While I did blog last year about Early Portland and the flying pigskin, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to be more of a fan of basketball than football. My spouse will assert I’m not much of a fan of either as I lack the watching-sports-on-TV-for-hours-at-a-time skill set, although I’d argue I can at least still recognize the voice of “The Schonz” as the almost three decades long play-by-play Blazer announcer. For the record, it doesn’t mean I’m unappreciative of sports. In fact, participating in athletics was likely the most important thing to me until I reached adulthood.
Any of us who lived through the 1970’s in Portland are more likely than not to remember Blazermania as it erupted into our lives as the Portland Trail Blazers won the NBA championship in 1977. My clearest memory these many years later is how I embarrassedly exposed my underwear during the famous June 6, 1977 Monday parade. There. It’s finally out. A noontime event when more than 150,000 fans took to downtown Portland to cheer on their heroes, and – if they were lucky – watch Bill Walton pour champagne on Mayor Goldschmidt’s head. I joined Portland’s Lincoln High students skipping class to catch up with the parade a few blocks away. As we joined fans lining streets, all hoping to catch glimpses of convertibles boasting Maurice Lucas, Bill Walton, Lionel Hollins, and others weaving through crowds, I was shoved into a passing convertible door handle, jaggedly ripping the front of my wraparound skirt. I was left as an awkwardly self-conscious 15-year old exposed in nothing more ornamental than J.C. Penney’s cheapest underwear. It’s no surprise I gave up trying to spot my favorite guard, Dave Twardzik, and darted away from the crowd, gathering the remnants of my skirt to my body toward the safety of Lincoln High’s locker room to pull on my gym shorts, a few hours before that afternoon’s athletic practice. I did not, however reenter the crowded streets of Portland that day.
And what about those Blazers, a team that had entered the league as an expansion team in 1970? Although they have advanced another two times to the NBA Finals, so far they won the NBA championship only once, that year of 1977.
But I’d put money down that some of my fellow female teammates and competitors of that era would agree – bigger than that Blazer victory to us girls of those years, was the advancement of girls sports, thanks to Title IV passage in 1972. We female Cardinals were more excited to toil to attempt to claim the PIL City Championship, and make it to the state tourney. We were thrilled to have LHS cheerleaders decorate our lockers on game day, just as they did the boys, and we began to learn about both the positive and negative repercussions of competition. While we may have whooped and hollered as those Blazers moved to the national spotlight, some of us were more excited that we too had the opportunity to demonstrate our own skill of the sport. And – if you’ve read My Music Man – you may recall how my own special rally guy shouted the name reserved only for me. Gumdrop.
Although Dad did give football a shot, after knocking out his teeth and being forbidden by my grandmother to play again, he morphed into a Cardinal Times sportswriter. Oh, and a Lincoln High Yell Leader. (Dad long ago corrected me: yell leader, not cheer leader.) He and his buddies, John Bentley and Dick Jones, joined girls who didn’t yet have a choice to be the ones on the court. It is often when I enter the building I work in, OHSU’s Richard Jones Hall, that I think of the yell leader photo of this man and Dad, rather than anything related to Dr. Jones’ medical career.
Basketball had been invented long before my dad and his peers: back in 1891 in Massachusetts by a PE teacher who touted it as a safer sport than football. This Dr. James Naismith found it a good way to condition young athletes during the cold months, first using peach baskets that he nailed to the lower railing of a gym balcony, and a ball more like today’s soccer ball. Eventually the bottoms of the peach baskets were removed, so that the janitor didn’t need to interrupt the game with a ladder to pull out the ball. Before long other schools and colleges picked up the sport, and introduced intraschool competitions. And while in 1965 the NBA had only 10 teams, and it was professionally unheard of outside of the U.S., Portland’s Claudia’s Tavern sponsored a team that dominated the local AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) league for 22 years.
And today? Hmm. Guess there’s a big Blazer game tonight. I promise to check in once each quarter. But I’ve got things to do.