- 1983-85: Clyde Glides Into Town
- 1985-86: Ramsay's Magic Act Comes To An End
- 1986-88: Schuler Enjoys Immediate Success
- 1988-89: A New Owner, A New Coach, But A Losing Record
- 1989-90: "Rip City"
- 1990-91: Trail Blazers Bomb Away, But Lakers Get Last Laugh
- 1991-92: A Return Trip To The Finals
- 1992-93: Drexler Shines, Robinson Stars
1983-85: Clyde Glides Into Town
Portland's 48-34 record in 1983-84 was the team's best in seven seasons. If the Trail Blazers' progress had typically been measured in fits and starts, they were hitting on all cylinders on November 22, when they ran up a team-record 156 points against Denver, beating the Nuggets by 40 points. Later in the year Portland scored 155 points against Chicago but lost a marathon four-overtime game to the Bulls by a single point.
The team's greatest achievement may have come before the season even started, when Portland selected the University of Houston's Clyde Drexler with the 14th overall pick in the 1983 NBA Draft. Drexler had a modest rookie season (7.7 ppg), but he would go on to become a perennial All-Star, a Dream Teamer, and the driving force behind the Trail Blazers' two NBA Finals appearances in the early 1990s-not to mention becoming Portland's all-time leading scorer.
Fan support in Portland remained consistent. On March 3 the Trail Blazers sold out their 300th consecutive game. They advanced to the 1984 NBA Playoffs but lost to the Phoenix Suns in a five-game first-round series.
Portland struggled to keep its head above water in 1984-85, finally managing a 42-40 record. Despite its modest performance, the team was beginning to assemble the pieces that would turn into a monster over the next several years. Before the season started, the front office worked a trade with Denver that initially stunned many Trail Blazers fans. Portland surrendered Calvin Natt, Wayne Cooper, Fat Lever, and a first-round draft pick (which turned out to be Blair Rasmussen), all for 6-8 marksman Kiki Vandeweghe.
Vandeweghe led the team in scoring for the first of three consecutive seasons, with 22.4 points per game. He also set a team record for free-throw accuracy at .896. Also on the roster was Drexler, the smooth second-year guard who improved to 17.2 points per game and would eventually succeed Vandeweghe as the Trail Blazers' scoring leader. Far more than just a scorer, Drexler led the 1984-85 team in offensive rebounding (217) and steals (177). Rookie center Sam Bowie, whom the Trail Blazers selected with the second overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft (one pick before the Chicago Bulls selected Michael Jordan), also showed some skills in the middle, although his career, like Bill Walton's, would be riddled with injuries.
1985-86: Ramsay's Magic Act Comes To An End
By 1985-86 all the coaching magic in Jack Ramsay's bag of tricks had worn off, and the team slumped to 40-42, finishing below .500 for the first time since 1980. After a 10-year reign, Ramsay was replaced at the end of the season, having won 453 games with the Trail Blazers. He would go on to coach the next two-plus seasons with the Indiana Pacers before resigning, and retiring, seven games into the 1988-89 campaign. Ramsay left the NBA's coaching ranks with 864 career victories in 21 seasons. He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.
Ramsay's last year had its share of highlights. In a January 10 game at Milwaukee, Drexler nailed the Bucks for 10 steals, matching Larry Steele's club mark set in 1974. Three weeks later, on February 1, Portland toasted the Los Angeles Clippers for 156 points, matching the Trail Blazers' all-time high, set against Denver in 1983. Following that victory, however, Portland lost 12 straight games.
Drexler made his first All-Star Game appearance as the league began to recognize a star in ascendancy. On March 21 Vandeweghe matched Geoff Petrie's 1971 team record for free throws made in a game, racking up 18 charity tosses against Seattle. Vandeweghe led Portland in scoring for the year with 24.8 points per game. The club received small contributions from a rookie named Terry Porter (7.1 ppg), who would become a key building block to Portland's success in the early 1990s.
1986-88: Schuler Enjoys Immediate Success
In 1986-87 Mike Schuler took over the reins as head coach and guided the Trail Blazers to their best record in a decade, 49-33. At season's end Schuler was named NBA Coach of the Year.
The team was still looking for help in the middle, and Portland replaced Mychal Thompson with Steve Johnson, a big body who provided solid, if unspectacular, offense. Johnson managed to chisel his name into the record books, however, setting an ignominious club mark by averaging more than four fouls per night and fouling out of 16 games.
Although Portland was missing some key ingredients, the team was an offensive juggernaut, averaging a franchise-best and league-leading 117.9 points per game. Vandeweghe and Drexler were doing most of the damage, with Vandeweghe leading the club at 26.9 points per game. The Trail Blazers advanced to the NBA Playoffs but were upset by Houston, three games to one, in a first-round series.
In 1987-88 Portland began to reestablish itself as an NBA contender, running up a 53-29 mark behind emerging stars Drexler and Porter. But for the third consecutive season the Trail Blazers lost in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, this time to the Utah Jazz in a four-game series. On February 21 against San Antonio, Jim Paxson became the first Trail Blazer to top 10,000 points. On April 14 at Utah, Porter handed out 19 assists, breaking his own team mark. Drexler set a club record with 2,185 points for the season, and led the team in scoring (27.0 ppg) for the first of five consecutive seasons. Many of his baskets came via passes from Porter, who rewrote the Portland record book with 831 assists, for an all-time best average of 10.1 assists per game. Drexler scored 12 points and grabbed 5 rebounds for the West in the 1988 NBA All-Star Game.
Portland's high expectations for 1988-89 crumbled into a disappointing 39-43 losing record that cost Coach Schuler his job in midseason.
