The Portland Trail Blazers failed to reach the postseason in any of their first six seasons in existence, and have managed to do so just twice in the past seven.
And in the 27 seasons (1976-2003) in between?
Twenty-six trips to the postseason, 24 .500-or-better seasons, six conference finals appearances, three conference titles, and an NBA championship.
Consider another interesting factoid: After missing the playoffs in each of their first half dozen seasons, the Blazers captured the NBA’s ultimate prize in their first postseason appearance.
Unfortunately, this is not all the Blazers are known for. In addition to nearly three decades of consistency sandwiched between a pair of lean stretches, the Blazers are known for catching some tough breaks, no pun intended. Well, maybe a little.
Three times in a 32-year span, Portland has drafted a big man with a top-two draft pick with hopes of entrusting its future to a franchise cornerstone.
The first time this happened was in 1974, when the Trail Blazers used the first overall pick in the draft on UCLA superstar Bill Walton. Walton was chronically plagued by crippling foot injuries and never managed to suit up in more than 65 games in any of his four seasons in Portland. And he was the success story!
It helps that in those fleeting moments when he was healthy, Walton was an All-Star, an MVP candidate, a champion, a selfless teammate, and one of the best all-around centers ever.
However, by the start of the 1980s, Walton was gone, leaving fans to wonder wonder what might have been.
A few short years later, the Blazers found themselves in a similar spot, this time picking second in the 1984 draft. With future Hall-of-Famer Hakeem Olajuwon selected with the top pick, and a young stud in Clyde Drexler already on their team, Portland again looked to shore up the middle.
You can’t blame them too much; that was formula that worked in the past. They passed on a young Michael Jordan and selected the University of Kentucky’s Sam Bowie, a great passing big man with a history of foot injuries (this may be where you want to dole out some blame).
After a solid rookie season in which he averaged 10 PPG, 8.6 RPG, and nearly 3 BPG in 70 games, Bowie would only take the floor for the Blazers 66 more times (includes three playoff games in 1989) over the next three seasons.
Almost a quarter of a century later, the lottery gods smiled on Portland, as the Blazers landed the top pick in the 2007 draft and were faced with a decision between Kevin Durant, a lanky scoring machine out of the University of Texas and Greg Oden, an old-school seven-footer who’d shown flashes of dominance during a solid freshman at Ohio State.
As the saying goes, “you can’t teach seven feet.” With that the Trailblazers opted for Oden over Durant. Durant's gone on to average at least 20 PPG in each of his three seasons, has become an MVP candidate, and the youngest scoring champion in NBA history. Meanwhile, Oden missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury, and has managed to take the floor for just a third of the Blazers’ 246 regular season games over the past three seasons.
Fortunately for the Blazers, over the three decades for every Sam Bowie or Greg Oden, there’s been a Clyde Drexler, a Terry Porter, a Jerome Kersey, or a Brandon Roy to keep them competitive.
Even the exorcism of the Jail Blazers, which knocked the Blazers out of the playoffs for five years, was relatively short-lived and well worth the cost given the positivity that it brought back to Portland.
As a Laker fan, I’ve spent most of my life rooting against the Trail Blazers and am now mentally prepared for a pair of beatings each season in the Rose Garden.
With that said, I, like many, have taken an incredible liking to this team, and would love to see Oden stay healthy and an assassin like Brandon Roy play deep into the playoffs. Hopefully the current Blazers squad will catch some (positive) breaks on the injury front and ultimately put it all together.
However, if history’s any guide, the Portland Trail Blazers will once again be faced with a top-three decision between an athletic and versatile wing player and a big guy whose height you can’t teach.
Next time, it doesn’t have to be this way!
Just take the athlete!