1991-92, the team, led by Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Buck Williams, Clifford Robinson and Jerome Kersey, went 57-25 and lost to the Bulls in six games in the Finals.
7. Which NBA player/head coach/analyst referred to former Blazers GM Bob Whitsitt as a "rotisserie league manager"?
That's the thing about fantasy basketball – you can draft anyone you want as long as they stuff your stat sheets, chemistry be damned. As such, "Trader Bob" Whitsitt was accused by many, including Doug Collins, of gathering star players from different teams without taking egos and chemistry into account. The resulting late '90s/early 2000s lineup was derisively known by many as the Jail Blazers.
8. How many seasons did the Blazers post losing records before going 54-28 in 2008-09?
Five. With new franchise player Brandon Roy at the peak of his game, LaMarcus Aldridge emerging as a low-post threat at power forward and Greg Oden making his long-awaited debut, the Blazers returned to the Playoffs with a 54-28 record in 2009. Aldridge remains with the Blazers as their top player, while Roy and Oden look almost finished before their 30th birthdays due to an assortment of injuries.
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