Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How Long It's Been: The Portland Trail Blazers Won an NBA Championship

Two years ago, the Golden State Warriors ended a 40-year drought, and won their 1st NBA Championship since 1975. This past Monday night, they made it 2 out of 3. (It should have been 3 straight.)

All 3 times, they played the Cleveland Cavaliers, who'd played since 1970, and finally won their 1st title last year, after 46 years of trying.

It's now been 40 years since the Portland Trail Blazers won an NBA title, by taking Game 6 against the Philadelphia 76ers, 109-107 at the Portland Memorial Coliseum. They had dropped the 1st 2 games of the Finals, but won 4 straight to take the title.

The haven't won another. That's 40 years. But not the longest current drought:

* The New York Knicks haven't won it since 1973, 44 years.

* The Milwaukee Bucks haven't won it since 1971, 46 years. That's how long it's been since any Milwaukee team has won one, although Wisconsin has since had 2 Super Bowl wins by the Green Bay Packers.

* The team now known as the Los Angeles Clippers have played since 1970, 47 years, and have never won a title.

* The Phoenix Suns have played since 1968, 49 years, and have never won a title. They were the 1st Arizona team in the major leagues, and in all that time, only 1 title has been theirs: The 2001 World Series, won by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

* The teams now known as the Brooklyn Nets, the Indiana Pacers and the Denver Nuggets have played since 1967, 50 years and have never won an NBA title. The Nets won 2 and the Pacers 3 in the ABA, and have each made at least 1 NBA Finals since the 1976 merger. The Nuggets, while usually a good team, have never gotten that far.

* The Atlanta Hawks haven't won it since 1958, 59 years -- and they were the St. Louis Hawks at the time. Atlanta has had major league sports since 1966, and only has the 1995 Braves' World Series. True, the Falcons nearly won the Super Bowl this year, but they let us down.

* And the Sacramento Kings haven't won it since 1951, 66 years -- and they were the Rochester Royals at the time. That's the last title won by any team from Western New York, unless you count the 1955 Syracuse Nationals (who became the Philadelphia 76ers in 1963), and that's really Central New York, not Western.

Portland's title drought ended with the 2015 MLS Cup, won by the Portland Timbers. But the Blazers, despite usually being good since then, including Western Conference Championships in 1990 and 1992, and a Western Conference Finals berth in 2000, haven't won an NBA title in 40 years, since June 5, 1977. How long has that been?


Hall of Fame center Bill Walton (Number 32), Hall of Fame forward Maurice Lucas (20), forwards Bob Gross (30) and Lloyd Neal (36), and guards Dave Twardzik (13), Lionel Hollins (14) and Larry Steele (15) all had their uniform numbers retired. Number 77, the year of the title, was retired for their head coach,  Jack Ramsay. Team owner Larry Weinberg had Number 1 retired for him, and broadcaster Bill Schonely was honored with a banner with a microphone on it. That's 10 guys with "retired numbers" on just 1 team.

They played at the Portland Memorial Coliseum, 1 of only 16 buildings to have hosted concerts by both Elvis Presley and The Beatles. It still stands, next to their new arena, originally the Rose Garden, now the Moda Center. The Coliseum began to sell out during that 1976-77 "Blazermania" season, 12,880 strong, and sold out every home game until the move in 1995.

At that point, the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Detroit Pistons (since moving from Fort Wayne, anyway), the Houston Rockets, the San Antonio Spurs, the Seattle SuperSonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder) and the Washington Bullets (now the Washington Wizards) all existed, but none of them had yet won an NBA Championship. Now, they all have, as have newer teams the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat.

While the Coliseum still stands, the Blazers no longer use it, except as a practice facility. In fact, only 2 teams played the 2016-17 season at the same one where they played the 1976-77 season: The Knicks at Madison Square Garden, and the Warriors at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, what's now named the Oracle Arena. Since then, every New York Tri-State Area team -- including the New Jersey Devils, who were still the hockey version of the Colorado Rockies -- has changed venues at least once.

Also still standing from that season are the venues then used by the Nets (the New York Nets played that year at the Nassau Coliseum), the Lakers (The Forum in Inglewood), the Pistons (Cobo Hall), the Houston Rockets (The Summit, now the Lakewood Church Central Campus, Joel Osteen's "megachurch"), the Phoenix Suns (the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum), the Sacramento Kings (the Kansas City Kings then played at the Kemper Arena) and the Utah Jazz (the New Orleans Jazz then played at the Superdome).

The NBA did not yet have the 3-point field goal. There were hardly any foreign-born players. There was a team in New Orleans, but it was the Jazz, not the Pelicans. Pro players were not allowed to play in the Olympics, and very few players had ever gone directly from high school to the NBA at that point.

