The Portland Trail Blazers joined the NBA as one of three expansion teams to enter in 1970-71, along with the Buffalo Braves and Cleveland Cavaliers.
It took a little time for the Trail Blazers to find their footing in the NBA’s Pacific Division, but when they did, they did it well.
Portland missed the playoffs in each of its first six seasons, but under new coach Jack Ramsay in 1976-77, the Trail Blazers not only made the playoffs … they won the whole thing. Behind league and Finals MVP Bill Walton, the Blazers beat the Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers to win the Western Conference and then bounced back from losing the first two games in Philadelphia to beat the 76ers in six games for the franchise’s only title.
In 43 seasons, Portland has made the playoffs 29 times, including a run of 21 consecutive appearances from 1983-2003. Two other times, the Blazers reached the NBA Finals, losing to the Detroit Pistons in 1990 and the Bulls in 1992.
The team’s last playoff appearance was in 2010-11.
The franchise has been dogged by bad research and just plain bad luck when it comes to drafting centers in the first round. In 1972, the Trail Blazers took Loyola of Chicago center LaRue Martin with the first overall pick, a pick that might be the worst No. 1 overall in NBA history had Michael Jordan not saved them with Kwame Brown in 2001.
Two years later, Portland took UCLA legend Walton No. 1. A great player when healthy, Walton almost never was. It’s telling that in his two most healthy seasons with the Trail Blazers, the team won a championship and started the following season 50-8 before Walton broke his foot.
In 1984, the Trail Blazers selected Kentucky’s Sam Bowie with the No. 2 overall selection … one pick before the Bulls took Michael Jordan. While Portland gets bashed incessantly for the pick—Bowie spent six years at Kentucky as he was granted an extra year of eligibility because of leg injuries—not taking Jordan is defensible. The previous season, the Blazers took Clyde Drexler of Houston in the first round; he played the same position as Jordan.
Then in 2007, the Trail Blazers rolled the dice on Ohio State big man Greg Oden. He has, to date, played 82 games in parts of the two seasons during which his knees have been healthy enough to allow him to actually get on the court. Couple that with the Seattle SuperSonics taking Kevin Durant from Texas with the very next pick and, yeah, one can get the impression that the Trail Blazers are cursed when it comes to drafting centers.
So who are the best players by position in the history of the Portland Trail Blazers?
NOTE: Players must have appeared in 250 regular-season games with the franchise to be considered for this list.
Small Forward: Jerome Kersey (1984-95)
Jerome Kersey was a gamble that paid off for the Trail Blazers. Portland selected Kersey out of Longwood University in Virginia in the second round of the 1984 draft and after a few seasons to learn the NBA game, Kersey was a key contributor to the teams that reached the Finals in the early 1990s.
In his 11 seasons in Portland, Kersey averaged 12.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game and was a solid defender on the wing.
He may have played his best basketball in the 1990 playoffs, when he averaged 20.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game as Portland reached the Finals before falling to the Pistons.
Kersey is fourth on the club’s all-time scoring list with 10,067 points and is also second with 5,078 rebounds and 831 games, third with 1,059 steals, fifth with 622 blocked shots and eighth with 1,762 assists. His 32.4 defensive win shares are the second-most in team history, as well.
Here are some of Kersey’s best moments as a Trail Blazer:
Kersey left Portland in June 1995 when he was selected by the Toronto Raptors in the expansion draft.
Power Forward: Rasheed Wallace (1996-2004)
When the Portland Trail Blazers traded Harvey Grant and Rod Strickland to the Washington Bullets in July 1996 for Rasheed Wallace and Mitchell Butler, the hope was they could shore up the frontcourt with a solid young player who had shown flashes of greatness as a rookie for the Bullets.
What they got was a player who went on to play in two All-Star Games for Portland and who developed into one of the early stretch 4s in the NBA.
In seven-plus seasons for the Blazers, Wallace averaged 16.8 points and seven rebounds per game and turned into a decent threat from 3-point range, hitting 33.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Wallace was an All-Star in 2000 and 2001 and averaged 17.9 points for the Portland team that was 12 minutes away from the NBA Finals in 2000 before the Los Angeles Lakers stormed back to win Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.
Wallace is ninth on the Trail Blazers’ all-time scoring list with 9,119 points and is also third with 693 blocked shots, seventh with 3,797 rebounds, ninth with 544 games, tied for ninth with 373 3-pointers made and 10th with 555 steals. His 1.3 blocked shots per game is ninth-best in team history and his 16.8 point per game average ranks 10th.
