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Tuesday, July 7, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  National sports

Portland Trail Blazers, the only Northwest NBA team, get little respect in Spokane

Rip City is more than the sound of a basketball ripping through the net when the Portland Trail Blazers are on the court.

Portland is the Rip City.

But the sound has barely made a ripple in Spokane where people could give a rip about the only National Basketball Association franchise north of California and west of the Rockies even though Portland is less than a six-hour drive away.

A Blazers win hardly gets more than a few paragraphs on the sports pages here.

Despite its mediocre season, Portland has again qualified for the NBA playoffs and will face the talent-laden Warriors from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Hope in the Rose City is high. Of course, Oregon has now legalized marijuana for recreational use so that high might have something to do with the buzz coming upriver from there.

For all the times that play-by-play announcer Bill Schonely uttered Rip City in Portland, it hasn’t done much to bring the team success, unless you count the Bill Walton-led championship in the spring of 1977.

Schonley coined Rip City during a game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers during Portland’s inaugural season of 1970-71 when one of the Blazers hit a shot from just beyond the half court line.

I was in high school at the time and a regular listener to Schonley’s radio broadcasts.

Rip City seemed like the sound of the basketball ripping through the net from long distance.

That year, a bunch of us went to a game against the Milwaukee Bucks and saw Lew Alcindor play in the old Memorial Coliseum.

Alcindor changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the end of that season after winning his first NBA championship.

In the 1974 NBA draft, Portland got the first pick and took Walton.

Both he and Abdul-Jabbar had storied college careers as towering centers under coach John Wooden at UCLA.

A little more than two years after drafting Walton, the Blazers swept Abdul-Jabbar and the Los Angeles Lakers on their way to the franchise’s one and only NBA championship.

Walton was joined on that team by Maurice Lucas, Lionel Hollins and a cast of other greats.

Hall-of-Fame coach Jack Ramsay taught those guys to run the offense with the pass. It was a thing of beauty at the time, but definitely old school in today’s style of post ups, picks and pops.

Not long after Christmas in 1977, Walton suffered a foot injury and the Blazers were toast after that. The Seattle SuperSonics took their place as the leading Western Conference team.

It’s been nine years now since the Sonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that has no doubt fewer fans in Spokane than the Blazers.

The Blazers earned their fan’s loyalty by being competitive over the years. The team went to the NBA Finals two other times, but lost to Detroit in 1990 and Chicago in 1992.

While the Blazers had the fabulous Clyde “the Glide” Drexler, the Chicago Bulls had Michael Jordan. What else can you say?

I look back on those playoff runs like Zags fans do today. Maybe we lost in the end, but it was a lot of fun.

Schonley in his later years said Rip City really exists in the minds of the fans and the identity of Portland more than in his historic radio call.

Viva la Rip City.

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