These days, the business of basketball is good for the Portland Trail Blazers. However, not too long ago, the City of Roses tagged their only pro sports team by another name: the Jail Blazers.
The era of the Jail Blazers is an interesting and lengthy time period, through which it extends from J.R. Rider’s heyday, until really 2005. Whereas, the Blazers had been branded with this label for a while, I chose to further examine Burnside’s best from ’01 through the ’04 season.
This focus of the Portland Trail Blazers begins as Coach Mike Dunleavy departs and Maurice Cheeks settles in during the ’01-’02 season. During his tenure (through ’04-’05), Cheeks had the distinct pleasure of coaching some of the more talented and dysfunctional NBA players to ever walk through the Rose Garden.
Notable Blazers include: Bonzi Wells, Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire, Zach Randolph, Ruben Patterson, Scottie Pippen, Chris Dudley, Arvydas Sabonis, Darius Miles and Qyntel Woods, straight out of Northeast Mississippi Community College.
With stints from: Shawn Kemp, Omar Cook and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje (solely included so I could have an excuse to write his name).
Stories of various Blazers acting out towards the public and each other seem to stretch deep. Cursing at autograph seekers, stealing from teammates and even threatening press staffers was just another day at the office. The hell with this city, I’m gonna go out and get mine. That was in essence, the all-encompassing attitude surrounding the Blazers. When pro athletes are looked upon as role models, especially in a city supporting only one sports franchise, the Blazers fell short of expectations.
Not to trounce the entirety of the squad, there were members who still upheld a professional class and attitude about them. Guys like Dudley, Sabonis and Pippen all believed in good community outreach. The trouble is, because most of the news was centered on the negativity surrounding the team, Portland’s image suffered immensely.
And there was plenty of negativity to choose from.
Patterson: a registered sex offender and was arrested for felony domestic abuse against his wife at the time.
Randolph: DUI and punched out Patterson during practice.
Stoudamire: Multiple marijuana charges including speeding while under the influence and trying to gain access through an airport metal detector with 1.5 ounces of the drug wrapped in aluminum foil.
Woods: Marijuana charge and was also arrested for animal abuse because of participation in a dog fighting operation.
Kemp: Had to leave the Blazers mid-season to enter rehab for cocaine and alcohol abuse.
Wells: “They (the fans) really don’t matter to us.”
Wallace: Besides his records for most technical fouls, he also threatened a ref after a game (Although, it was Tim Donaghy, so in retrospect…)
But the Blazers were still winning.
In the three-year span from the 2001-2002 season until ’04, the Blazers had made the playoffs twice and in their lottery year, still won 41 games. Portland would have a strong showing in the regular season and then disappear in the playoffs. Then, as the ’03-’04 season was in full swing, Blazer management began to set in motion what would ultimately become the decimation of the Jail Blazers.
Portland unloaded Wells and traded ‘Sheed to the Hawks, where he played in one game before landing in Motown. With two of the front men for Jail Blazer nation gone, Portland began their road to redemption. Many still consider the following season part of the Jail Blazer tenure, with Stoudamire, Miles, Randolph, Patterson and Nick Van Exel still present with the team. That Blazer squad only managed to pull out 27 wins, but without as many off-court antics as its predecessors, the city was fine.
Then the summer of 2005 arrived.
Owner Paul Allen finally started to steer his money toward higher character guys, while newbie’s, Kevin Pritchard and Nate McMillan brought a new attitude and direction to the franchise. Both Prichard and McMillan took over the reins of the team in ’05 and after a tough 21-61 outing their first season, have completely turned around the organization. They started selecting talented guys that actually had desirable traits like leadership, integrity and that little thing no one on the old Blazers seemed to have, accountability. By bringing in young guys like Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge to build their team around, the Blazers have started to find success.
People are once again proud to rock the black and red in the Northwest. With the Sonics out of Seattle and no other pro franchise in the state of Oregon, Portlanders have embraced the Blazers new youth movement and it has paid dividends.
Many have the Blazers ranked third in the West going into this season behind the Lakers and Spurs. There’s no need to wait five years like Oklahoma City, Portland is ready to contend now. If it were up to me though, I would have just made Sabonis keep playing. Can’t stop that hook!
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