Mike Barrett

A look back at Steve Jones, even before he became "Snapper"

A look back at Steve Jones, even before he became "Snapper"

In the days when he began work with the Trail Blazers as an on-air analyst – on television and radio – he was just plain Steve Jones, the former star at Franklin High, the University of Oregon and the ABA, where he was a three-time all-star.

He was, in fact, already well known for his basketball skills and later was inducted into the sports Halls of Fame for the Portland Interscholastic League, the University of Oregon and the state of Oregon.

But while working with Bob Costas at NBC, the “Snapper” nickname emerged, a reference to some secret story from the ABA, where Jones and Costas first met, the latter as the broadcaster for the Spirits of St. Louis. Soon, he was one of those one-name guys -- everybody in basketball knew who "Snapper" was.

Jones died Saturday at the age of 75, after battling a health condition for many years. Jones’ health problems began in 2006 when his appendix burst during a broadcast and he decided to finish the game before seeking medical help.

But the incident left toxins in his body that led to complications over many years that he could never quite overcome.

Jones played his final season of professional basketball as a Trail Blazer in 1975-76 and launched a 26-year broadcast career with the team after retirement as a player.

He worked with just about all the Trail Blazer play-by-play men -- Bill Schonely, Pat Lafferty, Pete Pranica, Eddie Doucette, Mike Barrett and even worked for one season with the Sonics in Seattle with current Portland broadcaster Kevin Calabro.

"I grew up watching and listening to Steve," Barrett told me Sunday. "It was always an education. I was humbled to eventually be able to work alongside him, He taught me so much in my early days as a play-by-play broadcaster -- about the league, the game, the road and so much more. I was so blessed to have known him."

I’ve always believed his brightest moments in broadcasting came when he was working alongside Bill Walton. The two forged a friendship and great chemistry as teammates with the Trail Blazers and Jones always had the ability to rein in Walton – something he did better than anybody ever has.

Their interchanges during broadcasts were priceless -- often either great basketball insight or just comedy gold.

At time he wasn’t easy to work with, as he wasn’t afraid to challenge his broadcast partners on the air. He was a guy who could pin a nickname on anyone (including me) and would bust your chops whenever he had the chance.

"He was a terrific guy," Schonely said. "He called me 'Pops.' Always upbeat with that big laugh. And he loved giving everybody a bad time -- and he loved every minute of it. He was a joy to work with and he laughed a lot. He was a good man."

And on the air, even though he loved the Trail Blazers, he was no homer. Of all the analysts the team has ever had, Jones was the one who most resisted over-selling the home team. He played it straight.

He’d often say, “The Trail Blazers just need to learn how they want to score the ball,” which was often code for “The right people have to be shooting.” He told it like it was -- and got away with it -- throughout his broadcasting career.

I believe, along with his attention to national network duties, his unbiased delivery may have eventually led to his quiet disconnect from the franchise in 2006, when his relationship with the organization ended without ceremony or tribute.

He was a noted contrarian. I had the opportunity in my many years of covering the team, to spend time talking basketball with him and what I remember most is his willingness to go against the grain.

If the talk, for example, would turn to the importance of defense in winning championships, Jones would boom his familiar laugh and shake his head.

“If your offense is good enough, nobody can beat you,” he said. “The team that scores the most points usually wins, right?”

The Trail Blazers brought him back from his home in Houston to honor him five years ago and it was a terrific gesture that seemed to lift his spirits. I had the opportunity to do one of my “Posting Up” shows with Steve during that time and it was a joy.

He became an icon in Portland and an important member of the NBA community. Commissioner Adam Silver released a statement Saturday night:

The NBA family mourns the passing of Steve "Snapper" Jones - former Portland Trail Blazer, ABA All-Star and one of the NBA's all-time great TV analysts. We send our deepest condolences to his family and many friends.”

I considered Steve a friend and enjoyed the telephone conversations we had during his retirement years in Houston.

Even in retirement, he was opinionated and speaking his mind about the league he loved.  He taught me a lot about the NBA and basketball in general. I mourn his passing, kick myself for not staying in touch with him more frequently in recent years and wish the best to his family.

We lost one of the great Trail Blazers Saturday.

Mike Barrett involved with group attempting to bring MLB to Portland

Mike Barrett involved with group attempting to bring MLB to Portland

A management group has been working quietly behind the scenes for more than a year on a plan to bring major-league baseball and a stadium development to Portland.

The spokesman for the group, and a managing partner, is the former television voice of the Trail Blazers, Mike Barrett.

“There is a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative,” Barrett said Tuesday. “We will keep you fully apprised of any and all developments as this project progresses.”

Barrett, who did not identify anyone else in the group,  said they prefer to operate behind the scenes at this time but are pursuing a "smart and careful approach" and "doing it exactly the right way,"

Barrett was known for his work in basketball, particularly his play-by-play duties with the Trail Blazers, which began in the 2003-2004 season and ended after the 2015-16 season. But he was also an all-state pitcher at West Albany High School and is a lifelong baseball fan.

“After the Trail Blazers, I was weighing several opportunities but I didn’t want to leave the area,” Barrett said. “And when I was approached by this group, with a chance to help bring major-league baseball to my home state, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.”

Portland began to sneak into conversations about MLB expansion during the last year or so.  Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred mentioned the city recently during an interview in Seattle, saying Portland would be “on a list” for expansion, emphasizing a need for a team in the Pacific time zone as part of a expanded and reconfigured 32-team league.

