“Portland selects Sam Bowie, University of Kentucky”
That is where most NBA fans think the Trail Blazers big man woes began, when they selected Kentucky center Sam Bowie over a guard from the University of North Carolina. The big man curse however, stems from a draft 10 years early, in 1974.
Portland had the number 1 pick and selected the man who was seen as their franchise’s savior, Bill Walton. Unlike Sam Bowie (and later Greg Oden) there was no debate over who the Blazers should select, Walton was a proven winner and the clear number one pick. Walton led the Blazers to the 1977 NBA Championship and collected various individual accolades, including the 1978 MVP. For all the good the Big Red Head did for Portland he has cursed his former franchise.
As good as Bill Walton was in Portland he barely played. His rookie year he played 35 games, followed by 51 games in his sophomore season. In his championship season he played in 65 games and in his MVP season he played in 58 games. Everyone knew BIll Walton was a walking (or limping) injury. In 1978, the Blazers had the first pick in the draft and wanted to draft Larry Bird. According to When the Game Was Ours, when the Trail Blazers tried to bait Bird with the idea of playing with Walton, Bird simply replied “he is hurt all the time”. Walton’s injuries laid the foundation for the curse and Walton put the curse in full motion during the 1978-1979 season. Walton demanded a trade during the off season citing unethical and incompetent treatment of his and other players’ injuries by the Blazers’ front office. The Blazers didn’t budge and Walton sat out the entire 78-79 season before leaving the Blazers via free agency.
Fast forward back to the 1984 draft, the Trail Blazers selected oft injured center Sam Bowie. His rookie season was somewhat successful, he played in 76 games, averaged 10 ppg and 8.6 rpg earning a spot on the all rookie team. The Walton curse struck Bowie over the next 3 season when injuries limited him to 63 games. When Bowie was traded to the Nets he shook the curse and experienced his four healthiest seasons, never missing more than 20 games and averaging 12.8 ppg and 8.2 rpg.
That brings us to the current day Trail Blazers. The Blazers drafted Greg Oden, an oft injured center from Ohio State, first overall. Due to microfracture surgery on his knee, Oden never suited up for his first season in the Association. Oden was predicted to be the ROY during his second season (he qualified since he didn’t play in his first) but Oden fell to injury 14 minutes into his NBA debut. He returned for moderate success, but missed another three weeks when he injured his knee that February. During his 3rd season Oden began to blossom, scoring a career high 24 points on November 23rd and pulling down 20 rebounds on December 1st. Oden finally looked like the defensive anchor the Trail Blazers needed to take the next step. Four days after setting a career high in rebounds, Greg Oden was injured when Aaron Brooks fell into his knee, fracturing his patella. Portland looked like they could survive the injury because they had the best back up center in the league, Joel Pryzbilla. The Walton curse struck again, when Pryzbilla went down with a ruptured tendon and dislocated patella last night.
The Trail Blazers will look to make a trade or to the D League to fill their void in the middle and add some size to play alongside LaMarcus Aldridge and Juwan Howard. With the Walton curse looming over the Trail Blazers’ organization you have to wonder who will be the next big man to fall.
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