Not since 1992 have the Portland Trail Blazers played for an NBA Championship. And not since 1977 have they won it.
They’ve got a good chance this year — so says Charles Barkley. But back in ’77, they had some real “Hope.”
There are still plenty of Portland fans around who recall those magic days of Blazermania back in 1976-77.
In just their seventh year of existence, Portland’s run through the regular season ultimately led to a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1977 NBA Finals.
One Astoria resident who recalls that magical season has proof of her allegiance as an original Blazermaniac — it’s a photo of herself, Shawn Hope, alongside Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
O.K., so big Bill and Kareem were featured a bit more prominently. But there she is, on the cover of the May 23, 1977 issue of Sports Illustrated, enjoying Portland’s win over the Lakers.
Sitting with Jim Heater (her boyfriend, then and now), you can’t miss her. Right there, courtside, third row, between Blazers Larry Steele and Walton, watching all the action in Game 4 (she thinks) of the ‘77 Western Conference finals.
“My brother (Mike Hope) worked for the Los Angeles Lakers, and some of their people weren’t going to use their tickets,” remembers Shawn, “and I have eight brothers and sisters, so everybody got tickets.”
The seats, obviously, were in a prime location for — to that point — Portland’s biggest game ever.
“We didn’t know where the seats were at first, but they kept leading us down, and we ended up in the third row,” she said. “It was so cool. Fabulous. That game was absolutely fascinating.”
If it indeed was Game 4, Hope and Heater saw the Blazers defeat the Lakers 105-101, despite 30 points and 17 rebounds for Abdul-Jabbar.
Later that week, a friend of Hope’s, Chuck Mestrich, happened to notice someone he recognized on the cover of that week’s Sports Illustrated.
“He just started looking at all the people (in the photo) to see if he knew anybody, and there I was,” said Hope, who immediately “went and bought copies for everybody.”
Copies of that issue can still be found on Ebay at a fairly reasonable price.
Hope’s copy is in pretty rough shape now, although she has it laminated.
The revamped Blazers of 1976-77 won 22 of their first 31 games, and finished the regular season with a 49–33 record, putting Portland into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
The Blazers took two of three from Chicago in the first round, knocked off the Denver Nuggets (sound familiar?) in six games in the second round, then swept the Lakers in four straight in the Western Conference finals.
By then, the entire state was down with a severe case of Blazermania.
Johnny Davis, Lionel Hollins, Maurice Lucas, Dave Twardzik, Walton … Rip City was the topic of every conversation.
And the Blazers didn’t disappoint in the finals.
Well, at first they did, as the Sixers and Julius Erving won the first two games in Philadelphia.
But, taking advantage of their incredible 45-6 record at home that season, Portland won Games 3 and 4, 129-107 and 130-98.
The pivotal contest was Game 5 back in Philadelphia, where the Blazers won, 110-104.
Game 6 was the closest of the series, and Portland got the win (109-107), setting off a celebration that hasn’t been seen in 42 years.
But, there’s always hope.
“I love basketball, and (in 1977) I just adored the Blazers,” said Shawn Hope, who was a student at Clatsop Community College in 1977, and still lives in Astoria. “I do right now, too. I love watching the Blazers.”