The curse of the Blazer centers

All basketball related pieces now are posted at my basketball blog Buzzer Beater Banter

I don’t know how there could be, but if there was any doubt that the Portland Trail Blazers have some crazy bad luck curse, after the latest news, that doubt should be all but gone. The only logical explanation has got to be the actions of a black magic voodoo witch doctor performing ceremonies of the occult while poking pins in a doll sporting a Blazer jersey.

In the latest reports, Trail Blazer center Joel Przybilla slipped in his shower and reinjured his recently surgically repaired knee. He originally tore his patella tendon on December 22nd, 2009 in a road game against the Dallas Mavericks. The Oregonian reports that he had just started to walk without brace.

In early December 2009, before it was even close to being over, in an article linked on Blaze of Love, I wrote about the injuries the team has experienced this season. Now I’m going to focus on the bad luck that surrounds the center position for the Blazers over the years, injuries and otherwise.

After a legendary collegiate career under John Wooden at UCLA, the Blazers drafted Bill Walton with the number one overall pick in the 1974 NBA draft. His 5 years in Portland were plagued with injuries, including a broken foot, nose, leg and wrist. Despite the injuries, Walton racked up the accolades. He was part of the Championship team in 1977, the Finals MVP that same year and the NBA MVP in 1978. However, his belief that the Trail Blazers organization was not properly treating the injuries of their players led him to sit out the 1978/1979 season when his demand to be traded was not facilitated. Walton suited up the following year for the Los Angeles Clippers.

I think it’s too early to form a firm decision on the long term implications of the Oden vs. Durant draft selection. But there is no doubt when it comes to the Sam Bowie selection, who will be forever the subject of “what if” conversations among Blazer fans. Bowie was selected as the second overall pick in the 1984 NBA draft, directly behind Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets. The number three pick in the draft that year… Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls. We all know how the careers of Olajuwon and Jordan ended up. Bowie had a good rookie season, earning All-Rookie Team honors and playing in 76 games. However, injuries held him out of all but 5 games in the 1986/87 season, as well as the entire 1987/1988 season. He was later traded to the New Jersey Nets for Buck Williams and a draft pick. ESPN considers the Bowie selection the worst in NBA history and Sports Illustrated named Bowie as the biggest draft bust in NBA history.

The name Kevin Duckworth typically brings a smile to the face of most Blazer fans. Big Duck was a hero of mine as a kid. My wonderful grandmother sent me to Duckworth’s Basketball Camp in either 1987 or 1988. Playing 2 on 1 against Big Duck is one of my fondest memories as a kid, and I’ll never forget taking instruction from Jerome Kersey, Kiki Vandeweghe and Terry Porter.

Kevin Duckworth played for the Trail Blazers from 1987 – 1993. After fighting weight issues for most of his career, he retired from the NBA in 1997 and moved back to Portland, where he would spend the rest of his life. At the age of 44, he died of heart failure on August 25, 2008 on the Oregon coast. He was traveling with a Trail Blazers group, playing the role of ambassador, hosting free basketball clinics around the state.

It may seem strange to include Duckworth alongside the other centers mentioned here, but I think it’s relevant. For a while it felt like I was witnessing the downfall of a legend. I remember the “have you seen Big Duck lately?” remarks around Portland in the early 2000’s. He had gained a tremendous amount of weight and looked extremely unhealthy. In my wilder and crazier times, I encountered him on a few occasions at Exotica, hanging out in the corner by himself. That’s typically not the actions of a happy man. So I was pleased when I heard he had reconnected with Blazers, and was taking part in an increased amount of community activities. At this time, I learned from various Blazer broadcasters that he was in hiding for a while because he was ashamed of his weight. At the time of his passing he was getting over that and enjoying his involvement in the Blazer family once again. For all of these reasons, watching the tribute on TV just about brought me to tears.

Obviously the Greg Oden selection has been widely criticized. I’ve heard on TV and the radio that most GM’s in the NBA back up Portland’s decision to take him over Kevin Durant as the number one overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft. But the what ifs are unavoidable. In his third season, Durant is smack in the middle of the MVP race. Oden on the other hand is missing the majority of his third season with a knee injury, after missing his entire first season with a knee injury, and having somewhat of a disappointing second season. What hurts most is watching him go down once again after seeing the progress he made in the first 32 games of this season. I haven’t given up on him yet, but man, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was skeptical of what the future holds.