The dominant players were Walton, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Lakers, Julius "Dr. J" Erving of the 76ers, and the Bullets' tandem of Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld. Pete Maravich of the Jazz and Ernie DiGregorio of the Buffalo Braves were the new "great white hopes," but their pro careers would be injury-ravaged disappointments. The Knicks traded Walt Frazier, and Bill Bradley retired, leaving Earl "the Pearl" Monroe as their last remaining championship player.

Larry Bird was in college. Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Patrick Ewing were in high school. Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, Karl Malone and John Stockton were in junior high school. Shaquille O'Nearl was 5 years old. Tim Duncan was 1. Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant weren't born yet.

Current Blazers coach Terry Stotts was playing at the University of Oklahoma. Current Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek was in junior high school. Current Nets coach Kenny Atkinson had just turned 10. Terry Collins of the Mets was managing in the Pittsburgh Pirates' minor-league system. Alain Vigneault of the Rangers and Todd Bowles of the Jets were in high school. Joe Girardi of the Yankees was 12. Doug Weight of the Islanders was 6. John Hynes of the Devils was 2. And Ben McAdoo of the Giants was born the next month.

The Blazers dethroned the Boston Celtics as NBA Champions. The other titleholders were the Cincinnati Reds in baseball, the Oakland Raiders in basketball, and the Montreal Canadiens in hockey. Muhammad Ali was the Heavyweight Champion of the World.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America 4 times; Canada and Russia twice each; and once each in Bosnia, Korea, France, Spain, Norway, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China, Britain and Brazil. The World Cup has since been held in America, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Italy, France, Japan, Korea, Germany, South Africa and Brazil.

The President of the United States was Jimmy Carter. Former Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, their wives, and the widows of Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry Truman were still alive.

Ronald Reagan was out of office, and after his failed 1976 run for President, it looked like his political career was finished. George H.W. Bush, also out of office with the Democratic Administration in, was Chairman of the Executive Committee of the First International Bank in Houston. His son, George W. Bush, had just established Arbusto Energy -- "arbusto" being the Spanish word for "bush." Bill Clinton had just been elected to his 1st public office, Attorney General of the State of Arkansas. Barack Obama was in high school. And Donald Trump was building a record as a racist slumlord.

The Governor of the State of New York was Hugh Carey, the Mayor of the City of New York was Abe Beame (but was about to be voted out of office), and the Governor of New Jersey was Brendan Byrne (about to be re-elected against daunting odds). Andrew Cuomo was at Fordham University, and Bill de Blasio and Chris Christie were in high school.

The Mayor of Portland during the Blazers' title run was Neil Goldschmidt; He served from 1973 to 1979, and later served as U.S. Secretary of Transportation and Governor of Oregon. About to turn 77, his legacy is tainted by the revelation of what would once have quaintly been called a "morals charge" from his days as Mayor. The Governor of Oregon then was Robert Straub, who died in 2002. The current Mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, and the current Governor, Kate Brown, were both in high school in 1977. None of the Justices then on the Supreme Court are still on it.

Northern Ireland peace activists Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan were the holders of the Nobel Peace Prize. The Pope was Paul VI. The current Pope, Francis, then Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was provincial superior of the Society of Jesus (a.k.a. the Jesuits) in his native Argentina.

The Prime Minister of Canada was Pierre Trudeau, father of current PM Justin Trudeau (who was 6 years old); and of Britain, James Callaghan. The monarch of both nations was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- and she was celebrating her Silver Jubilee, 25 years on the throne. England's Football League and the European Cup had just been won by Liverpool FC, but Manchester United stunned them in the FA Cup Final to deny them the European Treble. There were still living veterans of the Mexican Revolution, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, the Boer War, the Philippine Campaign, the Boxer Rebellion and the Spanish-American War.

Major novels of 1977 included The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson, Girl on a Bicycle by Leland Bardwell, The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, Coma by Robin Cook, The Foundling's War by Michel Deon, A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick, A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion, The Immigrants by Howard Fast, The Women's Room by Marilyn French, The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurtry, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch, Firefox by Craig Thomas, and The Shining by Stephen King. Jim Fixx published The Complete Book of Running

George R.R. Martin published his 1st novel, a science fiction piece titled Dying of the Light. Douglas Adams had not yet published his 1st Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novel. J.K. Rowling was about to turn 12.

Blazermania had nothing on Star Wars mania. The film now officially titled Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope had premiered 11 days before, and was the biggest cultural phenomenon of the decade, ahead of even disco music. Other major films of the Spring of 1977 included Annie Hall, which would beat Star Wars out for Best Picture at the next year's Oscars; Smokey and the Bandit; For the Love of Benji; the World War II film A Bridge Too Far; Exorcist II: The Heretic; The Deep, Peter Benchley's follow-up to Jaws; Demon Seed (in which Julie Christie is impregnated by a living supercomputer voiced by Robert Vaughn); Viva Knievel, starring motorcycle daredevil Robert "Evel" Knievel as a fictionalized version of himself; and The Greatest, a film based on Muhammad Ali's memoir, starring the man himself.

