Learning The Ropes, By Harry Glickman
The following article by Harry Glickman, founder of the Portland Trail Blazers who passed away June 10 at the age of 96, ran in the "Reflections" section of the January 1995 edition of Rip City Magazine
The first regular season Blazers game was played here in Portland against the Cleveland Cavaliers, another expansion team. The exact attendance was 4,273 -- a very disappointing crowd. We certainly expected to draw more than that number of people to the first game of a major-league team.
You are always a little edgy on the day of a game, and that day perhaps a little more so. I didn’t have any special good luck charms with me-- although over the years I’ve acquired a lot of them and discarded them all. We had NBA commissioner Walter Kennedy at the game, along with Oregon Governor Tom McCall, who threw up the first jump ball. I still have a treasured picture of me taken with the two of them that night.
We won: I do remember that. It was a pretty good game. We opened with a lineup of Rick Adelman and Geoff Petrie at guards, LeRoy Ellis at center, and Jim Barnett and Gary Gregor at forwards. Barnett scored the very first point ever for the Portland Trail Blazers on a free throw.
We drew our first capacity crowd later that season against the New York Knicks, who were then the defending world champions. And we beat them by 18 points that night. It really was a major win, and we knew from there on that this franchise eventually was going to be successful. We started to receive more media coverage, there was more talk about us on the streets, and we won 12 of our last 26 games.
We had an extremely exciting team that year under coach Rolland Todd: I think we still hold the NBA record for the most shots put up in a season! We didn’t win a lot of games, although we did win 29, which was the second-best record ever of any expansion team. But we ran the ball, and we were a lot of fun to watch.
Our record was helped a bit by the fact that we played extra games that season against two other expansion teams: Buffalo and Cleveland. We beat Cleveland 10 games to two over the season and split six-and-six with Buffalo, and that accounted for quite a few of our wins. Buffalo finished the season at 22-60 while Cleveland went 15-67. But there was a week in February when the Blazers won three games and the Buckaroos -- our Western Hockey League team -- won three games. I still have a cartoon at home from the Oregon Journal that called it "The Week That Was for Harry Glickman." That was a great week!
Our first draft choice for the first season was Geoff Petrie, and he went on to be co-Rookie of the Year along with Dave Cowens of Boston. That lent us a lot of credibility. Fans started thinking, "Hey, maybe these guys know what they’re doing."
The funny thing is, though, we drafted Petrie without any of us having watched him play. We took him on recommendations because we only had six weeks to get ready for the college draft that season; expansion teams now have a year-and-a-half. We relied on Mends of our first director of player personnel, Stu Inman. One of the people who helped us out was Pete Newell, who was then the general manager of San Diego. He gave us a list of potential first-round draft choices.
That year’s draft was one of the best in the history of the NBA. You’d love to have a team made up of just those guys I can name off the top of my head: Geoff Petrie, Pete Maravich and Nate Archibald at guard; Bob Lanier, Dave Cowens and Sam Lacey at center; Rudy Tomjanovich and Garfield Heard at forward. Not bad! We had the eighth pick, and as you can see, there were some darn good players that went ahead of Petrie.
Portland crowds weren’t always as savvy about pro basketball back then as they are today. I remember one game when we were leading by something like 20 points with about six minutes to go. The fans started screaming for the subs. We had a popular player named Claude English, and everyone was shouting: "We want English!"
So Rolland put the subs in, and before you knew it, the lead was down to about three points. The starting lineup went back in and held on to win the game. Our fans quickly learned that in the NBA, a 20-point lead can be erased in no time flat. And now they’re among the most knowledgeable and sophisticated in the league. I’m very proud of that.