Here are some of Wallace’s top highlights as a Blazer:
In February 2004, Wallace was traded with Wesley Person to the Atlanta Hawks for Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Dan Dickau and Theo Ratliff. Ten days later, Wallace wound up with the Detroit Pistons as part of a three-team deal with the Hawks and Boston Celtics and helped the Pistons to an NBA title later that spring.
Center: Arvydas Sabonis (1995-2003)
It took nine years for the Blazers to finally land their first-round pick from the 1986 draft, but the 7’3” Lithuanian was worth the wait.
Arvydas Sabonis played professionally in the Soviet Union for eight years and spent another seven in Spain before finally coming to the NBA at the age of 30 in 1995. He helped the Soviet Union to a gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and later helped Lithuania to bronze medals in Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996 and is considered one of the best passing big men ever to play the game as well as one of the best centers ever.
Sabonis was an All-Rookie first team selection in 1995-96 and averaged 12 points and 7.3 rebounds during his seven years in Portland (he missed the entire 2001-02 season because of injury). His best year was 1997-98, when he averaged a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds and also dished out three assists per game. He also averaged a career-high 32 minutes per game that year; by the time Sabonis reached the NBA, he was already having knee problems.
Sabonis ranks eighth on Portland’s all-time rebounding list with 3,436 and is also ninth with 494 blocked shots. His 21.2 player efficiency rating is third-best in team history and his .200 win shares per 48 minutes mark is Portland’s best-ever.
Here are some highlights from Sabonis’ too-brief stay in Portland:
The Trail Blazers waived Sabonis in August 2003 and he opted to retire at age 38. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
Shooting Guard: Clyde Drexler (1983-95)
The 14th overall pick in the 1983 draft out of Houston, Clyde Drexler went on to become the greatest player in franchise history.
Drexler was an eight-time All-Star for the Trail Blazers and was named to the All-NBA team four times, including a first-team nod in 1991-92. In 11-plus seasons, Drexler averaged 20.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists and was a member of the original Dream Team at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
Seven times, Drexler averaged more than 20 points per game, topped by his 27.2 points per game in 1988-89, when he also averaged 7.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists.
His 2,185 points in 1987-88 are a single-season club record, as is his 27.2 points and 2.7 steals per game in 1988-89.
He is the franchise’s all-time leader with 18,040 points, 5.339 rebounds, 1,795 steals and games with 867 and is also second with 4,933 assists, fifth with 464 3-pointers and sixth with 594 blocked shots.
His 2.1 steals per game is the best in franchise history and he is also fourth with 20.8 points per and seventh with 5.7 assists per game. His 21.3 player efficiency rating is the second-best in club history.
Drexler scorched the Sacramento Kings for a career-high 50 points in 1989. Here are the highlights from that performance:
In February 1995, Drexler was dealt with Tracy Murray to the Houston Rockets for Otis Thorpe, Marcelo Nicola and a 1995 first-round pick. He went on to help the Rockets win a second straight NBA title that spring. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004.
Point Guard: Terry Porter (1985-95)
Some were critical when the Trail Blazers took a Division III player with the 24th overall pick in the 1985 draft, but Wisconsin-Stevens Point product Terry Porter proved to be worth the reach.
Porter was an All-Star in 1991 and 1993 and was a key component of the NBA Finals teams in Portland in 1990 and 1992. He averaged 18.2 points per game in 1992-93, a career best, and dished out a career-high 10.1 assists per game in 1987-88, his third season in the league. In 10 seasons for the Blazers, Porter averaged 14.9 points and seven assists per game.
His 831 assists and 10.1 per game average in 1987-88 are both franchise records, as is his 127.0 offensive rating and .235 win shares per 48 minutes in 1990-91.
Porter is the franchise’s all-time leader with 773 3-pointers and 5,319 assists and is also second with 11,330 points and 1,182 steals and third with 758 games.
He is third all-time for the Blazers with seven assists per game and is also tied for sixth with a free-throw percentage of 84.6, eighth with 1.6 steals per game and 10th with a 38.5 percent mark from 3-point range.
Here are some of Porter’s career highlights:
Released by Portland in September 1995, Porter went on to play another seven seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs before retiring in 2002 and has had stints as coach for the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns.