The Portland Trail Blazers entered the NBA in 1970. After a typical period of expansion blues during which the team languished at the bottom of the standings, the Trail Blazers turned into one of the league's most solid franchises. In 1977, after only seven seasons in the league, the Trail Blazers claimed the NBA Championship. Led by center Bill Walton, the teams of that era induced "Blazermania" in Portland and introduced the manic condition to the rest of the league.
- 1970-71: Rookie Sensation Paces Trail Blazers In Scoring
- 1971-72: Wicks Named Rookie Of The Year
- 1972-74: The McCloskey Era Begins
- 1974-76: Here Comes "Big Bill"
- 1976-77: From Near-Worst To First
- 1977-78: Portland's Bid To Repeat Falls Short
- 1978-83: Trail Blazers Make Early Playoff Exits
1970-71: Rookie Sensation Paces Blazers In Scoring
Portland took the floor for the first time on October 16, 1970, and defeated Cleveland, 115-112, in a battle of teams with 0-0 franchise records. Guard Jim Barnett scored the first point in Blazers history by sinking a free throw at the 9:18 mark of the first quarter.
Coached by Rolland Todd, who had been plucked from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, the original Trail Blazers were more than respectable as an expansion squad. The dominant NBA team at the time was the Milwaukee Bucks, with superstars Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor). Portland rang up a 29-53 record, the best of the expansion outfits. By comparison, Buffalo was 22-60, and Cleveland struggled at 15-67. Although the Trail Blazers' .354 winning percentage may not have looked great, it would be four more seasons before they'd be as successful as they were during their maiden voyage.
It was hardly surprising that the fledgling squad recorded five losing months. Still, this was not entirely discouraging, and the Trail Blazers managed to end their initial season on a high note with a 6-6 record in March.
There were a few standout individual performances by that first Trail Blazers group. In an early-season game at Buffalo, Ellis grabbed 26 rebounds, a team record for a regulation-length game that still stood two decades later. (It was matched by Bill Walton and topped only by Sidney Wicks's double-overtime 27-rebound performance in a 1975 contest.) Ellis's effort was no fluke; a few weeks later he corralled a dozen rebounds in a single quarter against the New York Knicks. Barnett set another Portland mark that would stand the test of time, hitting 16 of 16 free throws against the Atlanta Hawks on November 18.
Although there were occasional triumphs, repeated disappointments put a damper on the team's inaugural season. On November 24, for example, the young squad was pummeled by Baltimore for a 52-point loss. Petrie was an immediate star as a rookie, leading the team in minutes played and in most other offensive categories. He averaged 24.8 points, seventh in the league, and set the franchise mark for free throws made in a game with 18 on March 19 against the Seattle SuperSonics. Petrie's performance earned him a share of the NBA Rookie of the Year Award with Dave Cowens of the Boston Celtics.
1971-72: Wicks Named Rookie Of The Year, But Trail Blazers Stumble As A Team
After an encouraging first year the novelty and enthusiasm wore off, and the Trail Blazers stumbled to an 18-64 record in 1971-72. Coach Todd was released after 56 games, and Stu Inman took the helm for the season's final 26 contests. In a mostly forgettable campaign, there were a few moments to remember. One came on November 19 when team captain Rick Adelman dished out 17 assists against Cleveland, a Portland mark that would last until the late 1980s.
The entire Trail Blazers team lit up on March 18, 1972, when Portland pounded the New York Knicks (who were on their way to the NBA Finals), 133-86. The 47-point margin of victory would hold up for a decade as a team record.
Rookie Sidney Wicks, a fierce 6-9, 225-pound forward out of UCLA, was the second straight sterling draft pick for the Trail Blazers, and he succeeded teammate Petrie as NBA Rookie of the Year in 1972. His 24.5 points per game average was nearly as prolific as Petrie's numbers had been in 1970, and the duo would continue to power Portland's point production throughout the early 1970s.
1972-74: The McCloskey Era Begins
In 1972-73 Jack McCloskey of Wake Forest was brought in as head coach and coaxed steady, if slight, improvement out of the team. The Trail Blazers showed modest progress, finishing three games better than the previous season at 21-61. Petrie scored a team-record 51 points twice against the Houston Rockets-in Houston on January 20 and at home on March 16. On February 8 against the Golden State Warriors he poured in 20 field goals. Wicks was the Trail Blazers' most solid performer, however, and made his first and only start in four All-Star Game appearances.
The 1973-74 season was another struggle, as Portland posted a 27-55 record. The team started out on a positive note with a 5-4 mark in October, the first winning month in franchise history. (It would be more than a year before the Blazers would have another.) Unfortunately, most of the highlights of Trail Blazers games belonged to the opponents. Teams routinely beat up on Portland, and a couple of players fattened up their numbers with especially rude treatment. On October 28 the Lakers' Elmore Smith blocked 17 shots against Portland to set the all-time NBA record. And on March 26, Golden State's Rick Barry rang up a career-high 64 points-including 30 field goals-a record for opponent productivity against Portland. Coach McCloskey was let go at season's end.
