Posted Aug 29, 2012 9:12 AM
Bill Schonely is being inducted into the Hall of Fame, and the city of Portland is going with him.
A city? How about most of Oregon.
A state? Try a portion of the entire Pacific Northwest.
He is a Norristown, Pa., native who went to work in Seattle in 1955, moved 175 miles south to Portland in 1970 as the sixth hire of the new NBA franchise there and eventually turned into a beloved figure. He did radio play-by-play on Trail Blazers games from their inception through 1997-98, when his firing contributed to a disintegrating relationship with fans during the "Jail Blazers" era. He had the second-longest tenure in the league among broadcasters, behind only Chick Hearn with the Lakers. He coined the phrase "Rip City" one night in the inaugural season, without being sure why he used it to describe a long jumper. It stuck as a permanent part of the city's vocabulary and, indeed, a nickname for Portland itself.
So being inducted in the Hall of Fame as winner of the Curt Gowdy Award -- veteran Chicago writer Sam Smith is honored on the writing side -- is no surprise. He not only called games but helped define the popularity of a franchise. Simply, he transcended basketball in Portland.
In a very difficult time for the organization, Schonely going into the Hall of Fame is much-needed good news. It is the chance to remember the days of the 1977 title with the Big Redhead, Dr. Jack, "Luuuuuke" and rallying from an 0-2 deficit to the 76ers. Maurice ("Luuuuuke") Lucas, the bone-crushing power forward who formed the big-man tandem with Bill Walton for coach Jack Ramsay, died of bladder cancer less than two years ago at age 58. Owner Paul Allen was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, though he has said since he is cancer-free. Brian Grant, the former Blazers power forward who still lives in Portland, is battling Parkinson's.
The turnover of general managers recently -- Kevin Pritchard being fired on Draft night 2010, Rich Cho being hired and fired within 10 months, Chad Buchanan as acting GM last season, Neil Olshey getting his turn now -- signals problems at the top of the franchise. All-Star Brandon Roy injured himself into retirement, before trying for a comeback this season with the Timberwolves. Former No. 1 pick Greg Oden, the center who would help lead the Blazers back to greatness, limped away and remains an unsigned free agent. The roster that remains is headed for the lottery after a dysfunctional 2011-12 that would have been the equivalent of a 35-win season in an 82-game schedule.
So, Schonely and the Hall of Fame. He deserves it. They need it.
"It means a great deal to this state," he said. "It means a great deal for me to know the people out and about probably feel as elated as I do. If that makes sense. It's awfully hard to describe it."
It makes perfect sense. The Schonz, as he is affectionately known, is cause for celebration.
"I go to these different towns throughout the state of Oregon and southwest Washington and northern California, and they all seemed to have, at one time or another, have listened to me and watched me and heard me, and they all have stories over the years that I have forgotten until they bring it up again," he said. "To know that they are out there -- I always tried to broadcast to that one individual who was out there listening somewhere. Apparently I did a half-decent job.
"It seems to me, from what people tell me all over the region, they are so elated that something good has happened to this franchise. It happens to be what happens to me, being inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame."
Schonely, re-hired by the Blazers as a community relations ambassador in 2003, said he will be thinking the night of the ceremony in Springfield about his start in broadcasting, as a Marine with Armed Forces Radio in the South Pacific in 1949. About how that led to Baton Rouge and Baton Rouge led to Seattle and working with an up-and-comer in sports broadcasting named Keith Jackson. About how he went from Seattle to Portland and never left.
Portland to Springfield is more symbolic, but it will be such a meaningful trip. The Schonz is bringing a city, and much of a state, with him.
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