Nevertheless, there were some spectacular moments. In a double-overtime game against Sacramento on January 6, Drexler threw in 50 points, one shy of Geoff Petrie's franchise record (Petrie had hit for 51 twice in 1973). Drexler set a club-record scoring average, pouring in 27.2 points per game. Drexler also set a team steals mark with 2.73 per contest. Center Kevin Duckworth, who had been acquired from San Antonio during the 1986-87 season, proved to be the answer to the Trail Blazers' quest for a consistent force in the middle. The mammoth 7-foot, 280-pound pivotman had his best season, playing in the 1989 NBA All-Star Game and averaging 18.1 points.
The whole was far less than the sum of its parts, however. Things clearly weren't clicking, and Schuler, two years removed from winning NBA Coach of the Year honors, was replaced by longtime assistant coach Rick Adelman, an original Trail Blazers player.
1989-90: "Rip City"
Under Adelman, Portland finally fulfilled its promise in 1989-90 and became one of the league's elite teams, reaching the 1990 NBA Finals before losing to the Detroit Pistons' "Bad Boys," led by Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer. As the squad's high-powered offense ran to a 59-23 record, Portland became known nationwide as "Rip City."
The Trail Blazers were consistently great all year long, posting winning records in each month of the season, including a 12-2 January and a 13-4 March. On December 26 Clyde Drexler gave himself a late Christmas present by scoring his 10,000th point, then surpassed Jim Paxson's total of 10,003 to become the Trail Blazers' all-time leading scorer.
In the post season the Trail Blazers shredded the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio, and the Phoenix Suns on the way to the Finals against Detroit. The series opened in the Motor City, where the teams split the first two games. But the Pistons swept the next three in Portland to claim the crown.
Drexler once again led Portland in scoring for the year, although the offensive load was distributed more evenly. Buck Williams, a 6-8 rebounding machine, had been acquired from New Jersey prior to the season for Sam Bowie and a first-round pick. Brought in to bolster the front line, Williams fulfilled his role, leading the Trail Blazers in rebounding (9.8 rpg) and field-goal percentage (.548). Although Terry Porter's assists average declined for the third consecutive year, he still delivered 9.1 assists per game.
As is typical of a great team, everybody contributed. Drexler led in scoring, but his 21.5 points per game average was the lowest team-leading mark in seven years. The tireless Williams made more than 60 percent of his shots to lead the league in field-goal percentage at .602. The team also enhanced its shooting prowess and backcourt experience by trading for veteran Danny Ainge prior to the season. Porter and Ainge ranked among the league's top 10 in three-point field-goal percentage, and Jerome Kersey continued to be a durable and formidable performer at small forward. Drexler, Porter, and Duckworth were All-Star selections at midseason.
Many figured the Trail Blazers would return to the NBA Finals and perhaps claim their second league championship in 1991. But Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers derailed Portland's title hopes with a six-game series victory in the Western Conference Finals.
1991-92: A Return Trip To The Finals
The following year the road to the NBA Championship ran through Portland. The Trail Blazers notched 57 regular-season victories during the 1991-92 campaign to lead the Western Conference for the second straight year. Portland then clawed its way into the NBA Finals for a battle against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
In the playoffs, Portland trounced the Lakers, Suns, and Jazz. On April 29 at Los Angeles, Drexler scored a club playoff-high 42 points. In Game 4 of the Phoenix series on May 11, the team racked up a team playoff-record 153 points in a double-overtime affair. A week after that, in Game 2 against Utah on May 19, Porter poured in 41 points.
That set up a blockbuster matchup with defending champion Chicago in the NBA Finals. The teams split the first two contests in Chicago, with Portland winning an overtime bout in Game 2. The Bulls then took two of the three games on the Trail Blazers' home court. One of those games saw Jordan torch the Trail Blazers for 46 points, which at the time was the sixth-highest total ever scored in a Finals contest. The Bulls closed out the Trail Blazers in Game 6 in Chicago.
1992-93: Drexler Shines, Robinson Stars
After three seasons as one of the NBA's elite teams, the Trail Blazers slipped in 1992-93. An aging cast of players made the decline inevitable, and the Trail Blazers' record dipped to 51-31, trailing Seattle and Phoenix in the Pacific Division. The team played well through the first half of the season but hit the wall in late winter. Portland slumped to a 4-7 mark in February, the team's first losing month in four years. The Trail Blazers returned to the playoffs but lost to San Antonio in the first round.
On November 14 at Golden State, Terry Porter had the most prolific scoring quarter in Portland history, throwing in 25 points in a single period. He also set a Trail Blazers record by hitting 7 three-pointers on perfect 7-for-7 shooting. (He would also hit 7 treys just six weeks later, on January 2 against Utah.) In April, Porter passed the 10,000-point mark and moved into second place on Portland's all-time scoring list.
Ten days after Porter's November binge, Clyde Drexler surpassed the 15,000-point plateau. Drexler missed 33 games, however, and forward Jerome Kersey missed 17 because of injury. Drexler, limited to 49 games, led the Trail Blazers in scoring, averaging 19.9 points. The team's brightest spot was Cliff Robinson, who began to establish himself as a legitimate NBA player. He scored 19.1 points per game and ranked among the league leaders in blocked shots. His performance earned him the NBA Sixth Man Award.
By the end of the season Drexler had become Portland's all-time leader in nearly every offensive category, including points, field goals, free throws, offensive rebounds, and steals. Drexler, Kersey, and Porter topped the all-time team list in games played. Porter was the team's career leader in assists and three-point field goals.
The team also started construction on a new $262-million sports and entertainment complex adjacent to Memorial Coliseum, set to open in 1995. The arena was designed to have a basketball capacity of 20,340.