In 1974-75, under the tutelage of new coach Lenny Wilkens and with the addition of center Bill Walton, the three-time college Player of the Year from UCLA, the Blazers began to show signs of life, improving by 11 wins to 38-44.
In the season's home opener Portland defeated Cleveland, 131-129, in four overtime periods to set a record for the longest game in team history. On November 16 against the Lakers, the aptly named Larry Steele, a slender 6-5 guard, rang up 10 steals, a club record that would last a dozen years until Clyde Drexler matched it in 1986. In a February 26 double-overtime game at Los Angeles, Sidney Wicks pulled down a team-record 27 rebounds. The durable power forward played all 82 games and led the squad in scoring (21.7 ppg) and rebounding (10.7 rpg). Although the Trail Blazers were up and down all year, they ended strong, with a 9-7 record in March and a 3-0 mark in April.
After the dramatic improvement shown in the previous season, the 1975-76 Trail Blazers ran in place, finishing at 37-45. Walton began to cash in some of his promise. Although hampered by injuries, the 6-11 center had moments of spectacular greatness. In late January, Walton dominated on the boards: on January 24 he grabbed a club-record 22 defensive rebounds at Golden State, and only three days later he hauled in 20 defensive boards against the Washington Bullets.
Portland had acquired rookie Lionel Hollins with the team's first-round draft pick in 1975. Hollins, a heady 6-3 guard, gave the team four solid years of leadership and clutch scoring before he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers during the 1979-80 season.
Still, the Trail Blazers were uneven, and their 1975-76 season bottomed out in February when the Chicago Bulls handed Portland its worst loss in franchise history, a 56-point pasting, 130-74. Coach Wilkens departed at season's end and moved on to Seattle, where he would rebuild another struggling team and eventually win a championship in 1978-79.
1976-77: From Near-Worst To First
Portland ruled the basketball world in 1976-77, displaying an exciting brand of team basketball and claiming the NBA Championship. After a decent 49-33 regular season, the team made the most of its first appearance in the playoffs, running all the way through the postseason.
This was the first year of Head Coach Jack Ramsay's reign. His decade with Portland would solidify his reputation as one of the league's most creative skippers. This was also the season that four former ABA teams-the Denver Nuggets, the New York Nets, the Indiana Pacers, and the San Antonio Spurs-were brought into the NBA under a merger agreement. The merger, in turn, led to a tremendous reshuffling of star players, and Portland acquired an enforcer, 6-9 Maurice Lucas, with the second pick in the ABA Dispersal Draft. But Lucas didn't come without a price. The Trail Blazers had to give up Geoff Petrie and Steve Hawes to Atlanta for the No. 2 pick. More shuffling went on when Portland sold Sidney Wicks to Boston.
With a revamped lineup and a cast of young players who were quickly gaining confidence, the team was very strong through the first half of the season. Walton and Lucas represented Portland in the 1977 NBA All-Star Game, although Walton missed the game with an injury. But the long campaign eventually took its toll, and the Trail Blazers faltered in February and March, tottering to a 10-16 record during those two months. They turned it around at the right time, however, with a 5-0 mark in April that catapulted them back into the playoff picture.
The fan phenomenon known as Blazermania was beginning to catch fire, too. On April 5 there were still a few tickets available in Memorial Coliseum when Portland played the Detroit Pistons before 12,359 fans. That was the last day a fan could just walk up and buy a ticket. From that point on, and continuing into the mid-1990s, every Portland home game was a sellout. Capacity was 12,666 through 1988, when it was expanded to 12,854 and then eventually 12,888.
The Trail Blazers' road to the championship rolled through Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles. The team hit its stride in the Western Conference Finals, eliminating the Pacific Division champion Los Angeles Lakers and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in four straight games.
Portland entered the NBA Finals as the underdog to the Philadelphia 76ers, led by Julius Erving, the spectacular forward who was reinventing the game with his gravity-defying slam dunks. The Sixers put the Trail Blazers in a hole by taking Games 1 and 2 in Philadelphia. Back home at Memorial Coliseum, however, Portland thrashed the 76ers by 22 points in Game 3 and by 32 points in Game 4. The Trail Blazers then won a third straight game by beating the Sixers back in Philadelphia.
Game 6 took place on June 5 in Memorial Coliseum. The Sixers got 40 points from Erving, but the Trail Blazers closed them out, 109-107, to claim the NBA title. Walton scored 20 points, yanked down 23 rebounds, handed out 7 assists, and blocked 8 shots in Game 6, and was named the Most Valuable Player of the Finals.
