In A Season Full Of Endings, Bill Schonely Gets The Final Farewell

PORTLAND -- The Portland Trail Blazers’ 2021-22 season was a reminder, whether you needed it or not, that all things must come to an end.

The tenures of longtime leaders on both the basketball and business sides of the organization came to their respective ends after nearly a decade. The backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, a partnership that in many ways defined the last era of Trail Blazers basketball, came to an end after eight seasons. And Portland’s streak of eight-straight postseason berths came to an unceremonious end even before the season was over.

So it’s fitting, albeit sad, that the man who quite literally coined the phrase most synonymous with Trail Blazers basketball is stepping away as this season comes to a close.

After over 50 years of service to the organization, first as a broadcaster and then as an ambassador, Bill Schonely officially retired during a halftime ceremony of Portland’s season finale.

“This night means a great deal to me,” said Schonely, who was hired by team founder Harry Glickman to be the team’s first broadcaster. “I was with the organization when the baby was born, if you will, back in 1970. I had never dreamed that I would last this long, coming up to 93, and I’ve seen them all, gone through them all, have enjoyed each and every year. I loved to broadcast the games and now it’s time for me to turn it over to other people.”

While Schonely retired as the team’s primary broadcaster in 1998, he’s never left the organization. As an ambassador and one of the most beloved personalities in franchise history who coined now-famous phrases such as “Rip City” and “You’ve got to make your free throws,” Schonely has been a regular fixture at games and various team events for the last 25 years. But at 93, the time has come for the man lovingly known as “The Schonz” to step away from the grind that comes with working 41 nights and weekends on top of various appearances.

“My health is not as good as it used to be, but I’m still an ornery as ever,” said Schonely. “I’ll keep on doing what I can for this organization, who has been very good to me over these years. I’ll miss the traveling and all the other things that went into what I was involved in, but it’s time.”

Schonely served in the Marine Corps and worked at various ratio stations throughout the country before becoming the Trail Blazers’ first play-by-play announcer. He called more than 2,500 games from 1970 to 1998, narrating some of the most important moments in franchise, from their lone NBA Championship in 1977 to two NBA Finals runs over the course of three seasons, and was awarded the Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Basketball Hall of Fame. And as an ambassador, he relished the opportunity to continue talking about his beloved Trail Blazers on a more personal level.

“I just tried to do my job and they’ve been a great, great group of people, very large now,” said Schonely. “I’m very thankful for them. I hear from them all the time, somebody ‘Hey Schonz, do you remember this? Do you remember that?’ And I forget. I guess I did it, I don’t know.”

Like many whose professional lives are so intertwined with their personal lives, Schonely doesn’t know exactly what he’s going to do with a bit more time on his hands now that he’s fully retired. But while what to do with that time is to be determined, who he’ll spend that time with is well settled.

“I know one thing: I’ll get up in the morning and make the coffee and maybe get Dottie her breakfast ready, which is easy, it’s a box of cereal,” said Schonely of his wife. “Then I’ll take the trash out and then clean up that, probably go to the store and by that time it’s nap time in the afternoon. I’ll take a little nap, get up and find out what’s going on. Obviously I’ll have some more Dottie Dos to do and as of that moment, that’s going to be my day. I know I’ll find something.”

He’ll also end up spending quite a bit of time thinking and talking about the team, albeit in an unofficial capacity after being a conduit between the team and the fans for so many years.

“This is the last game, will be the last game for a lot of those kids who’ve been trying very, very hard to do the right thing,” said Schonely. “And of course have been outmatched, obviously, so I hope the organization, the basketball side of it, has a good summer. And I kind of think that’s going to happen. I’ve got a feeling about that. I hope that takes place and I hope the fans will stay with them. Be patient. The last couple years have not been very good, we all know that, but there’s always tomorrow and there’s always another game.”

In his farewell address in Portland’s final game of the season, Schonely thanked Dottie, the fans and the players who he covered during his nearly 30 years as a broadcaster, many of whom were on hand Sunday night. And before signing off one last time, he and the Moda Center crowd belted out one last “Rip City, all right!” to finish off a season full of endings in Portland.

"I don’t have a hobby, my life in broadcasting has been my hobby and now that part is over,” said Schonely. “But I’ve enjoyed every moment. I never thought that I would be doing this because I was always doing something else for the organization... I could have just stayed on for a while longer, I’m quite sure. But at my age now, it’s just time to do it. So I’m doing it.”