And the event that set me off on this topic… Joel Przybilla slipping in the shower and reinjuring the ruptured patella tendon. Seriously, what else can happen?

And because Blazermaniacs all over are asking that same question, you better watch your back Marcus Camby. You’re injury prone as it is. Two different ankle injuries have kept you out of two of the nine games you have been available to wear a Blazer jersey. I hope you’re crossing your fingers, picking pennies up, knocking on wood, searching for 4 leaf clovers, and avoiding black cats and cracks in the sidewalk, because what we all can infer from this ridiculous history of bad joojoo for Blazer centers is that someone is out to get you. Don’t let them get you Marcus Camby, we need you to fight the evil and help the team get to the playoffs.

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~ by ripcitytoseoul on March 8, 2010.

10 Responses to “The curse of the Blazer centers”

  1. It’s the Moses curse. Just prior to the 77 championship season, the Blazers had Walton, and Hall of Famer Moses Malone who they acquired through the ABA dispersal draft. Moses never suited up for the Blazers (but did have a basketball card in a Blazers uni), as the Blazers traded him to Houston for a draft pick that turned into Ron Brewer. This limited the depth Portland had at the center position, and front line in general, so when Walton injured his foot, the team Dr.’s instead of having him sit out and heal up, shot him up with pain killers. Walton played 58 games that season, with the Blazers being almost unbeatable with him (If I recall correctly, they had a 46-12 record in those first 58 games). But, because of the shots, his NBA future was ruined, leading later in life to him having his ankles fused in an attempt to solve some of the problems that were caused by that season (and the subsequent injuries it lead to). Walton actually ended up suing the Blazers, and I believe won the lawsuit. Something that as far as I know is unheard of in professional sports. If there is a curse, it starts with the handling of Walton. The Blazers probably would have won at least two, if not 4 championships had they handled Walton correctly (the NBA was so all over the board with random trading of first round picks for used up coke heads from 76-80 that the league was easy pickings for a team that managed itself even semi well. Lets face it, the Bullets and Sonics who won the championship in 78 and 79 were not that good). If not for the mishandling of Walton (and Moses being a part of that mishandling), the late 70’s Blazers probably would have been in the discussion as one of the best teams in NBA history. Moses was a little bit of a head case, and stat whore, but he would been able to get his with an unselfish Walton as the other front court star. It would have been the most dominant front court in NBA history, or at least challenged the mid-80’s Celtics for that title.

    Also, another interesting Blazer fact that the Walton curse impacted. They could have had Larry Bird. In the 78 draft, the Blazers were debating between Larry Bird and Mychal Thompson. The rule at the time was that teams had a year from the date of the draft where they retained rights to a player and could sign them. That opened the door to draft Jr.’s in college since if you could sign them after their senior season completed, you had them (that’s how Boston got Larry). The Blazers had the number one pick (from one of those trades where teams sent first round picks for bad players, also that’s how the Lakers got the first pick to draft Magic) and wanted to take Bird. But, with the injuries to Walton, they wanted to get a center to complement Walton and take some of the pressure off of him (again, pointing back to something Moses would have solved), so the took Mychal Thompson, the consensus number one center in the draft. Could you imagine that? Moses at the 5, Walton at the 4 and Bird at the 3? That would have been unbelievable, plus would have set up the Magic vs. Bird rivalry every year in the playoffs.

    In reality, maybe it should be called the Moses curse, because that move lead to Walton losing his feet, them not picking Bird and also lead to them being in a position to take Bowie of Jordan. The whole landscape of the NBA changed for the next two decades based off that one move.

    Just a quick disclaimer – I’m not trying to rub it in to Blazer fans (as may be perceived because I’m a Laker fan). I just think for only having one Championship, no team has had a bigger impact on the overall landscape of the NBA in the past 30 years, and it starts with the Moses trade. The Blazers have been on the brink so many times, but there have just been a couple missteps that have prevented it. It really is fascinating in a Chicago Cubs sort of way (OK, that Cubs comment was a shot from a Laker fan perspective, had to get one in there).

  2. Obviously, I started writing that comment as it should be called the Walton curse, then decided at the end to change it to the Moses curse…

  3. Another center to include is Sabonis. He was drafted in 86 and would have guaranteed a championship, in my opinion, had the Blazers been able to get him over. But due to Russia not allowing him to come over until 89, and if I recall correctly, his mom was ill, so he didn’t want to leave his homeland after that. He was Dirk Nowitzki with two more inches, with Walton like passing ability and a mean streak. By the time the Blazers got him in 95, he was 31 and a shell of his former self. I’ve seen some video of him in his prime, and the way he ran the floor was unreal. He could have legitimately played point.