Walton was the star and the most recognizable of the Trail Blazers, with his flamboyant personality, his counterculture leanings (which fit in with the general ambience of mid-1970s Portland), and his intense, intelligent style of play. But the Trail Blazers' victory was the triumph of a well-balanced team over a collection of more brilliant individual talents. This was in line with the trend of the decade, which had also seen the Knicks, Lakers, Celtics, and Warriors win titles on the basis of cohesion rather than individual dominance.
Lucas led the Trail Blazers in minutes played and scoring, averaging 20.2 points. Dave Twardzik, a 6-1 guard, set a club record for field-goal percentage, notching a .612 accuracy mark. Walton set the team record for rebounding, clearing 14.4 boards per game. He also set a Portland all-time mark for blocked shots with 3.25 per game. Second-year point guard Lionel Hollins ran the show, leading the team in both assists (4.1 apg) and steals (166).
1977-78: Portland's Bid To Repeat Falls Short
Wearing the NBA crown, the 1977-78 Trail Blazers breezed through the regular season and collected 58 wins against only 24 losses, the best record in the NBA. They were 50-10 through February, including a team-record 26 consecutive home victories (34 straight when stretched back into the previous season). But Portland staggered to an 8-14 finish, then fell in the playoffs, bowing to Seattle in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Hollins topped the club in most offensive categories, while Walton led in rebounds and blocked shots. Reaping the rewards of attention brought on by the previous year's championship, a number of Trail Blazers earned honors. The biggest prize went to Walton, who was voted the NBA Most Valuable Player, the only Portland player ever to garner the top individual award.
Walton was an All-NBA First Team selection, while Lucas made the All-NBA Second Team. Walton, Lucas, and Hollins were All-Stars, and all three made the NBA All-Defensive First Team. The Trail Blazers held opponents to an NBA-best and club-record 101.5 points per game.
1978-83: Trail Blazers Make Early Playoff Exits
By the third year of Jack Ramsay's coaching stint, Portland had established a pattern that would last through the 1980s: a roster filled with good-if unspectacular-role players, producing solid seasons with at least 40 victories, followed by a quiet showing in the playoffs. The 1978-79 squad went 45-37, a 13-game drop from the previous season.
Coming off his MVP year, Walton missed the entire 1978-79 campaign with a stress fracture in his foot, a portent of the physical problems that would plague him for the rest of his career. He became a free agent after the season and was signed by the San Diego Clippers.
Tom Owens, a 6-10 center acquired from Houston, led the team in minutes played, scored 18.5 points per game, and excelled in most other offensive categories. Rookie Mychal Thompson, another 6-10 center with both power and finesse, was a productive force, notching 14.7 points per game. Fellow rookie Ron Brewer also showed talent, but the Trail Blazers were already in transition.
Portland continued its downward spiral in 1979-80, notching only 38 victories, a 20-game descent from two years earlier. Owens led the team in scoring with an average of 16.4 points per game, the second-lowest team-leading mark in the Trail Blazers' history. Solid 6-8 forward Kermit Washington was the team's force in the middle, pacing the squad in blocked shots (131) and rebounds (10.5 rpg). The brightest spot was the play of Calvin Natt, acquired from the New Jersey Nets in a trade for Maurice Lucas. Natt played the season's final 25 games with Portland and averaged 20.4 points as a Trail Blazer.
The Trail Blazers entered the 1980s with a team built around center Mychal Thompson and guard Jim Paxson, the club's 1979 first-round draft pick. Portland posted a 45-37 record in 1980-81 and appeared to be headed in the right direction, but the season had its bumpy patches. The rockiest night came on February 13 when Denver rang up a 162-143 victory and set a record for most points ever scored against Portland. It was a fair payback, since two of the Trail Blazers' highest point totals had come against the Nuggets.
The 1981-82 Trail Blazers barely managed a winning campaign, at 42-40, and missed the playoffs to snap a five-year string of postseason appearances. Thompson was a workhorse, setting a team record for minutes played with an average of 39.6 minutes per game. He also led in scoring (20.8 ppg) and rebounding (11.7 rpg). Natt emerged as a solid player, leading the Trail Blazers in field-goal percentage (.576) for the first of three consecutive seasons.
The 1982-83 Trail Blazers fought their way to a 46-36 record and battled into the Western Conference Semifinals. The season's highlight came early, when Portland put the collar on Cleveland on November 21, trouncing the Cavaliers, 129-79. The 50-point margin of victory was Portland's largest ever.
Captain Jim Paxson led the team in scoring at 21.7 points per game. Natt chipped in 20.4 points per contest. The multitalented Lafayette "Fat" Lever came aboard to run the show at point guard.
1970-83| 1983-93 | 1993-2006