Over the years there have been many debates about the cities or teams that appear to be “cursed” in the world of sports. A long drought of winning, no championships and/or a combination of a every team in a specific city having a history of atrocity are all bulletpoints in any debate on the topic.
May of us are fast to point to the city of Cleveland as being the most “cursed” of the cities in the sports world . The Catch, Curse of Rocky Colavito, Red Right 88, The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, Cleveland Browns relocation controversy, 1997 World Series, and The Decision all come to mind when gauging the misery of Cleveland sports. But in all reality, Cleveland is known for not winning any major sports championships since 1964, close to 50 years ago.
But few of these cities and even fewer of these teams compare to the misery that is the Portland TrailBlazers.
During the 1970’s and in particular from March 15th, 1977 until Feb. 28th, 1978, the Blazers won 60 of 75 regular season games and were led by a young Bill Walton to an NBA title during the 76-77 season. Walton averaged 18.6 points, 14.4 ‘boards, 3.2 blocks in the regular season and was a big factor in the Portland attack. Most importantly, he was the building block of a foundation, a foundation towards a bright and prosperous career.
But in the ’77-’78 season Walton discovered he had yet another problem with his and would later find out that the navicular bone in his left ankle was broken. Walton’s career would take a big hit and so would the TrailBlazers organization which seemed to be on the cusp of building an incredible team.
Not to be outdone by the 70’s the Blazers took misery into their own hands in 1984. With another building block in place (Clyde Drexler drafted in 1983, Hall of Famer) the Blazers held the 2nd overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft. Many scouts and experts were buzzing about the promise of a young North Carolina prospect by the name of Michael Jordan. Many of these same prospects were worried and scared by Kentucky’s Sam Bowie who was experiencing leg issues throughout his college career.
Nonetheless the Portland TrailBlazers drafted Bowie. They would later state that they drafted Bowie over Jordan because they felt they didn’t need another shooting guard since they had drafted Clyde Drexler the year before. We all know how that turned out.
The Blazers put together a nice run in the 90s behind Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey, Terry Porter and Drazen Peterovic (for a short time) and made the finals twice, once in 89-90 against the Detroit Pistons and again in 91-92 against Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, losing both series.
The Blazers would return to prominence in 2000 with a stacked roster of NBA All-Star caliber players like Damon Stoudemire, Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, Steve Smith and a young Rasheed Wallace. But again, the curse would rear it’s ugly head.
In what many consider one of the biggest chokes in NBA playoff history Portland had a 15-point lead with little over 10 minutes left in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. But the Blazers collapsed historically and the Lakers, led by Shaq and Kobe, mounted a historic comeback to win the series and eventually the NBA title.
In 2008, the Trailblazers held the #1 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. Two prospects were slotted to be the Top 2 picks, and Ohio State big man by the name of Greg Oden and an impressive forward from Texas named Kevin Durant. Oden wasn’t considered as promising of a prospect as Durant, plagued with some injuries in college and questions regarding how he would transition to the NBA style of play.
The Blazers selected Oden with the 1st pick. Oden had micro-fracture surgery on his right knee before his rookie season and wouldn’t debut until his 2nd year in the league and he wouldn’t stay on the court long after that. Oden left his NBA debut game with a foot injury after playing only 13 scoreless minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers.
On February 13, 2009, he injured his left knee (chipped knee cap) in a game against the Golden State Warriors and missed three weeks. On
December 5, 2009, Oden injured his left knee in the first quarter of a game. He later underwent surgery for a fractured left patella and missed the rest of the season. On November 17, 2010, the team announced that Oden would have micro-fracture surgery on his left knee, ending his 2010–2011 season.
On February 3, 2012, Oden underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. On February 20, 2012, Oden was scheduled for a procedure on his left knee similar but during the operation, further damage to the articular cartilage was discovered, and Oden underwent his 3rd micro-fracture surgery.
Finally, On March 15, 2012, Oden was waived by the Blazers.
But the Blazers had a promising star in Brandon Roy to build around right? Wrong. On January 17, 2011, Roy underwent arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees and Roy announced that his knees had degenerated so much that he was retiring from basketball. Another big blow to the Blazers.
To top things off, center Lamarcus Aldridge, diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome in 2007, received heart surgery at the beginning of the season to evaluate the status of the electrical system of his heart, recently underwent hip surgery.
Fans are not the only ones who are buying into the idea of a curse. Former TrailBlazers center Marcus Camby, who now plays for the Houston Rockets, was asked by ESPN’s Marc Stein about a Portland curse:
They might not want to admit it, but when I was there, my goodness, people were saying, “Are we really snake-bit? Are we really cursed?” Doubts and talks like that came about. Everybody just tried to brush it to one side and remain positive, but it was hard to escape because everybody was talking about it. It’s hard to argue when it keeps happening year after year after year.
Considering the Trailblazers are the only major sports team in the city of Portland does this one case become that much bigger? Does it trump cities with multiple teams with similar woes?
My thoughts are, yes. In some cities there are distractions (ie. other teams) that can help fluff the impact of one team’s shortcomings. But Portland only has the Trailblazers.
Naturally hindsite is 20/20 but the Blazers were moments away from 2 amazing dynasties. If the Blazers had passed on Bowie they would have had a backcourt of Clyde Drexler and Michael Jordan to carry the torch for Portland. Imagine how that turned out.
Furthermore imagine is Portland took Kevin Durant over Greg Oden. They would have had a lineup of Aldridge, Roy and Durant to lead them. But we all know how that turned out.
Sad thing is it will probably be a long time before Portland ever gets another chance to right the ship. They did a good job of ridding themselves of the “Jail Birds” monicker of the early 2000’s but swerved right into another pitfall.
I can’t help but feel bad for Portland. A city that is “all in” with the Blazers and often has to walk away from the table broke, defeated and ravaged.
Odds would suggest that eventually you hit on a winner. At least Portland sure hopes so.