The Jail Blazers era: More fun to read about than to live through

The Jail Blazers era: More fun to read about than to live through

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.

Jail Blazers were the perfect storm

Jail Blazers were the perfect storm

Portland Tribune sports columnist Kerry Eggers joined The Brian Noe Show on Tuesday to discuss all things Jail Blazers.

The longtime Portland journalist recently released his new book "Jail Blazers: How the Portland Trail Blazers became the Bad Boys of Basketball." 

Take a listen to the video above to hear Eggers talk about the darkest period in franchise history, and how it compares to today's team in Rip City.

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

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

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.

The world of AAU basketball: Gary Trent's son transfers to a P.O. box

The world of AAU basketball: Gary Trent's son transfers to a P.O. box

Greg Doyel is one of the best columnists in the country and he's got a great story about the son of former Jail Blazer Gary Trent, an up-and-coming high school star, transferring from his Indianapolis high school to a prep school that isn't really a school.

The senior Trent was a poster child for the era when Trail Blazer players were known more for their appearances in court than on the court. He notoriously punched his pregnant girlfriend in the face and kicked her in the ribs. In separate incidences, he allegedly punched and choked a man and hit another over the head with a pool cue. If you're new to the area or just want a refresher course on those dark days of the Trail Blazers, you can find the text of an "Outside the Lines" show on ESPN that sums up just some of the team's problems.

Well, anyway, Trent's son, a senior, is going to transfer to a "prep school" in Napa, Calif. --  Prolific Prep -- that really isn't a school at all. It's a basketball program that houses its players with a host family and sends them to a nearby Catholic school for their education. The "school" has a website but no physical address. I bet they have nice uniforms, though. It's, of course, not the first "school" of this type to make basketball its top priority.

It's a very interesting tale about what a segment of the current basketball development process has become in this country and I recommend it.