Plans were in motion for a new Star Trek TV series, but it would be scrapped, and turned into Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Roger Moore was filming the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. Tom Baker was playing The Doctor. Christopher Reeve had begun filming Superman: The Movie. Batman was still in his interregnum between Adam West and Michael Keaton, though Olan Soule was voicing him on the cartoon Super Friends, with Casey Kasem as Robin, Danny Dark as Superman, Shannon Farnon as Wonder Woman and Norman Alden as Aquaman.

Panelists on the episodes of Match Game that aired during the 1977 NBA Finals were Scoey Mitchell, Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, Elaine Joyce, Richard Dawson and Fannie Flagg.

Robert Kardashian was running the music business publication Radio & Records. He was about to marry Kris Houghton. Bruce Jenner was still basking in the glory of his Olympic Gold Medal from the previous year, and hadn't met either Robert or Kris. None of the Kardashian-Jenner children were born yet.

The Number 1 song in America was "Sir Duke," Stevie Wonder's tribute to jazz legends. New York, New York was about to premiere, starring Liza Minnelli as a 1940s jazz singer and Robert De Niro as her husband, a saxophone player. Liza was the first singer to record the film's theme song, but it would be an old friend of hers through her mother, Judy Garland, who made the song an icon, 3 years later: Frank Sinatra.

Elvis Presley was on tour. No one knew it at the time, but it would be his last tour. John Lennon was in self-imposed exile as a "househusband." All the other ex-Beatles were still recording and having hits.

Michael Jackson was about to film his role as the Scarecrow in The Wiz, an all-black version of The Wizard of Oz. Bob Dylan was recording Street Legal. Billy Joel was about to release The Stranger. Bruce Springsteen had just settled a legal case that had prevented him from recording and releasing new material; by October, he would begin recording Darkness on the Edge of Town.

38 Special released their self-titled debut album, Ted Nugent Cat Scratch Fever, Heart Little Queen (including "Barracuda"), The Steve Miller Band Book of Dreams (including "Jet Airliner"), 10cc Deceptive Bends (including "The Things We Do for Love"), KISS Love Gun, and Bob Marley Exodus, his biggest album, which included "Jamming," "Waiting in Vain," "Three Little Birds," and his signature song, "One Love."

The Sex Pistols were big and scandalous in Britain, but hardly any American had heard of them: As far as we were concerned, "punk rock" meant The Ramones. Hardly anyone had yet heard of Madonna, Prince, or the members of U2 and R.E.M.

A U.S. postage stamp was 13 cents, and a New York Subway ride -- if you dared ride those graffiti-festooned, crime-ridden, filthy cars -- was 50 cents. The average price of a gallon of gas was 59 cents, a cup of coffee 69 cents, a McDonald's meal (Big Mac, fries, shake) $1.65, a movie ticket $2.21, a new car $3,500, and a new house $54,300. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed the preceding Friday at 912.23.

There were mobile telephones, but they were big and bulky, and hardly anybody had them. VCRs, home video game systems, and personal computers were recent arrivals, and hadn't yet become common. There was no Internet as we now understand it: Bill Gates was just starting out. Just 5 days after the Blazers won the title, 22-year-old Steve Jobs introduced the Apple II. Six days after that, The Oracle Corporation was founded.

In the Spring of 1977, the Likud Party won the Israeli federal election, giving the country its 1st right-of-center government, toppling Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and elevating Menachem Begin to the office. Rabin would be back, however. The Taksim Square Massacre took place in Istanbul, Turkey. There was a coup in the Seychelles. And Spain had its 1st democratic election since 1936. 

In America, while Star Wars mania and Blazermania were going on, Victoria's Secret was founded in San Francisco, and the 1st Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre opened in nearby San Jose. The Space Mountain indoor rollercoaster opened at Walt Disney World. The Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky caught fire, killing 165 people. Voters in Miami-Dade County, Florida repealed a gay rights ordinance. And "Human Fly" George Willig climbed the outside of 2 World Trade Center.

Ludwig Ehard, and James Jones, and Joan Crawford died. Kanye West, and soccer star Massimo Ambrosini, and pitching ace Roy Halladay were born.

June 5, 1977. The Portland Trail Blazers won the NBA Championship. They have never won another.

Led by Damian Lillard, they were a 41-41 team in 2016-17, although they did make the Playoffs. But at the rate the Golden State Warriors are going, and with the San Antonio Spurs having survived the retirement of Tim Duncan fairly well, it may be some time before the Blazers approach another title.

1 comment:

Greg Brown said...

I was a junior in high school, in Oregon, when the '77 Blazers won it all. It was a fantastic moment in time that has never had an equal since.

The following year, the Blazers were even better. After 60 games, they had won 50. Then Bill Walton got hurt, and that was the end. Walton returned for the playoffs. In the second game of the first round series against Seattle, Walton was injured again. He never played another game for Portland. The Blazers lost the series in six games.

In the early 90s, the Blazers appeared in the NBA finals twice, losing to Detroit and Chicago.