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What Merits a Retired Number For the Portland Trail Blazers?

Thursday, October 02, 2014


Photo Credit: Howard Kang via Compfight cc

At last, the Derek Jeter retirement-palooza is in America’s rearview mirror and his No. 2 jersey will deservedly be retired among other New York Yankees greats such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio.

Even the most unbalanced Yankee-hater must concede that Jeter’s achievements as the only Yankee to top 3,000 hits over a 20-year career and his postseason accomplishments have earned him the rarefied status of a retired number for a franchise that’s been around for more than a century. 

It’s a lesson in how accomplishment and longevity merit a retired number that the Portland Trail Blazers should take to heart as their season begins this month.

Looking up at the banners of 12 retired Trail Blazers numbers in the Moda Center might make young fans attending their first game believe the team has a long history of championship greatness instead of only one title since the team’s inception in 1970.

After all, the hated Lakers have retired fewer numbers than the Trail Blazers, even though they have won 16 NBA championships in Minneapolis and Los Angeles.

A modest proposal

So here’s a modest proposal with current Trail Blazers like LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard assembling careers that are putting them on track to have their numbers retired years from now: Start figuring out which current retired numbers should be um, “un-retired” for every retired number going forward so the Moda Center rafters don’t look like a laundry line for a pioneer family. 

This may be a painful exercise for fans. But using criteria such as actual on-court accomplishments, longevity and our own, admittedly squishy “we know when a player should receive a team’s highest honor when we see it” judgment, here’s how the judging could go …

These numbers must stay: #45 (Geoff Petrie), #22 (Clyde Drexler), #30 (Terry Porter), #32 (Bill Walton). Petrie stays as a unique case—he was the expansion team’s first breakout star and soldiered on through the team’s first six sub-.500 seasons with some truly awful teams. 

Drexler and Porter obviously remain among the banners as the beloved longtime linchpins of teams that made deep playoff runs, including two trips to the finals. And although injuries cut short Walton’s time in Portland, he is the iconic centerpiece of the team’s one title.

Close enough for keeping: #14 (Lionel Hollins), #20 (Maurice Lucas), #36 (Lloyd Neal). While Hollins, Lucas and Neal all had shorter Trail Blazers stints than Drexler and Porter, each played in Portland long enough and well enough to keep their revered status in the rafters. All three also played on the 1977 championship team, bringing to four players from that team whose numbers have been deservedly retired.

And that brings us to …

Take down these guys’ numbers and send them a gold watch: #13 (Dave Twardzik), #15 (Larry Steele), #30 (Bob Gross). This trio of Trail Blazers played on the 1977 title team, with Gross also performing the thankless task of guarding Philadelphia’s Julius Erving in the finals. 

And all three were solid role players for more seasons than that championship year. But enough is enough--none of them even averaged in double figures. And if later stalwarts like Buck Williams and Kevin Duckworth haven’t had their numbers retired, neither should these three.  

Who cares?: #1 (former owner Larry Weinberg), #77 (former coach Jack Ramsay). If the team wants to honor two nonplayers who made huge contributions to the franchise, who really cares?

There, that wasn’t so hard. At least three spaces have been cleared for Lillard and Aldridge to be honored for what Trail Blazers’ fans hope is continued greatness for seasons to come. 

As for that third space, perhaps Brandon Roy? But let’s leave that discussion for next week’s column.

A native Oregonian, Hank Stern had a 24-year career in journalism, working for more than a decade as a reporter with The Associated Press in Oregon, New Jersey and Washington, DC. He worked seven years for The Oregonian as a reporter in east Multnomah County, Washington County and Portland’s City Hall. In 2005, he became Willamette Week’s managing news editor and worked there until 2011.

Banner Photo Credit: nikk_la via Compfight cc


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