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 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
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.
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1971-72: Wicks Named Rookie Of The Year, But Trail Blazers Stumble As A Team
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.
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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
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1974-76: Here Comes "Big Bill"
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
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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
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
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).
click here to view the 1977 Championship Team Tribute
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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.
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1978-83: Trail Blazers Make Early Playoff Exits
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
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.
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