It was on Feb. 6, 1970, when one of Oregon’s most loved — if not the most loved — sports franchises came into existence. The Portland Trail Blazers and Rip City.
It all started with Harry Glickman, an entrepreneur of professional sports, having a dream of top-level sports for his hometown of Portland.
A group of local investors and the NBA expansion committee met in Philadelphia, and the expansion committee raised the franchise price tag to $3.7 million, causing the group of investors — who were prepared to give $2 million — to back out, leaving no financial support to make it happen.
Back in Portland, Glickman got a call from then-Seattle Sonics general manager Dick Vertlieb, who, according to the team, said he “knew a guy” who might be interested in staking an NBA franchise, but made it clear he was not interested in being part of the ownership.
That guy was Herman Sarkowsky, a home builder in Seattle, and the possible interest of two developer friends, Larry Weinberg (who would become owner of the team) and Robert Schmertz.
The league had set a deadline to select its new teams, and when the deadline rolled around, Glickman still hadn’t heard from Sarkowsky.
Glickman went to Los Angeles with only a scheme to try and persuade the NBA’s Board of Governors to accept Portland. He had hoped a good faith offer would work.
Once inside the hotel room of the chairman of the expansion committee and Baltimore Bullets owner Abe Pollin, the mood changed. A few members of the committee, led by the owner of the New York Knicks, did not want Portland in the league.
So Glickman left the room dejected.
When he reached the lobby of the hotel, with the feeling that his dream had failed, he remembered he had left his raincoat back in the room.
“When I got there,” Glickman said, “Pollin was on the phone: ‘Harry it’s for you … some guy named Sarkowsky is on the phone.’ He had reached Weinberg, who was eager to buy into an NBA franchise and finally got in touch with Schmertz, who was in. And Portland was granted an NBA franchise.
“When we got this franchise, we didn’t have any support, any political groups … we had very little from the media,” Glickman said Wednesday at a press conference. “I hope that changes now, because of the very day we got this franchise, we held a press conference the very next day saying, ‘we hope we (as in Oregon) have another major league team.’ And my biggest disappointment is, we haven’t had another one to join us. I hope we don’t have to wait another 48 years to get one.”
Now 50 years later, it’s time to celebrate 50 years and the 50th anniversary of the beloved franchise. And plans are underway to do so.
The Blazers announced Wednesday that a preseason game will be played Oct. 7 against the Denver Nuggets inside their original home, Veterans Memorial Coliseum, next door to their current home, the Moda Center, to honor the historic venue that served as the home of the Trail Blazers the first 25 years.
Other events include specially-designed “Decades Nights” that will celebrate the players, coaches, uniforms, branding, music and other Trail Blazer memories from the 1970s, ‘80s, ‘90s, 2000s and 2010s.
A special 50-year logo has been designed for next year, with plans of playing on a special commemorative court, and wearing very special uniforms.
“We are committed to honor this anniversary, and we are working very hard to put together an anniversary celebration we know our fans are going to be excited about,” said Trail Blazers President and CEO Chris McGowan.
Happy anniversary to a team that brought its fans a championship, three trips to the NBA Finals, a streak of 21 straight playoff appearances, and six Hall of Famers.
How ‘Rip City’ was born
In case you were wondering, legendary Blazer announcer Bill Schonely said that “Rip City” itself came about by Schonely trying to come up with a phrase that would “help my broadcast, as well as be synonymous with the team. I couldn’t figure it out.
“Later on in 1970, the Lakers came to town, Wilt Chamberlin, Jerry West … the place (Memorial Coliseum) was packed. The Blazers were down by 25-26 points. All of a sudden as the game went on, the scene changed and the next basket by Portland would tie the mighty Lakers.
“Jim Barnett stopped in front of me, turned and gave me a wink, spun around and took a shot for no reason, and the crowd went wild. He took the ball as it went through the hoop, and for whatever reason, I said ‘Rip City, all right!’
“The Lakers immediately called timeout. I gave my commercial cue, I sat back in my chair and the guys on the side of me said, ‘Rip City?’ I said ‘yeah!’ They said, ‘leave that in!’ That was the birth of Rip City!”