It’s that time of year when people are searching for Christmas presents for their sports-fan friends and I always like to recommend books.
And there is little doubt this year which one Trail Blazer fans need to grab – it’s Kerry Eggers’ “Jail Blazers – How the Portland Trail Blazers Became the Bad Boys of Basketball.”
There are two segments of Blazer fans in Portland – the ones who lived through that era and think they know all about it and the ones who weren’t around for that era and think they know all about it.
To both groups, I say you better read this book – and not just because Eggers is a lifelong friend and longtime co-worker of mine.
The biggest thing about the book is that there is a lot of new information about that dark time for the franchise. Eggers’ research was extensive and must have been exhaustive. He talked to so many people – from the flight attendant on their charter flights to the team’s then-strength coach and its trainer.
He also talked to a good many people who weren’t in a position to speak to the media in those days and he ended up with fresh takes on old stories and some new stories I’d never heard.
And he also stayed away from making judgments on a lot of people and incidents. He basically has just laid it all out for the reader to make those decisions.
And that’s fine.
In the past few years I’ve noticed a lot of fans trying to diminish the player behavior and impact of that era. You’ve heard it, I’m sure – that crowd that wants to portray the players from that era as not much more than lovable rogues who may have smoked something that’s legal nowdays and should never have been punished or vilified for it.
I don’t subscribe to that concept, mainly because I was close enough to those players and teams that I knew what was actually going on. And it wasn’t pretty. And it surely was a lot more than just a few arrests for smoking weed.
The general manager of the team was absentee and most famous for his quote, “I wasn’t a chemistry major,” when asked about his continual tinkering with the roster.
The roster featured, among others, a registered sex offender, a man charged with assaulting his pregnant girlfriend, a player who punched out a teammate in practice, another who – when stopped for speeding – tried to use his basketball card as his personal identification. There was someone who admitted to owning (and then abandoning) dogs for fighting and various people accused of assaulting others.
And by the way, as talented as he may have been, Rasheed Wallace used to run from anything resembling a pressure shot but won a title because he was traded to the perfect team – one where he didn’t have to take those shots.
Bonzi Wells spit on opponents and disrespected fans.
“We’re not going to worry about what the hell the fans think about us,” Wells once said. “They really don’t matter to us. They can boo us every day, but they are still going to ask us for our autographs if they see us on the streets.”
And that was an interesting part of that era. Wells was, to a point, correct. As long as those teams were winning, there wasn’t much of a dropoff in attendance or attention. Of course, once the losing started, the arena got as empty as it's ever been.
Eggers chronicles it all and some of it is pretty funny stuff this many years later.
The book is selling so well you’re probably going to have trouble finding a copy but it’s worth the search. Or the wait, if that's necessary.