  4. I tracked down the record following the 77 season, they started 40-8 before Walton finally sat.

  5. Yeah, I thought about including Arvydas Sabonis, but with him there seemed to be less supernatural influence and more or less bad timing. Yes, he was plagued with horrible injuries by the time he arrived in Portland, but it was his choice to remain in Lithuania until he was 31. And let’s not forget his crazy wife, who in one month was pulled over for two drunk driving charges in Portland.

    The Moses Malone stuff on the other hand, that’s reaching some less discussed folklore. The Dr. J and Malone duo was dominant in Philadelphia.

    And I can say that I have never heard the Larry Bird stuff.

    It’s fun to debate the what ifs, looking back at all the decisions in pro sports. A lot of people have made up their minds made up on the Oden/Durant selection. Hopefully for me, that one isn’t closed yet. Hopefully.

  6. Let’s not forget one of Sabonis’s wife’s arrests was while going to pick up her kids from school. Stay classy Lithuania!

    Yeah, it’s interesting to look back on the affects of different moves. Oden/Durrant debate will hopefully be interesting for a while, since that will mean Oden comes back and is productive. But, in doing some reading and more research last night, I read an article that a majority of NBA GM’s still back Portland’s decision. Knowing what was known at the time of the draft, it was the only choice to make. You don’t win championships without a dominant inside defensive presence. Plus, anyone who remembers his performance in the NCAA tournament will remember how dominant he was on the defensive end. I think he’ll get things back on track, though, at least I hope so, I like Oden a lot. He’s a good kid and a hard worker. Right after the injury, he was talking about trying to make it back for the playoffs, gotta like that attitude. A lot of the Oden/Durrant debate is revisionist history.

    And, anyone who compares the Oden/Durrant choice to the Bowie/Jordan choice, doesn’t know basketball (I bring this up because I was chatting with a couple co-workers about your blog post, and that comparison was made). Durrant had huge questions of his ability to handle NBA contact when he came out because of his slight frame. He’s still a toothpick. An amazingly talented toothpick who’s lighting up the scoreboard, but a toothpick none the less. Plus, Oden’s only injury prior to the draft had been a wrist injury he played through only using his left hand, again, showing his toughness. Bowie had had a couple major injuries to his legs during his college career, and, Jordan was Jordan. Also, Portland was a coin flip away from getting Olajuwon since a coin flip decided whether Houston or Portland got the number one pick. Bowie/Jordan was just a classic case of a team drafting need instead of talent at the top of the draft, when, if you are there, you can’t afford to do that.

  7. Sweet post, though. I’ve put a lot of thought into the plight of the Portland center this year, so it’s good to finally throw the topic around with someone.

  8. LOL…

    Yeah.. well..at least you don’t have to live with the GSW history of first round stiffs who were stiffs:

    when they were born
    as they grew up
    (and mysteriously got decent but often white and always clunky in college)
    And re-stiffed in a Golden State uniform…

    One thing that entertained me (long) before I came to Korea … Don Nelson’s first stint (Run TMC) with the Warriors included group meetings with him that excluded the press….

    Nelson (of all people) talked massive shit about Sabonis for being a drunk…

    JailBlazers just got him after his peak. Dude could still pass, though…

    BTW… I also like your post comparing vampirology to being a foreigner here. With the codicil that doesn’t work for the brown-skinned foreigners..

    cool blog..

    • Nelson talks a lot. In years past, I have been lucky enough to sit courtside at the Rose Garden Arena (good friend with Nike connections), and have twice been graced with sitting directly beside to the GSW bench. Every other word is an F bomb. Well respected coach though, and this year he’s working with essentially a D league roster, besides Maggette and Curry. The Blazers finally pulled a W out in Oakland a few nights ago, after something crazy like a 9 game losing skid at Oracle Area.

      Looks like your blog is doing well in the 10 magazine viewers poll. Seems as if there are a lot of unhappy campers by reading all the comments. I have kept away from the smack off, I’m more of an observer in this community, but I am interested in seeing the results soon.

  9. […] Curse of the Trail Blazer Centers Jump to Comments Originally posted at Rip City to Seoul on March 8th, […]

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