In a story published this week in Baseball America, well-connected Hall of Fame baseball writer Tracy Ringolsby outlined a 32-team expanded MLB with realignment that resulted in a 156-game schedule and four eight-team divisions, with Portland listed in the West division.

Ringolsby referred to Portland as a city with a “legitimate” ownership group, which is the group Barrett is associated with:

“And there is a legitimate ownership group in Portland that has the necessary financing along with support for a stadium, which would be partially funded by a $150 million grant. Approved by the state of Oregon to help finance a stadium when efforts were underway in 2003 to be the site for the relocation of the Expos (who instead moved to Washington, D.C.), the grant is still available.”

 

 

Let's get a few things straightened out about Trail Blazer announcers

Let's get a few things straightened out about Trail Blazer announcers

I knew the Trail Blazers were opening the door to a lot of criticism when they let go of television broadcasters Mike Barrett and Mike Rice last summer. They were at it a long time here and very popular among the local fan base.

I've seen and heard comments on social media and in the concourse of Moda Center that have surprised me and I think it's time to set the record straight -- at least my conception of the record. Some random thoughts about the situation:

  • I cannot believe how many people say that Calabro isn't enough of a homer for them. What I've heard more than once is, "He doesn't even say 'we' or 'us' when he's talking about the Trail Blazers." This is usually spoken as if Barrett constantly used those words. He didn't. And I never considered Mike a homer. Did he lean toward the home team? Of course -- as does Calabro. But please, don't paint Barrett as an out-and-out homer. He wasn't. He called games pretty straight by today's standards.
  • Mike Rice? That's a different story. He was very comfortable in his role as the hometown analyst, going as far as making fun of opposing coaches or players and making snide remarks about players who were once Blazers -- things he'd never have said while they were playing here. And the sniping at the referees -- wow. All of that is part of what made him such a fan favorite here -- he was saying things a lot of fans would have said. It worked for him.
  • For me, I have no problem with announcers being more excited about the home team. What grates on me the most is when they say things about the competition that they'd never say about the home team. You should treat both teams the same when it comes to criticism. Even if you're a homer. Don't make light of an opposing coach for doing something and then ignore it or praise it when your coach does the same thing. That's the very essence of a homer.
  • I think most of the time, the analyst naturally ends up being more of a homer than the play-by-play man. By nature, the one doing play-by-play is delivering facts while the analyst is analyzing -- which is subjective and often leads to commentary.
  • For all those fans who want a homer, I'd ask simply, "How do you trust that?" If there's a bias there, aren't you worried that you're going to get things sugar coated? Do you care if you get truth? Apparently not.
  • Kevin Calabro is one of the very best in the business. If you don't enjoy listening to him, I'd suggest you just give it time. With all announcers, there is a getting-acquainted time. The longer you listen to them, for the most part, the better you like them. It's a matter of familiarity.
  • Mike Barrett is also one of the best. I have no doubt that if he was willing to relocate, he'd already be working for another team, either in the NBA or another sport. He's that good. I also believe he'll eventually end up with a great gig around here somewhere, if that's what he wants.
  • Just throwing this out there: I grew up in a time when broadcasters most often worked for the radio or TV stations, rather than the teams. They still were partial to the teams they broadcast, but weren't under their thumb. They could reasonably say what was appropriate and obvious. I miss that system.
  • You have no idea how much pressure many franchises in various sports put on their broadcasters to basically sell tickets rather than broadcast games. They want the best spin on everything that happens during a game, no matter how ridiculous that can be sometimes. I feel for those people who often end up trying to paint a happy face on a sports disaster.
  • Franchises need to understand the value of allowing their broadcasters to call games down the middle. It gives the fan base confidence in them -- so when they do praise the home team, people actually believe it, rather than think it's just another spoonful of sugar.
  • Two words in that regard: Vin Scully.
  • You have no idea how difficult it is to do what great play-by-play broadcasters do. Or maybe you do. People like Calabro and Barrett work extremely hard to make their job sound easy. I have nothing but admiration for their talent.

Blazers turning page on broadcast team

Blazers turning page on broadcast team

The Trail Blazers made it official this morning in a news release about broadcasters Mike Barrett, Mike Rice and Antonio Harvey -- they will not return next season. The team's president and CEO made this comment in the release:

“After reviewing our entire broadcast operation over the past couple of seasons, I felt it was a good time for us to transition into a new direction,” Chris McGowan said. “I would like to thank our broadcasters for their years of dedicated service to our organization and wish them nothing but success in their future endeavors. Going forward, we will focus our efforts on a national search to fill our open TV broadcast positions, with the number one goal of bringing in top-notch talent that our fans will be excited to watch during Trail Blazers broadcasts.”

The broadcasters I was able to reach did not choose to comment on the sudden and unexpected news. Of the three, the most unexpected move was Barrett, who has been the team's television play-by-play voice since 2003.

At this point, I have nothing to report about the team's plans. But I would guess that at some point Kevin Calabro, the Bill Schonely of Seattle, will be considered for Barrett's job. Just a guess, but I assume Trail Blazer owner Paul Allen has an affinity for Calabro after listening to him in Seattle for so many seasons. And as long as we're thinking about a Seattle connection, former Trail Blazer coach P..J. Carlesimo also lives there and does a lot of broadcast work for ESPN. He might want to be a little closer to home and would make sense as Rice's replacement.

I don't think moves like this are made without replacements in mind.