Thirty-Five Years Of Enforcement
BY AARON GROSSMAN
August 5, 1976.
Thirty-five years ago today, the Trail Blazers traded Geoff Petrie and Steve Hawes to Atlanta in exchange for the second overall pick in the ABA dispersal draft. Portland then selected ABA All-Star Maurice Lucas, and the rest is (35 years of Trail Blazers) history.
Perhaps no year was more affected and certainly more storied than the first. Lucas joined a team that, since joining the NBA in 1970, had played six losing seasons, never winning more than 38 games and never seeing playoff basketball.
Lucas led the Trail Blazers with 24 points and 18 rebounds in his first game in the red and black, setting a season that saw Portland win 49 games and reach postseason play off to a blistering 17-6 start. But the Trail Blazers saved the real drama for the playoffs.
It’s often said today that teams need to go through postseason failure, to gain experience, to understand what it takes to win. Not the 1976-77 Trail Blazers led by Lucas and Bill Walton. After marching to the NBA Finals with only three total losses in the first three series, Portland found itself face-to-face with Julius Erving and superpower Philadelphia. But it was the face-to-face confrontation between the Trail Blazers “Enforcer” and Darryl Dawkins that many consider the turning point in the series.
The 76ers had Game 2 well in hand when Bobby Gross got into a bit of a melee with Dawkins. Enter the Enforcer. Lucas arrived at the scene, squaring off with the 250-pound Dawkins at midcourt. The message was simple: the Trail Blazers would not back down.
Surely motivated by Lucas’ actions, the Trail Blazers quickly turned a 2-0 series deficit into a 4-2 series win, representing one of just three times a team has lost the first two games before sweeping the next four in NBA Finals history. One year after winning 37 games, the Trail Blazers were NBA Champions.
“In our first meeting he told me we were going to win the NBA Championship – that season,” said Walton. “He was right. He was always right.”
During that fabled 1976-77 season, Lucas led the team in scoring during the regular season (20.2) and playoffs (21.2), and ranked second behind Walton in rebounding (11.4 during regular season, 9.9 in playoffs). He led the team in scoring in eight of the 19 postseason games.
Over his five-year career in Portland (1976-80, 1987-88), Lucas averaged 15.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Selected to the NBA All-Star Game in three straight seasons from 1977-79, Lucas is one of four three-time All-Stars in Trail Blazers history. He was named to the All-NBA Second Team and All-Defensive First Team in 1977-78, and to the All-Defensive Second Team in 1978-79.
The Trail Blazers honored Lucas by retiring his uniform number (No. 20) on Nov. 4, 1988, while he served as an assistant coach. He returned in the same role from 2005-10 and it felt like he never left. Once a Trail Blazer, always a Trail Blazer.
Sadly, Lucas passed away at the age of 58 after a long battle with cancer on Oct. 31, 2010, but not before he left an indelible mark on the Trail Blazers franchise and the city of Portland. It’s amazing how one man can so greatly affect 35 years of a team, a franchise and a city.
“Maurice has left unforgettable fingerprints on every decade of Trail Blazers basketball,” said Trail Blazers President Larry Miller at the time of Lucas’ passing. “Yet it is his booming personality, his warrior-like loyalty, and most of all, his undying love for his family, for the Trail Blazers, for his teammates, and for the city of Portland that we will all hold dearly in our hearts.”
That feeling was apparent throughout the 2010-11 Trail Blazers season, a year dedicated to Lucas with uniform patches, pins, a variety of tributes and one very special award.
The Trail Blazers honored the life of Luke by establishing the Maurice Lucas Award, given annually to the Trail Blazers player who best represents the true spirit of Maurice Lucas through his contributions on the court and in the community, as well as in support of his teammates and the organization. Maybe, if Portland is so lucky, one of the future award winners will provide something close to Lucas’ contributions one day.
Starting with a championship.