Portland Trail Blazers

As time goes by, 'Jail Blazers' trying hard to shed that nasty image

Portland Trail Blazers

I usually pay very little attention to Kevin Garnett's bewildering segments during TNT's Thursday night NBA broadcasts. It's usually just a couple of washed-up players sitting there telling each other how good they used to be. It's a waste of time that I can't believe TNT finds them more entertaining than a couple of minutes of Charles Barkley talking about anything.

But I recently saw a clip of Garnett and Rasheed Wallace talking about the 2000 Trail Blazers-Lakers Western Conference finals Game 7 and the "Jail Blazers" Era. And for those who weren't around at that time, I can't help but attempt to set the record straight about a few things they discussed:

And let me say I agree with Wallace that Portland should have won that series and advanced to an NBA Finals berth against overmatched Indiana. It was a mystifying fourth quarter collapse in the seventh game by Portland that changed the course of the franchise in a big way.

But Wallace, whose image in Portland seems to improve with every year he's retired, misstated a few things about that final game.

The first thing is, he blamed Coach Mike Dunleavy for calling a timeout that he believes stopped his team's momentum and allowed the Lakers to make a comeback. I would say, though, the Trail Blazer players -- and Wallace in particular -- had much more to do with Portland's loss than did the coach. The Blazers had a 73-58 lead in the fourth quarter before being outscored 31-11 to end the game with a four-point loss.

 

Down the stretch of a magnificent upset of a loaded Laker team that featured Kobe and Shaq, the Trail Blazer players choked. They tightened up to the point they couldn't seem to get their shots to the rim. Wallace himself was awful in the fourth quarter, which wasn't surprising. The talented power forward could be spectacular for much of a game and then run from key shots in fourth quarters. He eventually found a home in Detroit, where there were other players more than willing to take the pressure shots.

And the other thing that happened in this game is that Portland could not buy a call from the referees once the Lakers got their machine revved up. This game has become one of those controversial events that people point to as possible "fixed" games down through the years in the NBA. Scottie Pippen and Arvydas Sabonis fouled out of this one, with Sabonis continually getting blocking calls when he had solid position on Shaq as the latter bulled his way to the basket.

A check of the box score shows Los Angeles getting 21 more free throws than Portland and the fouls put a lot of pressure on Portland in the fourth quarter.

But that was a loss and it will always be that way. What I found in the video clip more disturbing was Wallace downplaying the whole Jail Blazers thing, insinuating that the players were being pilloried by the media for little things like parking in handicapped spots or speeding and that the local media was just out to make a name for itself in a small market.

That's a steaming pile of stink, Rasheed.

I'm not going to go into the full list of transgressions by the players on this team but here are just a few I remember off hand:

  • Ruben Patterson --  a registered sex offender who was arrested for felony domestic abuse against his wife.
  • Zach Randolph --  Once punched Patterson's eye socket out in practice, had a DUI and was the leader of the infamous "hoops family" that was under suspicion for all kinds of local mischief,
  • Qyntel Woods -- Arrested for speeding and tried to use his basketball card as ID. A marijuana charge and an arrest for animal abuse because of his involvement with a dog-fighting group.
  • Shawn Kemp -- Departed the team to enter drug rehab during a season.
  • Bonzi Wells --  A couple of episodes of spitting on opposing players and a stated disregard for the team's fans.
  • Rasheed Wallace -- World records for technical fouls, throwing a towel in anger at Arvydas Sabonis in front of a packed house in the Rose Garden and once threatened referee Tim Donaghy in a loading dock incident after a game.
  • JR Rider -- Threatened media many times, couldn't get along with his coaches and once insinuated that people of color were being hanged from trees just a few miles outside of town.
  • Damon Stoudamire -- A couple of marijuana charges, one of them famously at an airport metal detector with weed wrapped in foil.

Wallace, of course, laughed it all off with Garnett. "There were some mishaps in there," he admitted. "We were the only show in town. The only professional sports show in town. The only professional sports show between Seattle, at the time, and LA."

Hmmm. I guess he must have forgotten about all those "professional sports shows" in San Francisco and Oakland. But this Wallace remark was a classic:

"The only thing that could blow up and make local writers big was to go ahead and report everything, like if you had a speeding ticket or parked in a handicapped spot..."

As one of those writers I can tell you that we were just as sick of writing about those "mishaps" as they were sick about reading about them. But they were news and these guys were relentless with their trouble. And the amazing thing about Portland as a basketball town was as long as the team was winning, virtually nobody cared what the players did. We were constantly criticized by fans for writing "negative stuff" about their heroes, who got standing ovation after standing ovation from their adoring fans.

 

Until they started losing.

And let me tell you, as soon as that team started losing (Bob Whitsitt just couldn't keep his hands off the roster -- he kept tinkering until he moved Jermaine O'Neal to Indiana for Dale Davis and that was a monster mistake that probably cost him his job) the fans turned on the team very quickly. Winning is the ultimate perfume. And when this team stopped winning and continued its misbehavior, the fans revolted about the offensive aroma.

And I'm sorry, any attempt to portray that group of players as a sympathetic bunch is very misguided.

And if you were here and paid attention, you know what I'm talking about.